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Courtroom Restoration at the 

Historic Chaffee County Courthouse

We are very excited to be undergoing a massive project in the historic courtroom. We will be tackling the restoration of the windows, doors, plaster and paint, and the floor. This grant will complete the restoration/rehabilitation work in the courtroom. This room is the largest room in the building and is used frequently as a community gathering space.  Private events are also held there, and the rental fees help provide the financial means for future grants and maintenance.

As part of our last grant, two windows in the courtroom were already restored. Now, we are completing the repair of the remaining seven windows in the courtroom. Over last winter, the windows were removed and taken to a workshop in Fort Collins for restoration. Decades of paint were removed, minor repairs were made to the sashes, and everything was primed so that they could be painted later. The frames were given the same treatment, and by spring, the windows were back in place. The original, single-sash windows used weights attached to ropes hidden inside the frames to hold the windows open. Many of the old ropes had rotted and broken over the years. These have all now been replaced, and the windows can be opened and closed freely. Much of the original hardware, such as sash lifts and locks, were in good condition once the paint had been removed and have been reinstalled.  Any missing hardware was replaced with appropriate-looking replicas. In the coming months, the windows will all be painted with a “faux-graining” style. This historic treatment will make sure they match how they would have appeared originally. 

We will also be installing storm windows on the seven windows restored in this grant, as well as the six windows restored with our previous project. These storm windows will be subtle so as not to detract from the aesthetics of the building, but they will help immensely with the preservation of the restored windows and with keeping the museum’s heating costs down.

The courtroom doors are the next part of the grant. There are a total of four in the room, all of which are being addressed. The most obvious ones, of course, are the oversized entry doors at the top of the stairs. The doors themselves are in decent condition, but the finish has deteriorated significantly, and all the original hardware is missing. Because of the size of these doors, they will be restored in place. The other two historic doors in the courtroom, one to either side of the main one, are in similar condition, though they have received several replacement locks over the years. These two doors also would have originally had transom windows that could have been opened to allow airflow. These have long since been removed and boarded up. Minor repairs will be made to the wood of the doors and frames. New transom windows will be installed, though due to code restrictions, these will be stationary.  Everything will be painted and treated with the same “faux-graining” as the windows. Any original hardware will be reinstalled, but many replicas will be necessary. The main doors originally had six intricately patterned hinges, which have proved hard to replicate.  Because this door is a focal point of the whole building, and we want it to look its best, we have made the decision to utilize original hinges from other doors in the building that are otherwise out of the public eye. Those hinges will be replaced with the best replicas possible.

The fourth door in the courtroom is the fire escape door on the north wall, which was a later addition to the building. This door was never well designed to blend into the space and is in poor condition. The 140-year-old building and the more than 80-year-old door have warped differently from each other, particularly with the added stress of the north wind. Now, there is a gap at the top of the door where light is visible and snow enters during storms. The door neither latches nor opens easily.  We will be entirely replacing this door with one custom designed to fit into the skewed frame. It will also be finished to match the aesthetics of the other doors in the courtroom and properly marked as a fire exit.

Once all the windows and doors are finished, we will start restoration on the walls and ceiling. The room has historic plaster-covered masonry with a decorative stepped, painted cornice. The coved plaster ceiling has been overlaid with drywall in the flat areas but remains plaster at the coves. The room still has the original picture and cove molding, as well as cornice trim between the coves and flat portions of the ceiling. The foot-tall baseboards have decorative ogee molding. 

The courtroom’s walls show the age of the building. Before we replaced the roof during a previous grant, water leaks caused damage to the drywall ceiling and the plaster. There are places on the walls where the plaster is chipped and flaking, and even a couple of areas where portions of the underlying masonry are visible. The room has seen many different color schemes over the years. Historically, the baseboards would have had faux-graining like the doors and windows, but they, too, have been painted over. 

We will be restoring all of this to its historic appearance. The water damage from the old leaks will be removed and the plaster on the walls will be repaired. Samples were taken, and we were able to track the history of the paint layers on the walls back to the original colors, which we will be replicating. The baseboards will be faux-grained. 

Finally, once everything else has been completed, we will be restoring the oak floors. The courtroom’s floor has served as a place for gathering, eating, dancing, and celebrating for over a century, and while this is not the first time that attention has been paid to the floors, they are in desperate need of work. They are dented, scratched, chipped, and the finish is flaking off in places. We will be stripping them down and restoring them to their original grandeur.

None of this would be possible without the financial support and guidance of the Colorado State Historical Fund, the architectural genius of Barb Darden at Scheuber + Darden Architects, and the incomparable craftsmanship of Jon Sargent at Deep Roots Craftsmen. We also would like to thank all our members and donors, without whose support, this project would never have been possible.


New Front Doors

Sometimes when we fix one problem, we create new ones. During our last grant, we worked on restoring the front doors of the Historic Chaffee County Courthouse and bringing them up to code by installing panic hardware. Old hardware was removed, holes patched, and then the doors were painted to match the color they would have been historically. After a long delay while we waited for the new hardware to come into stock, we were excited to get it installed and close out the grant.  We anticipated that our front doors would be ready for another hundred years of use.

We were woefully mistaken.

When the panic hardware was installed, we suddenly started having problems getting the door to latch. One hefty spring rainstorm later, and the wood was so swollen that nothing we could do would allow us to lock the front doors. Our tireless contractor came back out and fiddled with it some more, making a series of adjustments.  He was finally able to get the doors to properly latch and we could safely lock the building. Unfortunately, the doors latched a little too well, and couldn’t be released from the outside. Each day this summer, we have entered through a back door and then released the latching mechanism on the front doors so that we could open them to the public.

It turns out that the 100-year-old pine doors and the 140-year-old building in which they reside are all completely warped out of square. Pine is an incredibly soft wood, and when faced with mountain winters, summer suns, and the test of time, it inevitably changes shape. We were unaware of this until we installed the new hardware because we had previously used a deadbolt to secure the doors to each other. When we tried to install perfectly straight, new panic hardware into warped doors in a warped frame in a warped building, it was doomed to fail from the beginning.  

We have now received a new grant to help us fix this problem by allowing us to install brand new doors.  While we try to preserve and restore the original parts of the building as best as possible, there are times when that option is not practical. In fact, the current pine doors are not the ones that were originally on the building in the 1880s, and were probably installed sometime during the Courthouse’s tenure as a school. The new doors will be constructed out of sustainably sourced mahogany, which is a much sturdier wood and should withstand the elements for a good long time.  The new door will utilize the existing glazing, and will replicate the historic doors in all details. Once manufactured, they will be painted the historical color, and the hardware from the existing doors, both original and the items purchased in the 2021 grant, will be installed.

None of this would be possible without the financial support and guidance of the Colorado State Historical Fund, the architectural genius of Barb Darden at Scheuber + Darden Architects, and the incomparable craftsmanship of Jon Sargent at Deep Roots Craftsmen. We would also like to thank Sangre de Cristo Electric Association for a generous donation that helped us cover the unexpected costs of a brand new door. As always, we want to thank all our members and donors, without whose support, this project would never have been possible.



Thanks to our sponsors
Buena Vista Heritage
P.O. Box 1414
Buena Vista, CO 81211
buenavistaheritage@msn.com