Courthouse preservation group awarded for restoration work

The interior of the Allen County Courthouse.
The interior of the Allen County Courthouse.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) Driving past the Allen County Courthouse on a sunny day, it’s not hard to appreciate what a beautiful thing Fort Wayne has. But it might surprise you to know that the building older than a century could look a lot different if it wasn’t for a group of people determined to restore it.

Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trust was awarded Saturday the Daughters of the American Revolution’s Historic Preservation Award. The award from the DAR recognizes a group that has done a remarkable work the community level.

The Allen County Courthouse was built in 1902. President of the Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trust Madelane Elston said at the time it was one of the most expensive courthouses built.

“Most buildings like this, that were built during this era, they just simply ordered wood work and murals and what have you from a catalog. That did not happen here,” Elston said.

The hand painted murals and custom scagliola- faux marble made from plaster- make the Allen County Courthouse stand out. Wear and tear naturally happened on the building over the years. Elston said in the 60s, there had been renovations to take care of windows that were falling apart. However, proper preservation of the murals or the scagliola was not part of that.

“Every ceiling had been over painted, the murals had been over painted,” Elston described.

So in 1994, a group of lawyers and judges that were meeting and trying to figure out what to do about preserving the courthouse for the future decided to create a nonprofit, the Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trust.

The trust spent eight years and more than 250 million dollars to get the courthouse to where it is today. Elson said, the restoration involved bringing in a scagliola expert from England, adding “”he was so taken with this building. He was just going to come here and get us started and he stayed during the entire restoration period.”

Another element of the courthouse that needed to be restored was the murals. According to the trust’s website, previous preservation attempts compromised the paint, which was loosening from the wall due to water damage.  The restoration required a man who had previously restored murals at the Library of Congress, two years to complete, and a cost of $1.4 million, the website noes.

For Elston, all the hard work has paid off. She’s proud of the monument it’s become not only to Fort Wayne but also around the world.

“This building is internationally important; it’s listed as the second most important courthouse in the Country,” Elston said.

Cellphones and cameras are not typically allowed in the Allen Conty Courthouse. As part of ‘Be a tourist in your own hometown,’ NewsChannel 15 was able to go in with a camera. To see video of the courthouse, play the clip at the top.

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