Home News

Tower restoration nearly finished

East Oregonian

Published on March 12, 2014 12:01AM

<p>The Morrow County Courthouse clock face will be repaired as part of the overall tower restoration.</p>

The Morrow County Courthouse clock face will be repaired as part of the overall tower restoration.

<p>Support columns were rebuilt as part of the Morrow County clock tower restoration project.</p>

Support columns were rebuilt as part of the Morrow County clock tower restoration project.

Restoration of the historic Morrow County Courthouse clock tower is nearly finished, as crews await one final piece still under construction in Texas.

The crown jewel of the 112-year-old building was removed last summer for structural and cosmetic repairs. Northwest Crane Service of Hermiston lifted the tower out in three pieces, which allowed workers to do the job on the ground instead of on scaffolding.

Wood columns, pedestals and rails have been rebuilt as exact replicas of the original tower. All that's left is a custom-made fiberglass and bronze dome cover -- essentially a protective seal -- which county Public Works Director Burke O'Brien said could be ready in about a month.

Once that is fitted and in place, the county will announce dates to reset the tower atop the courthouse. The operation will again be done by crane, O'Brien said.

"It's going to last another hundred-plus years," O'Brien said. "This is the crowning glory of the courthouse. We're very proud of that."

Built in 1902, the Morrow County Courthouse is one of the oldest continuously-used courthouses in Oregon. It even survived the devastating Heppner flood of 1903 that killed 247 people and caused more than $600,000 in damage.

But in recent years, it became apparent the brilliant white clock tower would need some attention to remain intact. Much of the wood was weathered and deteriorating, and O'Brien said the whole tower began tilting to one side.

"It became totally unsafe," he said. "It was not stable. It was dangerous."

A design was crafted to address the problems without sacrificing any of the tower's historical integrity. Jason Allen, historic preservation specialist with the State Historic Preservation Office, said they are very pleased with the project.

"There are a few little details to work out, but all the work so far has been great," Allen said. "There's been a lot of initiative. (The county) has really taken the ball and run with it."

Engineers originally estimated the work would cost $500,000. That was before the county decided to completely remove the tower and complete the work on the ground, which they determined would save $200,000. Even now, it appears the project will come in under budget.

Gary Kopperud, a licensed master clockmaker from Pendleton, is volunteering his time to help repair the clock -- working with inmates at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institute. Kopperud collaborates with the prison on a clockmaker's training program, one of the last functioning schools of its kind in the country.

In another stroke of fortune, Kopperud was able to find original parts for the clock in New York, which will allow them to convert back to a weighted pendulum system. The clock was converted to run on electricity sometime around 1955.

The clock will be placed on display in the courthouse lobby. Nothing on the outside of the building will change.

"There are not that many tower clocks left in the U.S.," Kopperud said. "Cities, counties and public buildings that still have one have a keen interest in bringing that history back. It's a very unique experience."

Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4547.

This story originally appeared in .


Share and Discuss


User Comments