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Last minute reprieve: County donating cupola to historical society

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published July 30, 2007, 4:38 p.m.)

If Walworth County history books are ever written, the chapter about the old cupola that once sat atop the now-demolished county hospital will be a little bit longer.

Two weeks after the county's public works committee voted to dispose of the cupola, the finance committee Monday unanimously offered to give it to the Walworth County Historical Society to preserve.

"It's worth saving because it's sort of a reminder of the way things used to be," said Walworth County historian Doris M. Reinke, a board member for the historical society. "Government buildings almost always had a cupola, sometimes with a statue on top or with a bell tower.

"You see box-like buildings now. They don't have the style of a cupola."

The cupola sat atop what was last known as the County Annex complex. It was originally built in 1917 as a hospital for residents in the county-run nursing home. It later became a county-run public hospital and was subsequently used for various other purposes, including human services offices and a Huber Dorm facility.

After learning of the public works committee's vote to destroy the cupola, the historical society moved quickly to see that it was preserved.

"As far as this last-ditch effort, it was assuredly to keep it from being demolished," said Philip Strong, historical society president. "What we will do with it, I don't know."

The likely case is for the historical society to place it on the grounds by the Webster House Museum and the Doris M. Reinke Resource Center, two facilities in Elkhorn dedicated to preserving county history.

The 16-foot tall cupola will be stored by the society until funds are generated to restore the weathered and broken structure. The iconic relic was twice damaged since it was removed from the annex roof last year.

The public works committee sought bids to have the wood and tin structure fixed. Prices came in at $37,000 for complete restoration with a new ground-mounted stand and $16,500 for restoration suitable for putting it on top of another building.

Public Works Director Shane Crawford said donating surplus county property to a non-profit group is within county ordinances.

"This is our last ditch effort, so to speak in regards to saving it," he said.

"This fits the bill perfectly."

The cupola was to be delivered to the society today, Tuesday, with several stipulations, Crawford said.

Reinke expects the historical society to organize a fund-raising drive for the cupola's restoration.

"I think once there's a real object behind a donation drive, I think the money will come in," she said. "We do have volunteers who are willing to work and willing to do it."

Historical society member Ginny Hall first proposed saving the cupola. Throwing away artifacts does nothing to preserve the county's story, she said.

"It's a symbol of the county and the county's early history," Hall said. "Other than pictures, a lot of the early history is lost."


* The historical society will restore the cupola within five years.

* It will display the cupola at the Webster House grounds with appropriate labeling.

* The cupola will be returned to the county if it cannot be displayed or if the society decides to dispose of it.

* The society will store the cupola during the restoration process.



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