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Court jewels: Buildings are symbols of local government and civic pride

Published: Tuesday, July 14 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

LOGAN — County courthouses are repositories of many records, but the buildings themselves are also a record of pride, values and determination. Consider the Cache County Courthouse, which has recently come full circle.

The first courthouse in Cache Country was a small wooden building constructed in 1868 that served as both office and jail. Logan had been designated as the seat of the newly created Cache County in 1857, and at first, county officers had met in the Old Tithing Office until — at a cost of $1,841 — the frame building was built.

By the early 1880s, even though Utah was still only a territory, county needs had grown to the point that a new building was needed.

It so happened at that time that the Logan Temple was under construction, but work had temporarily come to a stop because of a shortage of funds. So county officials asked Truman O. Angell Jr., who had designed the temple, to come up with a plan for a courthouse.

The work on the courthouse was begun by the then-idle temple construction crew, the Logan Second Ward United Order Building and Manufacturing Company. Lumber came from the Temple Sawmill in Logan Canyon. Rock for the footings and foundation came from the Temple Quarry at the mouth of Green Canyon. The beautifully carved sandstone lintels and sills came from a quarry the temple crew had established east of Hyde Park; buff-colored bricks came from Smithfield, but at the building's completion were stained "Nauvoo Red."

When the courthouse was finished in 1883, a local newspaper called it a "fine and imposing structure" and one "of which our county may well be proud."

County needs continued to grow, and in the 1890s, a western addition was added, done in now-available red brick. In 1917, a three-story, 17-foot-square section was added on both sides of the Main Street entrance.

By the mid-1950s, the red-brick exterior had become discolored, and the building was painted white and the foundation gray.

"They created a white-gray mass that obscured the features that made this an architectural masterpiece of the late 19th century," says Newel Daines, a physician and former mayor of Logan.

Changes continued inside, with ceilings raised and lowered, walls added, offices divided, air-conditioning units stuck in windows, until it was what one writer called a "labyrinthine, inaccessible nightmare." By the time the new millennium rolled around, roofs leaked, sewers backed up, and electrical problems occurred. There were some who thought the building had outlived its usefulness and should be torn down.

Daines, however, was not one of them. When a land swap was proposed, with the state offering to pay for demolition of the building and obtain the land for a new state courts building, "that's where I and several other local and state people, interested in historic preservation, got involved," says Daines, who could see beneath the rough exterior and the jumbled interior to the jewel the building still was.

Feasibility studies showed it could be restored and renovated at reasonable cost. So the county put up $1 million, and Daines agreed to head a fundraising committee to come up with the rest.

He also set up a shop in the interior, using carpentry tools that belonged to his wife Jean's father, and spent most of 2003-2005 not only overseeing the planning and construction but also milling and carving corner posts, moldings, trims and more. He is especially proud of the "Newel posts" at the ends of all the staircases, which he designed and made.

The paint was removed from the exterior, bringing back the rich, red color of the original building.

Because the interior had been so changed over the years, few historic elements remained, and they decided that an exact re-creation would not be possible. Instead, the designers opted to create functional and elegant space, inspired by and reflecting the woodwork and furnishings of the period.

They redid all the window frames and lowered the floor in the basement. There were three old vaults where records had been stored, stacked one on top of the other, where they were able to save the graceful arches while opening up the space for better use. On the main floor, this area now houses the Cache County visitor's bureau.

They recessed window blinds, so they could keep the window arches — "that idea came to me in the middle of the night," said Daines.

The old court room, once more opened up to full size, is now the County Council meeting room and is graced by chairs imported from Italy and upholstered in material that Jean Daines chose. "We didn't want them to look like dining-room chairs," she says.

An old safe that was found in the basement was cleaned and restored and is now a showpiece on the main floor. "They had to have moved that safe in before the building was finished," says Newel Daines. "It wouldn't fit through any of the doors."

He is also particularly proud of the spiral staircase leading to the cupola. "Originally, this was a closet, with a ladder."

That ladder connected to the wood stairway into the cupola, and it was on those steps that Daines almost literally gave his heart to the courthouse project. "I was up there when I had a medical problem with my heart. I sat there and rested for an hour before climbing down the ladder. That was the last day before I had a new valve put in my heart. I really thought I might die up there."

Luckily for him and his family, and for the old courthouse, he was soon back on the job.

Throughout the project, quality was a prime concern. "All the HVAC, plumbing, electrical systems and fixtures, wall surfaces, doors, hardware, floor coverings are new and state-of-the-art, so this building should have the same life expectancy as a new building — while preserving a valley landmark," says Daines.

Although they got a substantial donation from the Eccles Foundation and raised other funds, "we got to the end, and we were short of money, so my kids all chipped in and came up with another $100,000 so we could finish it like we wanted," he says.

Other donations also helped. An elegant grandfather clock was a gift of the S.E. Needham Co. Local artist Kent Wallis painted a view of Cache Valley especially for the building. It makes a nice addition to the Minerva Teichert and Everett Thorpe paintings which also grace the walls, Daines says.

Of the project, Jean Daines says, "it was sometimes fun and sometimes a nightmare. But we feel good when we come and see how it turned out."

Newel Daines sees himself as simply "a builder who wanted to do something for downtown Logan."

He remembers coming to the old courthouse in the 1930s, when his dad served as the county attorney. He has a son who has held that same position. He takes pride in the fact that the Cache County Courthouse is one of, if not the, longest-continuing-operation government buildings in Utah.

And it is once again a "fine and imposing structure" engendering pride, connection and vitality.

e-mail: carma@desnews.com

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