Wood County Courthouse

Steeplejack takes rare skills to wuthering heights

By JAN LARON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bill Meyers has spent much of his life looking down on Northwest Ohio. As a steeplejack for more than 40 years, he has climbed up clock towers, church steeples, radio towers and nuclear cooling structures. Originally from Napoleon, Meyers has done much of his work here in Bowling Green –  from lighting the courthouse clock to renovating the historic dome at Trinity United Methodist Church. Just gazing up at tall structures is enough to give some people a twinge of panic. But Meyers is quite comfortable working and walking at great heights. “I always liked being up in the air,” Meyers said recently as he took a break from working on the bell tower at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Bowling Green. As a child he had a treehouse with no ladder or rope. “Nobody could come up unless they could climb.” By age 15, he was doing freefall skydiving. “I should have been a bird.” Meyers was a student at BGSU in the 1970s when he started doing odd jobs for local landlords and government officials. It quickly became known that the young Meyers could handle heights, so his skills were tapped for putting up the first outdoor sirens in the county and helping install water towers in the city. As if that weren’t enough of a thrill, Meyers also took a side job wiring explosives and detonating them on a blasting job. Now at age 67, Meyers still free climbs and still appreciates a good challenge. Phil Whaley, an engineer with Poggemeyer Design Group, has worked on more than 100 jobs with Meyers over the years and considers the steeplejack to have rare skills. “That’s putting it mildly.” Whaley distinctly remembers Meyers walking the ridge of the towering St. Patrick’s Church near downtown Toledo. “It was like he was walking down a sidewalk,” Whaley said. As valuable as his handling of heights is Meyer’s ability to come up with inexpensive solutions to seemingly impossible to solve problems. “He’s never met a problem he couldn’t figure a way around,” Whaley said. “He’s got quite a creative mind when it comes to solving problems.” Take for example, the microwave towers installed on top of AT&T silos. Meyers devised some “weird fabrications” to hang the microwave dishes off the side. “Almost everything he does has a weird twist to it,” Whaley said. Or the University of Toledo tower, where Meyers realized a helicopter was needed to drop steel through a hole in the roof to support scaffolding while repairing the concrete. Then there are the bridge inspections, where he rigged up a pulley system to carry workers on a platform. “It’s tough to get underneath these old bridges,” Whaley said. When a collapse occurred at the Campbell Soup plant, Meyers used cable to make a spider web deck for workers over a glass area. “He’s an adrenalin junkie. He looks for weirder and weirder things to do,” Whaley said. Yet, Meyers has a safety record to be envied. When he started climbing for a living, there was no OSHA, no EPA to set safety standards. “It was just survival on instincts,” Meyers said. “I was doing some dangerous stuff.” His first business was called Golden Grip Inc. The business now is called W.R….

Courthouse tour lays down the law for BG students

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   There was a bit of disorder in the courts  Monday as Bowling Green sixth graders got a close-up view of “Lady Justice.” They sat in on a court case, they offered ideas for new laws, and they met with the sheriff. And as a bonus, they learned a bit on how the county handles emergencies. The kids were awestruck by the court proceedings, and suitably impressed by the grand Wood County Courthouse. But kids being kids – they sometimes found a different focus than the intended. For example, as architect Heidi Reger pointed out the intricate stone work on the front of the 1896 courthouse, she asked the students to find the faces and animals carved into the stone. “They liked to tell a lot of stories in the stones,” she said. But during one group’s tour, Reger had some competition from above when one of the Peregrine falcons roosting in the courthouse clock tower snatched a bird for breakfast. It wasn’t long before a burst of feathers came floating down from the clock tower. Once inside the courthouse, the students got to listen to cases presented to the Sixth District Court of Appeals. The lesson there might have been that real court cases aren’t necessarily as exciting as those portrayed on television. But the students sat respectfully with little fidgeting as a case was argued about who was responsible for paying for roadwork and causeway maintenance for Johnson Island. Though the legal arguments were tedious, technical and long-winded, the students sat quietly. One court constable suggested that the sixth graders were likely intimidated by the panel of three robed judges, or by the ornate courtroom with its stained glass ceiling. After sitting through the governmental arm that rules on the law, the students heard from state legislators that make the laws. State Senator Randy Gardner and State Rep. Theresa Gavarone, both R-Bowling Green, talked about their routes to the statehouse. Gardner started out as a teacher, and Gavarone as an attorney and part-owner of Mr. Spots – which seemed to impress the students. Gardner stressed to the students that they are the bosses of state legislators. “If you live in Wood County, that means you’re our boss,” he said. “We listen to you.” Both talked about bills they sponsored that involved kids – such as legislation against bullying, requiring vision screening for students, and allowing students with asthma to carry their own inhalers at school. Gardner also talked about legislation introduced by students, like the bill designating the white-tailed deer as Ohio’s official state animal. “It came right from students,” specifically sixth graders who believed Ohio should have a state animal, he said. “It was really pretty cool.” Currently, other students in Ohio are working on legislation creating an official state dog. Gardner asked the students to guess the breed under consideration. The guesses included mainstream German shepherds, golden retrievers and Chihuahuas, and more specialized Pomeranian-husky mixes, pit bulls, and Tibetan spaniels. As it turns out, Gardner said he believes it’s a Labrador retriever being put up for the position. Gardner asked the students what laws they would like enacted. One suggested a bill against animal abuse. Done that, Gardner said. Another suggested that fidget spinners be allowed in school. Not…

County courthouse murals need a facelift

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Murals depicting the history of Wood County, and now part of that history, need some work. The murals on the third floor of the Wood County Courthouse depict, on the east wall, Fort Meigs in 1813 and facing it on the west wall, one depicting an oil field in 1904. The murals were painted in 1910 and 1911 by I.M. Taylor, an artist and at the time mayor of Bowling Green. Nick Foos, facilities director for the county, said that in the past 18 months as work was being done restoring plaster in the second and third floors of the courthouse, workers noticed some paint flaking on the murals. That information was shared with county officials, including County Administrator Andrew Kalmar. “We collectively decided we should do something about it before it gets worse,” Foos said. So the county contracted with ICA Art Conservation, a non-profit center in Cleveland for advice. On Tuesday, Andrea Chevalier, a senior painting conservator, visited the courthouse, and using step ladders was able to get a closer look at the situation. What she saw was not pretty, but reparable. There are large areas of areas where the paint is peeling, yet still precariously hanging onto the surface. There are also a few areas where the paint is gone altogether. Foos said the mural depicting Fort Meigs is in worse shape than the one depicting Wood County oil fields. The surfaces of the paintings are actually quite clean, without a film of dirt, nor heavy varnish. Foos said there were traces of nicotine from the time when smoking was allowed in the building. Chevalier said that to fix the murals an adhesive will have to be applied under the surface using a hypodermic needle or brush. Then a special packing press will be used to flatten the flaking paint back onto the surface. The areas where the paint is gone will be filled in and repainted to match the original. Chevalier could not give an estimate on what that will cost. She’s working on a report based on her observations on the site. She expects to have a report to Kalmar by the end of next week. Still “it’s not inexpensive.” Just getting the scaffolding up from the second landing will be costly. Chevalier was only able to touch about the bottom three feet of the murals, which she estimates are 24-by-24-feet. While not by a famous artist, they are competently painted. she said, and definitely worth preserving. “They’re part of the cultural heritage of the city and the county.” Public buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century were “very decorated,” Chevalier said. People then valued the decorative arts – stone work, sculpting, metalsmithing, glasswork, and murals. People wanted their public buildings to showcase that skill. “They were public buildings,” she said. “They wanted those to reflect the quality of craftsmanship they had. I think we’d be hard pressed to find those people today.”    

It’s about time…courthouse clock chimes on time…for now

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Time has taken its toll on the clock that rises high above Bowling Green. Even the majestic courthouse clock is bound to lose track of time when pigeons roost on its hands, when blizzard winds whip in its face, and when it works round the clock for more than a century. After several years of the Wood County Courthouse tower clock being behind – or actually ahead of the times, Wood County Administrator Andrew Kalmar talked with the courthouse crew about fiddling with the mechanism to get the clock to chime on time. The commissioners’ office had gotten a few complaints over the years about the 195-foot tall clock running fast. But now that the clock is on time, neighbors appear to be finding it discombobulating. “Most of them aren’t happy the clock is on time,” Kalmar said. It turns out some of the neighbors seemed to appreciate the advanced notice the courthouse clock had been giving them for decades. “I’m kind of disoriented because the clock tower in the county courthouse is chiming exactly on the hour. I’ll get used to it,” Geoff Howes, a courthouse neighbor wrote on Facebook. “We’ve lived three blocks from the courthouse for 30 years and if I’m not mistaken, this is the first time it’s been on the hour. It changes every spring and fall, when we go on and off daylight savings time. Sometimes it’s three minutes early, sometimes two, sometimes five or six. Most recently it was four minutes off.” That led to Victoria TenEyck responding on Facebook. “It’s about time,” she typed, then added LOL about her clock pun. Some Bowling Green residents had grown to rely on the early chimes, which acted as a giant snooze alarm of sorts. “I count on it being five minutes early,” lamented Neocles Leontis. “That is screwing me up,” Amy Fry said. Gordon Maclean asked if this meant that Bowling Green Standard Time had been abolished. “Ten years I’ve lived here and I count on those chimes being at least three minutes early,” Ellis Nigh wrote. “What? That’s just gonna feel so wrong,” Amy Craft Ahrens added. Kalmar defended the timelessness of the courthouse tower clock, which is about 120 years old, running on a motor that is about 70 years old. Relying on it for exact time is asking for a lot. “It’s a giant clock. It’s not like the cell phone in your pocket,” he said. Since the clock was running four minutes ahead recently, Kalmar asked the courthouse crew to turn off the clock motor for four minutes, then start it up again. That did the trick – at least for the chimes. Those relying on the clock hands to tell the time will still be a few minutes behind … or ahead. “The chime mechanism operates independently of the hands,” Kalmar said. “We can adjust the hands, although it’s not easy.” Moving the hands ideally occurs when the clock’s big hand is pointing straight down, so it’s easier to reach. A worker with a radio on the ground then has to talk through the worker in the clock tower, he said. Time has taken a toll on the county clock. The clock, perched in the 195-foot tall courthouse tower, has a…

Wood County Courthouse has countless stories to tell

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   What do Jimmy Hoffa, Ronald Reagan and the KKK have in common? They all visited the Wood County Courthouse – for far different reasons, of course. The grand Wood County Courthouse, which is recognized by many as an architectural wonder with ornate stonework, has seen more than 120 years of trials, political rallies and people coming in to do everyday business – pay taxes, get marriage licenses, attend public meetings. Though he’s unlikely to give himself the title of courthouse historian, Wood County Auditor Mike Sibbersen is the official most people turn to when they want details about the grand structure. He can rattle off details long forgotten by others, but being an auditor and a stickler for details, he frequently checks his facts as he talks about the courthouse. The courthouse has been the site of some dubious distinctions. Many know the story of Carl Bach who killed his wife, Mary, in 1881 with a corn knife. He was reportedly angry about his unsuccessful farming efforts and being forced to sleep in the barn. Bach was the last man to be executed by hanging in Wood County, next to the previous courthouse on the same site. Tickets were sold to the public event, and a special execution edition of the newspaper was published. Remnants of the murder – Mary’s withered fingers, the corn knife used to chop them off, and the rope used to hang her husband – were on the display for years at the county historical museum. A lesser known fact is that the sheriff who presided over the execution, George Murray “Murr” Brown, decided to make the most of the scaffolding used for the hanging, and built a porch on his home over on Conneaut Avenue, Sibbersen said. Bach was not the only person to meet his demise on the courthouse grounds. The courthouse was built with an elevator – which in itself was a rarity for back then. But the luxury led to the death of Joseph Danner, a courthouse janitor, who somehow fell down the elevator shaft in the darkness and died in 1916. The courthouse actually had an elevator operator to help the public navigate their way through the building. In later years, the operator was only on duty when necessary. “He would come in during tax collections. There would be a lot of people then,” Sibbersen said. There was also the case of the former candidate for county auditor, J.H. Ward, who was devastated by his unsuccessful campaign for the office in 1905. Ward was being housed in the county jail due to mental illness brought on by his loss. He reportedly used a gun that belonged to the jail matron to kill himself. A newspaper article said Ward suffered from “softening of the brain” from his unsuccessful bid for office. But back to the original question about Hoffa, Reagan and the KKK. Hoffa, the famous American labor union leader who disappeared in 1975, came to the Wood County Courthouse in 1937 to get a marriage license to wed Josephine Poszywak, of Rossford. Their framed marriage license still hangs on the wall of the courthouse probate office. Hoffa, who listed his occupation as “organizer” and his residence as Detroit, was one of many people…