Perry County Courthouse receives national recognition in advance of renovations, solar eclipse

The Perry County Courthouse in Perryville, Missouri, is seen in February 2015. The courthouse recently was designated to the National Register of Historic Places.
Laura Simon

The more-than-century-old Perry County Courthouse in Perryville, Missouri, has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.

For county officials, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

The courthouse will undergo major renovations before thousands of people show up for the Aug. 21, 2017, solar eclipse.

County officials announced the historic recognition Wednesday, adding actual approval came late last month in a letter from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

The red-brick courthouse is one of the most visible landmarks in Perryville.

Since its construction in 1904, the 2 1/2-story Romanesque Revival-style structure has contained courtrooms, judges’ chambers and a variety of county offices. It also has housed fireproof vaults used for storing county records.

The addition of the courthouse to the National Register follows voter approval in April of a local parks sales tax. A portion of that tax revenue will be used to renovate the brick structure, which celebrated its 112th birthday earlier this month.

County Clerk Jared Kutz said the improvements are projected to cost from $1.5 to $2 million, which will require short-term financing that will be retired with the sales-tax revenue.

The county commission plans to replace windows, improve courtroom security and lighting, restore painted surfaces, install new air conditioning, upgrade the electrical system and replace the roof. Security improvements would include metal detectors and cameras.

Presiding Commissioner Carl Leuckel Jr. said, “Our plan is to restore the courthouse to as much of her original look as possible while at the same time improving the security and energy efficiency of the facility.”

County commissioners are reviewing proposals from project-management firms and hope to have a company hired in July. The firm will present a detailed plan to the commission by early fall, Kutz said.

Work is expected to begin early next year, with the management firm coordinating the entire project.

Kutz said the improvements will be completed before the Aug. 21, 2017, eclipse. Thousands of eclipse-watchers are expected to descend upon Perry County, which is expected to have one of the longest views of the event.

“It is going to be a big deal,” Kutz said. “We are going to have a big party.”

As a result, county officials want to show off the renovated building for the occasion.

As for replacing the windows at the courthouse, Kutz said the plan is to install more energy-efficient windows that will look historically accurate. Visitors, he said, won’t be able to tell the difference.

Now that it is on the National Register, the courthouse is eligible to receive state and federal tax credits. Kutz said county officials will explore that possibility for additional funding even as improvement plans move ahead. With the park tax money, however, “we don’t have to rely on that,” he said.

Trish Erzfeld, Perry County tourism director, drafted the application to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service, which manages the National Register.

“We are extremely proud the National Park Service has publicly identified our Perry County Courthouse as a significant, historical building,” Erzfeld said in an email.

The courthouse, designed by architect J.W. Gaddis, sits prominently at the center of a public square in Perryville’s historic, commercial district.

County officials said the courthouse was approved for the National Register specifically for its role in local government as well as its architectural contribution to the downtown landscape.

“It is the oldest existing symbol of political power and law in Perry County,” according to the official report from the Department of the Interior.

The courthouse’s interior layout was altered in 1987 to enhance accessibility and in 1992 to accommodate an office expansion. But overall, the structure has changed little since its construction, officials said.

County officials plan to erect a plaque denoting the courthouse’s National Register status, Kutz said.

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