Hidden piece of history uncovered during courthouse renovation project

Built in 1905, the federal courthouse at the corner of Mulberry and Third streets in downtown Macon is steeped in history.

It bears a marker noting that it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it’s also a place where judges have made historic civil-rights-era decisions and sent notorious criminals to prison.

A long-hidden piece of that history was uncovered earlier this year as part of a project to replace the sound system in the building’s original courtroom.

Audio and video connections had run underneath carpet there for years, and in the process of converting the sound system from analog to digital technology, the carpet was pulled up and removed, U.S. District Court Clerk David Bunt said.

When workers began replacing carpet, problems with the subflooring were discovered, and staffers found a “layer cake” of cork, plywood and another more brittle layer of material, Bunt said.

Original heart-pine flooring lay hidden beneath the subfloor.

Channels had been cut into the boards for conduit.

Workers patched the damaged sections with flooring from an old cotton mill from the same era, sanded the wood and applied stain and a layer of sealant.

“Now when you look at it, you can’t tell that there were ever channels cut in the floor,” Bunt said. “The floors are beautiful now.”

The $140,000 project — which includes both the sound system and floor work — is set for completion later this month.

Judge Marc Treadwell, who uses the courtroom the most, said he’s happy that the floors, a lost part of the building’s past, were rediscovered.

“This courthouse is a historic treasure — not just as a building, but as a place where a lot of history has taken place,” he said.

The flooring isn’t the first discovery uncovered during renovations in the more than 112-year-old building.

Decades ago, workers stripped paint away to uncover brass-walled elevators.

More recently, when Treadwell’s chambers were renovated after he took office in 2010, workers removed a drop ceiling that covered the top third of tall windows.

When money becomes available, work also is needed for the building’s outer shell and, later, its hallways, the judge said.

 

By: Amy Leigh Womack

May 12, 2017