Cupola atop County Courthouse is replaced

Photographed Monday from surrounding scaffolding, a newly designed cupola has been secured at the top of the County Courthouse. Work on dome-like structure long implemented by architects so a lightning rod could be installed to protect against damage.

As renovations to the Wicomico County Courthouse near completion, a newly designed cupola has been secured at the top of the landmark structure, in time for this year’s 150th anniversary of the County.

“We take pride in our historical courthouse,” Weston Young, Assistant Administrator for Wicomico County, said this week, as he explained work on the dome-like structure long implemented by architects.

“We have a legitimate lightning rod in this time. When the courthouse was built, they didn’t have lightning rods.

“At the very top of the cupola, a lot of the wood was rotten and there were some concerns that if we used the existing wood that the lightning rod would not go in perfectly straight. It made sense for the contractors to bring the cupola down to the ground and rebuild it. It allows an accurate, precisely straight, lightning rod,” he said.

The rod has a metal wire that runs to the ground.

“My understanding is if lightning struck it would be charged to the rod then the rod would discharge it to the ground,” Young said.

Italian for “small cup,” a cupola can be small, as seen on a barn, or large and ornate, like the one on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, designed by Michelangelo and open for tours. They have been used as a lookout or allow light and air to flow.

The general contractor hired by the County to rebuild the cupola, Ceepco Contracting of Silver Spring, Md., “did beautiful wood work, then capped it and covered it in copper,” Young said.

“They were installing it all (Monday) morning. Ceepco took care of all the details, although they might have subcontracted some of the work,” he said about the company.

As restoration was done and rotting wood replaced, contractors tried to salvage what might be of historical value. The original clock mechanism was kept. The old clock was in the center of the tower and operated by gears. Now, there are four separate clocks in the tower.

“It’s pretty exciting capping off this project. There will be minor items to complete. They will remove the scaffolding and we’ll work with the City on the up-lighting of the Courthouse,” Young said.

Built in 1878, the courthouse is recognized as an historical building by Maryland the Downtown Historical District. In 1886, it survived a devastating fire.

In July last year, lightning damaged the bell tower, making renovations to the Courthouse that were already planned a top priority for the county.

Young, who, at the time, was director of public works, said the entire courthouse was analyzed and areas that needed repairs were determined, including the the old slate roof that was leaking.

The County Council proposed $750,000 phased over Fiscal Years 2016-18 for upgrades that included replacing the roof and gutters, reinforcing the upper floor structure and bell tower, repairing masonry and painting.

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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