No new home for eagle? Courthouse project under budget
By Marty Gordon
MONTGOMERY COUNTY – In the midst of trees in front of the current Montgomery County Courthouse sits the historic eagle that once stood on top of the cupola of the 1909 courthouse building. The eagle was taken down in 1976 when the county demolished that courthouse to make room for a newer one.
The beloved eagle was placed on a pedestal in front of the new building, where it remains today. The question now is what the county plans to do with it when another new courthouse opens this fall.
Jack Murphy of Thompson & Litton, architects for the new courthouse, said Monday night that originally the eagle was going to be placed inside the new structure. “Now there are no plans to do that, and I do not know what the county’s next move on the eagle will be, if there is any,” he said.
The Montgomery Museum currently has a courthouse history exhibit on display that includes a conceptual drawing with the eagle sitting inside an atrium on the second floor of the new courthouse.
According to Sherry Wyatt of the museum, the open cupola that the eagle once adorned also featured four clock faces. In 1953, the dome was reworked. The clocks were removed and the dome was lowered and enclosed to prevent nesting birds, but the eagle remained on top until the building’s demolition in 1976.
The eagle itself is a hollow metal sculpture that was made in Lynchburg. The 1910 Roanoke County Courthouse in Salem was designed by the same architect as the Montgomery County Courthouse, H. H. Huggins, and features a cupola with clocks and is topped by an eagle.
Wyatt said the Roanoke County eagle is similar, if not identical, to the Montgomery County eagle.
“The eagle’s placement facing west atop the cupola and its placement in the same manner on its pedestal in front of the 1979 courthouse is important historically. This westward aspect represents our national push for western settlement and symbolizes Montgomery County’s early role in settling the frontier,” she said.
The eagle was sculptured by an unknown artist and given as a gift to the people of Montgomery County.
A closer look at the current condition of the eagle shows it is in disarray. Bees fly in and out of a huge opening to the rear of the globe that the bird sits on, and a second hole is home to a bird’s nest. The county has not commented on its plans for the former courthouse topper.
Monday night the Board of Supervisors received welcome news as Murphy said the courthouse project is coming in almost $4.1 million under budget, with a budget of $30.235 million and spending at $26.151 million
While the grand opening is set for November, Murphy told the board all of the county’s court offices hope to be in the building by October 9. “This will allow them to be in operation in their new surroundings before November,” he said.
Move-in by the courts is expected to be completed by October 7 with no real shutdown of their offices during the transition to the new building. Records from the circuit court, which will be the bulk of the move, will begin their transition to the new building on September 24.