If you visited the Benton County Courthouse at any point since early January you may have noticed the doors on the main entrance had been replaced with plywood.
But if you visit the courthouse today you will see the courthouse’s original doors back in place and freshly restored.
Paul Wallsinger, facilities manager with Benton County Public Works, said the temporary doors were put in place to allow the courthouse’s original doors to have both cosmetic and functional improvements.
Wallsinger said the genesis of the work was when members of the Courthouse Preservation Committee noticed that in photographs of the courthouse from 1915 that, while the courthouse was painted white, its doors were varnished. However, at some point since then the doors had been painted white.
While the courthouse was built in 1888 and 1889, a copy of the Gazette-Times from July 11, 1913, said the courthouse had been painted “‘whiter than snow’ from the top of the flagpole to capstones of the entrance balustrade.”
The paper said the work had improved the looks of the courthouse, which had become dingy in the years since it had been built.
Wallsinger said the committee wanted to restore the doors, which are about 10-feet tall and three feet wide each, to their historic appearance. He said the committee began planning the work early in 2018 and contracted a company to restore the doors for a little over $12,000, with funds from the facilities budget and courthouse preservation fund.
“This is taking the courthouse back to its 1915 look,” he said.
Chris Gustafson, owner of Vintage Window Restoration in Albany, said to restore the doors his team used infrared light and sanding to remove the paint, did wood patching and repairs, replaced bits of missing molding, and refinished the door. Saturday the company reinstalled the doors with new modern hardware designed to make the door lock more securely and allow the hinges to stand up to the heavy use the building gets. Although the internal mechanisms in the door lock are new, the doorknob on the door is the original to the building.
Gustafson said the project was challenging because it involved woodwork, an understanding of how the doors were originally built and metalwork to adapt new mechanisms to work with the doors original parts.
“There are so many different aspects of this craft you have to account for,” he said.
He added that the doors are the first impression of a building and the changes will allow the doors to make a better impression on people coming to the courthouse.
“It’s rewarding to pursue a career in this form of craft and contribute to the aesthetics and image of a building this iconic,” he said.