On a sunny day in downtown Madison, just two years after a fire nearly destroyed the historic Jefferson County Courthouse, a group of dignitaries, veterans, first responders, media, and local residents gathered to witness the courthouse rededication ceremony.
“The courthouse has been restored to its rightful place as the center of law and government,” remarked Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Ted R. Todd. The dome, cupola, and third floor of the 156-year-old courthouse, which was being painted in preparation for Madison’s Bicentennial celebration, were razed in a three-alarm fire on May 20, 2009. Twenty-four volunteer fire departments, comprising more than 200 firefighters, responded to this blaze, which raged well into the night.
Representatives from each of these fire departments and agencies were honored at the rededication ceremony on August 26, and commended on their efforts by Madison Fire Chief Steve Horton. Without these brave volunteers, the damage to the courthouse would have been devastating, and most records would likely not have survived. County Commissioner Julie Berry also honored the past and present Jefferson County employees who put in countless hours to secure and organize the court records.
Jefferson Superior Court Judge Alison Frazier, who held office for only 4 months before the fire, thanked Chief Justice Shepard for his support and encouragement, commenting on his deep and demonstrated commitment to courthouse preservation. She also remarked on the tremendous outpouring of support from judges, clerks, and agencies throughout the state. “As soon as they heard of the fire, judges were calling and asking, ‘What can we do?’ They offered us their courtrooms, staff, everything.”
Main Source Bank allowed the Clerk’s Office to occupy one floor in its Main Street location for more than two years, rent-free. Superior Court proceedings took place in Judge Frazier’s former law office on Second Street, while Circuit Court proceedings were held in the Venture Out Business Center on Madison’s hilltop.
At a completed cost of approximately $8 million, the “new, old” courthouse remains true to its roots. “You can’t tell what is original and what isn’t,” said County Commissioner Julie Berry. The reconstruction has also incorporated symbolic objects recovered from the flames. The dome’s original clock is on display inside the courthouse, while the restored courthouse bell, which fell into the building during the fire, holds a permanent place on the southwest lawn.
Chief Justice Shepard spoke about the transition of county courthouses into the twenty-first century. Historically, he said, the three tallest buildings in a town were a church, a grain elevator, and a courthouse. These in turn represented the faith that caused settlers to cross mountains and rivers; the hope for prosperity; and the inspiration to create justice in society.
“This grand old courthouse is a sound structure once again,” said County Commissioner Tom Petrokowski.
The rededication concluded with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and the courthouse officially opened for business at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, August 26.