Delaware’s Historic Courthouse: Latest finds include 124-year-old penny, possible liquor stash
Paul Comstock ThisWeek
Published Mar 3 2021
Delaware’s Historic Courthouse – in operation since 1869 at 117 N. Union St. – still had some secrets to reveal during its recent renovation.
As 2020 drew to a close, contractors were finishing a roughly $9.5 million renovation project that has modernized the building from top to bottom while preserving and paying homage to many of its vintage features.
Some of those vintage features apparently were hidden from view for more than a century, said Jane Hawes, county director of communications.
Contractors uncovered a number of artifacts as they removed baseboards, flooring and other wooden components during the project, she said.
The found items include what might have been a liquor stash, a vacation souvenir and a 124-year-old penny.
Those pieces, along with other historical material, have been framed and will be installed on walls inside the Historic Courthouse, Hawes said.
“Pretty much from the beginning (of the renovation), the crews would find the most random things. They were tearing out walls and tearing out baseboards and things like that,” Hawes said. “And Jon Melvin, our facilities director, would bring them to me sort of for safekeeping like, ‘This is too cool to throw away. Maybe we can do something with it.’
“One of the first things we found that was just amazing was an old Indian head penny, as they called them, that was from 1897. … It was wedged in between floorboards. And judging by its condition, it probably wasn’t all that long after 1897 that it fell in there and stayed there for more than 100 years. It’s in great shape,” she said. “I think probably the second-best find was up in the attic under some of the eaves. They found two glass flasks with cork seals, and one of them has this white crystallized powder left in it.
“As best we can tell, this is probably somebody’s stash of booze to help them get through the day or whatever, I don’t know,” she said. “They’re definitely old. We can’t trace exactly where the bottles are from. … It looks like it must have evaporated over time, what was left in the bottles,” she said.
Also found was a seashell, apparently carried to Delaware from a beach along an ocean, Hawes said.
“Somebody just had it there to remind them of vacation time or something. That, I was told, was back behind a baseboard. And how it got back there I can’t even hope to tell you. But that was another one of the goodies that they found,” she said.
The historical material was framed for hanging by Benny Shoults of Frame Artistry, 176 W. Lincoln Ave., Hawes said.
“In talking with Benny, we decided, ‘Let’s create what they call shadow boxes to mount them properly, and we can display them.’ They’ll kind of be like their own little history lesson for the building,” she said.
Shoults’ solution for framing the penny was ingenious, she said. The coin is suspended behind glass, so its reverse can be seen in a mirror facing the viewer.
Other found artifacts included “old newspapers, invoices, envelopes that have been like stamped in the 1920s with the postmark on it.”
“Just all kinds of really amazing stuff that had just fallen through the cracks over all those years,” she said. “So that’s when we got the idea that we somehow have to memorialize all of these items, as well.”
Also displayed are fabric-art versions of the county’s logos and vintage blueprints from past renovation projects in the 1920s, 1950s and 1980, which, Hawes said, had been kept in storage.
“In the 1920s, it was putting in central heating … that was the big project. In 1954, the next set that we found, it was (putting in) an elevator but also sort of the infamous carving up of the second floor to create the second and third floors of the building,” she said. “We found the blueprints that showed exactly what happened and how. And then in 1980, there was another renovation. It just kind of refreshed the whole building inside and out but also created more and smaller work spaces for all the offices that were in there for several decades.”
By coincidence, she said, the 1980 renovation was led by Columbus-based architectural firm Schooley Cornelius Associates, which today is Schooley Caldwell, architects of the latest renovation.
Not all of the historical material has been hung yet, because county officials still are settling into the renovated building, Hawes said.
They include the county commissioners and their staff, the administrator’s office, the county’s human-resources office, the economic-development department and communication personnel.
“Though I think we’re all still getting used to the new layout, the sense of history that we feel each day coming through these doors is very inspiring said Gary Merrell, county commissioner. “Honoring history matters here in Delaware County, and I think this building accomplishes that.
“Our goal with the Historic Courthouse project was always to restore this iconic building to its original majesty, and I really feel we’ve achieved that, both inside and out,” Merrell said.
Another feature of the renovation was the arrangement of veterans monuments in the front lawn into a veterans memorial.
The monuments honor those who served in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and surrounding conflicts after 2001.
“I am especially proud of the veterans memorial out front, as it gives our veterans the honor they deserve in a beautiful setting,” Merrell said.
Completion of the Historic Courthouse opens space in the commissioners’ previous building, the former Carnegie Library at 101 N. Sandusky St. That building will continue to house the county’s 911 operation.
The county’s information-technology and data-processing personnel, as well as the county law library, also are moving to 101 N. Sandusky St.
The Delaware County Historical Society is thankful to have Benny Shoults volunteer his talents as curator of the Meeker Homestead Museum make an appointment to see the exhibits.