An event marking the centennial of the Greene County Courthouse in Jefferson is set for Sunday, May 15, at 2 p.m. when the public landmark’s cornerstone will receive a ceremonial rededication.
The ceremony will be held outdoors at the northeast corner of the building, where the cornerstone is located, and visitors are encouraged to bring lawn chairs. If it rains, the event will be moved indoors to the courthouse rotunda.
It was 100 years ago to the day – May 15, 1916 – when, as the Jefferson Bee reported, “hundreds of people from all over the county assembled upon the court house square, near the northeast corner of the building, to witness this prominent event in Greene county history.”
The weather that day “was not the most inviting for such an event,” the Bee’s story continued. “Although the sun did shine and the clouds did lift for the time being, giving those who were here an opportunity to see what was to be one of the most impressive ceremonies ever enacted in the county of Greene, the wind was of such a noisy sort as to prevent the hearing of what was said except those nearest to those taking part.”
As was then the custom at the dedication of important public buildings, the officers of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Iowa presided, with assistance from the officers of the Masonic lodges in the county’s towns. There was loud cheering as the cornerstone was lowered over a copper receptacle, containing local memorabilia and souvenirs of that era.
It was a “time capsule” to be opened when and if the building is no longer being used as the county courthouse.
At the centennial cornerstone event May 15, the “Courthouse 100” committee will preside and, just as 100 years ago, the officers of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Iowa will conduct a brief ceremony, joined by members of the Morningstar Masonic Lodge of Jefferson.
The new community chorus, “Greene County Singers,” will perform “America the Beautiful,” and Don Van Gilder, chairperson of the Courthouse 100 committee, will read a list of the contents of the original time capsule, as reported by the newspapers in 1916.
On display will be a new time capsule – a nicely crafted 15-inch square steel box built by Kelly Rice of Welding Innovations. Van Gilder will tell about the local memorabilia and souvenirs of our era that have been gathered to fill it. This 2016 time capsule is to be stored in the vault in the county auditor’s office, and “we have generally thought that it would be opened in 100 years,” he said.
Following the rededication event at the courthouse, everyone is invited to move the short block to the Greene County Historical Museum, where architect and historian Steve Stimmel will speak, scheduled for 2:45 p.m.
Stimmel is one of the senior partners in the Des Moines-based firm Brooks Borg Skiles Architecture Engineering LLP. That firm grew from Proudfoot and Bird, an architectural consulting firm that opened in Iowa in 1895 and designed the Greene County Courthouse, along with the courthouses in Polk, Dallas, Jasper and Pocahontas counties.
Proudfoot and Bird, which became the architecture firm for the State of Iowa Board of Education, the predecessors of today’s Board of Regents, also designed many of the most prominent buildings on the campuses of Iowa State University, the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa.
“We’ve worked a lot with Steve Stimmel over the years,” said Van Gilder, who also serves as assistant county engineer and is the local authority on courthouse history. “At Brooks Borg and Skiles in Des Moines, they still have the original design plans for our courthouse. And we’ve consulted with Steve when we’ve been discussing projects like the cleaning of the stained glass in the domes over the courtroom and the rotunda. He’ll be able to describe how our courthouse was designed and built 100 years ago.”
The Greene County Historical Society will host a reception at the museum. The event is free and open to the public. Free refreshments will be served.