Bug problem uncovers 126-year-old treasure in Butler County building

The original hardwood floors from 1889 were recently discovered on the second floor of the historic Butler County Courthouse. Work is now underway to restore them. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

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The original hardwood floors from 1889 were recently discovered on the second floor of the historic Butler County Courthouse. Work is now underway to restore them. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

A bug problem in Butler County’s 125-year-old historic courthouse meant its old, threadbare carpet was recently torn up. Underneath, contractors found what is believed to be Rookwood Pottery tile and valuable 100-plus-year-old hardwood floors.

Butler County Probate Judge Randy Rogers recently rented a sander and spent a Saturday helping to unearth the floors that have been hidden for years with carpeting.

“I ended up with a guy that does work for me and we spent Saturday from 9 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. and this is what we found,” Rogers said, his arm outstretched over his hardwood handiwork. “He believes this is long leaf sugar pine without any knots … it’s pretty valuable wood.”

The plan is to finish sanding out the hardwood floors and apply stain over them, instead of re-covering them with carpet.

“We all decided in the long run you can put a 15-year carpet down or you can redo these floors and they’ll last for another 50-plus years,” said Randy Quisenberry, the county’s asset director. “Plus it’ll be a distinguished section of that 125 year-old courthouse, one that presents itself in a historic manner.”

While Quisenberry doesn’t have an estimate for refurbishing the floors, he said the carpet for only one area was going to be about $9,000.

Another major step forward in courthouse restoration was completed last spring. The crumbling steps on the High Street side of the courthouse were replaced with new stairs, a $91,994 project long in the making.

Replacing the steps was not the only work that is needed on the $30 million asset. The judge said overall it will cost almost $1 million to fully restore the courthouse. The estimate for installing new steps all around the building was about $200,000. Shoring up the flaking sandstone facade is another $200,000 and a new roof will be needed, with a price tag of about $500,000.

Quisenberry said they are starting to ramp up discussions about tackling these other issues and the roof would be front and center.

“They are not real specific plans at this time, but it’s things we’ve discussed and as always the discussion leads to securing the roof first,” he said. “So we won’t be compromising any work down the road to the steps or the sandstone.”

County Administrator Charlie Young said there will be discussions about capital projects during the upcoming budget hearings in October and the courthouse could be on the list for next year.

“It’s possible some of that could be in next year’s budget,” he said. “But I would expect that over the three to five year time horizon some of those things (would be completed), particularly anything that is essential to maintaining the integrity of the facility.”

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