Cleburne courthouse

The Cleburne County Courthouse is getting a new roof due to hail damage a year ago. Cleburne County Commissioner Emmett Owen explored the courthouse on Tuesday and showed the seldom seen treasure and antiquities that are hidden from view. Photo by Bill Wilson / The Anniston Star

HEFLIN — Hidden beneath the golden clock dome of the Cleburne County Courthouse are treasures and antiquities seldom seen. Commissioner Emmett Owen ascended shaky wooden steps in the clock tower Tuesday morning to check on workers who were putting the finishing touches on a new roof, replacing one which had been badly damaged last year by hail.

Built in 1907, the Cleburne County Courthouse in 1938 was expanded to have two adjoining wings. In 1976, the structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

After climbing up a labyrinth of steel ladders and the brittle steps, Owen finally made it to a small room where the bell and ringer are housed. Owen found a stash of old “3-in-1” brand oil bottles, coated by cobwebs and a heavy layer of dust, their contents likely used to lubricate the mechanisms of the clock and bell ringer.  

Owen searched the old bottles for a date and started talking about the huge bell, which has alerted Cleburne Countians to the correct time for 112 years or so.

“It’s as old as the courthouse ... a lot of times a bell this size will have a date stamped in it. Look at that old hammer right there, man,” Owen said.

The enormous and lightly rusted bell is boltedto old wooden timbers; the bell is stamped “Number 40 Ross-Meehan Foundry Chattanooga Tenn.”  

The bell’s hammer, or sounder, had been replaced at some time when other upgrades took place, although the previous hammer is still attached — a surprise to Owen. Hesmacked the bell with its original hammer and the sound shook dust from the rafters as it reverberated for about six seconds.

Outside, the clock tower is shrouded in scaffolding as repairs continue, including fixing leaks and other restoration.

Beneath the bell room another room houses the clock itself. As intricate as a Leonardo da Vinci drawing, it contains a large green piece of arched iron and a series of metal gears, rods and cables that form the heart of the timepiece and drive all four clock faces on the tower.

Owen estimates the bell and bracket weigh about 1,000 pounds.

“It really shows its age when you get up here and lay your hands on it,” Owen said.

Downstairs, Owen hopes to restore the main courtroom to its former glory. The space has a drop-ceiling of white tiles hiding old windows and the original ceiling, which is silver colored with ornate patterns from another era.

Owen climbed a stepladder to get a glimpse of the original ceiling and, behind the judge’s bench, some carved woodwork which is also hidden from view.

Owen hopes to renovate the courtroom once money becomes available.

Owen, who has a background in restoring old buildings, has been in charge of maintenance of the courthouse since 2012 during his first term as commissioner.

“It’s just what I’ve done all my life,” Owen said.

“When I first took over this courthouse you can go back and look at it, it was about to fall in,” Owen said.

​Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.

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