Ripley County Courthouse currently being repaired

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

DONIPHAN, MO (KAIT) - Ripley County Judge Dave Swindle told Region 8 News Tuesday he hopes to have regular court proceedings at the Ripley County Courthouse by year's end. On May 8th, the courtroom was severely damaged by high wind and heavy rain. Wind ripped off the roof to the courthouse and several other buildings. Heavy rain drenched the inside of the courtroom.

"The roof, as you can tell was blown off, which was the west side and that basically covered the courtroom chambers as well as the bench area directly inside the courtroom," said Swindle.

Until the courtroom is repaired, all court business will be handled inside Doniphan City Hall, a block from the courthouse.
"We're going to have to renovate the entire courtroom so that's what we're waiting on to do as soon as we get the roof completed," said Swindle.

Swindle said the estimated price tag for roof repairs is $50,000 with the entire project to cost $250,000. He hopes to have the roof rebuilt within 2-3 weeks.

"That doesn't include the ceiling inside the courtroom, the lighting. Other insularly expenses and the air and heat," said Swindle. "Hopefully we get back into the courtroom by Thanksgiving or Christmas at the latest, if we get by the first of the year we'll be lucky."

Ray Burson is a member of the Ripley County Historical Society. He said he was inside the Chamber of Commerce building, which also houses the Current River Heritage Museum, when the storm blew through.

"It just happened instantaneously. Everything shook and then it was gone, and there were pieces all over the place," said Burson.

After the storm, the town was devastated. Power lines were ripped from the ground. Building materials were spread throughout the southern part of the city. Shingles were thrown into the Current River.

Swindle said nearly everything in the courtroom was a total loss, except for a number of paintings by a local man.

"In fact, it's amazing those weren't' damaged at all. We were lucky there and those would have been the hardest to replace or to touch up so we got lucky there," said Swindle.

The Ripley County Courthouse has been rebuilt two times. The third version was damaged in 1929 by a tornado, which ripped off the large clock on the north side of the building.

"The first courthouse was burned during the Civil War by Union forces in 1864. The second courthouse came down in 1898 by fire," said Burson. "All these courthouses have been damaged. Some have been destroyed, but in Ripley County, we have two things going for us in Ripley County. We have the river and we have the courthouse. We say that the river is the soul of Ripley County and if that's true, then this courthouse is the heart."

Residents Region 8 News spoke with Tuesday said the courthouse is important to the county. According to Burson, there was a push to renovate the clock tower before the storm hit in May.

"On our books, the logo is the courthouse so we got to have it. We got to keep it and I'm glad to see it starting to get repaired," said Burson.

Burson said several locals come to the museum for information on the history of the county. Burson said there are several books for sale written by local genealogists.

"The courthouse is a focal point for our history for the citizens of the county and it's also, looking into the future, it's a gathering point for our county," said Lynn Maples, Curator of the Current River Heritage Museum.

The courthouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. A plague is on the building, donated by the Ripley County Historical Society.

"Recognize the town from the courthouse. They were probably running around as children, young kids driving around the court square, but it's been here a long time and a lot of people still recognize it because it is on the National Register of Historic Places," said Swindle.

"This courthouse would have disappeared in 1976 if the community wouldn't have come together and refurbished it," said Burson.

"It is a symbol and also, everything important that happened in the community, in life here in the community, is recorded here. Births, marriages, deaths and everything," said Maples.

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