Jeffris Family Foundation Awards Challenge Grant to Support Kenosha County Ceremonial Courtroom Restoration

KENOSHA COUNTY—The Jeffris Family Foundation will provide a $675,000 challenge grant to help fund the restoration of the ceremonial courtroom at the Kenosha County Courthouse, provided additional funds can be raised locally, County Executive Jim Kreuser announced Monday. .

To earn the $675,000 prize, Kenosha County must raise $1.35 million in private donations over the next three years, Kreuser said. A committee is being formed to oversee that effort, with more details to be announced in the coming months, Kreuser said.

Based in Janesville, the Jeffris Family Foundation supports the preservation of regionally and nationally significant historic buildings and decorative arts projects throughout the Midwest, including prestigious sites such as the home of President Warren G. Harding in Marion, Ohio, the home of President William Henry Harrison in Vincennes, Ind., and buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan.

“We are delighted and honored that the Jeffris Family Foundation is making this generous contribution to our efforts to restore a historic gem in Kenosha County,” Kreuser said. “Provided we can obtain the private support needed to match the grant two to one, there will be another significant investment in the preservation of our beautiful courthouse and some of its key architectural features will be uncovered and restored.”

“It has been a pleasure to work with provincial officials on this project,” said the foundation’s president, Thomas M. Jeffris.

The ceremonial courtroom, today’s Circuit Court Room 209, is the surviving of the two large, double-height courtrooms that had been incorporated into the courthouse when it opened in 1925.

While the other main courtroom was subdivided into two single-storey courtrooms in the 1960s, the ceremonial courtroom retained its original size but had its decorative plaster ceiling with inlaid art-glass skylights covered and damaged by a drop ceiling as part of a renovation that added central air conditioning to the room.

Hidden above that suspended ceiling, but still largely intact, is a frieze ringing the room with a quote from Abraham Lincoln on “Law”:

“Let every American, every lover of liberty, every benefactor of his posterity, swear by the blood of the revolution, never in the least to break the laws of the land; and never tolerate their violation by others.”

This quote is an expert from one of Lincoln’s earliest published speeches, delivered in Springfield, Illinois, on January 27, 1838, in response to the burning of a black man released in St. Louis several weeks earlier.

The proposed restoration project involves moving the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning infrastructure – which is in need of replacement – to the attic above the courtroom, removing the suspended ceiling and restoring the original features of the ceiling and lighting of the room. The 1925 lamps would be reproduced by St. Louis Antique Lighting Co., a leading restoration lighting company in the nation that has done work for the U.S. Supreme Court and 16 state capitals.

Located at 912 56th St., the courthouse is listed as an individual landmark on the National Register of Historic Places and is a major contributor to the downtown Kenosha Civic Center Historic District. The district, which remains intact, is unique in that it represents several government units – city, county, and federal – executing a unified vision for a neoclassical-style town square.

More information about the Ceremonial Courtroom project is available at:
https://www.kenoshacounty.org/2055/Ceremonial-Courtroom-Restoration-Project.

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