Letter to the Editor: Resident has an idea for vintage courthousePublished 6:30pm Wednesday, February 5, 2014
For several years, I have been interested in the future of the vacant Cass County Courthouse.
From its clock tower, one can see for miles around. Its “historic” structure is architecturally quite similar to many government courthouses throughout the USA but is not the site for the historic Underground Railroad trial held in Cass County.
However, I thought that the building might be useful for cultural purposes, e.g. history, graphic arts, theater and music.
I toured the inside of the courthouse with thoughts of raising interest in its complete restoration. Although the outside seemed in pretty good shape, the inside was depressing. Water damage and mold were noted in many places. Ceiling material was falling down and insulation was need.
Restoration would require replacing the utilities, as well as some walls, windows and doors. Because of the high ceilings, heating and air conditioning would be very expensive to update and operate.
From my childhood, I had fond memories of visiting this building with its grand entrance and marvelous oak stairway, guiding one to classic courtrooms surrounded by solid oak paneling and furniture. Unfortunately, this has disappeared.
At the time of my visit, I met Congressman Fred Upton who, by chance, had business in the adjoining county annex. I asked him about getting federal funds to restore the building. Upton indicated that the days of such federal spending had passed and did not encourage pursuit of this option.
I was informed that only the outside had limited repair and that there was water and sewage connection issues. I was told that this building did not a have practical use — i.e., it was cheaper to build a new structure than restoration. Although I was originally interested in saving the entire building, I took, therefore, a different approach.
The most outstanding part of the building is the tower, which had a separate foundation from the rest of the building. This would allow the possible preservation of the tower without the rest of the building. I proceeded to produce conceptual drawings of a stand-alone tower utilizing some of the materials from the courthouse exterior.
I envisioned the tower remaining as a unique focus for Cass County, being distinctly different from the many government “historic” buildings.
A wide, curved dramatic stairway would lead to a “stage” area and main entrance which would look out over a bowl-shaped park area to serve as an outside theater for dramatic and musical performances, weddings, etc. The inside of the tower would have a spiral-stairway leading up to the level of the clock bells, etc. and provide great views of the village and county.
The surrounding park area could be a great place to stroll and enjoy outdoor artwork (e.g. sculptures), children playing, etc. The atmosphere of this spectacular tower could attract dining and shopping facilities in the surrounding village shops.
In brief, the center of Cassopolis could become a destination for folks to visit. In season, a farmer’s market or even a flea market could use this park area. Parking facilities are presently conveniently located nearby. This tower and park would represent both Cass County’s past and future.