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Crane restores cannons to front of courthouse
One of the post-Civil War era naval cannons is shown at its permanent spot in front of the former Henry County courthouse on Friday. Two cannons were moved as part of the landscaping project at the building, now called the Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center & Museum. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
The cannons are back in place in front of the former Henry County courthouse.
An approximately 40-foot-high crane was used to install two mounts, or bases for the cannons, starting around 8 a.m. Friday on the courthouse grounds. After the mounts were in place, the crane moved the two post-Civil War era, Fort McHenry naval cannons into place atop them.
The cannons had been moved to a staging area at the courthouse in March after work began on the Garden Club of Virginia’s landscape restoration project at the historic courthouse. It is now called the Martinsville-Henry County Heritage Center & Museum.
One of the two cannons weighs a little less than eight tons, and the other weighs a little more than eight tons, according to landscape architect Will Rieley and Debbie Hall, executive director of the Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society.
The cannons were cast at the West Point Foundry in New York, probably after the Civil War.
The cannons were refurbished in 1885, and decommissioned and brought to the courthouse grounds in 1901, they added.
Rieley said it was ironic that “Yankee” cannons were guarding the Confederate monument on the former courthouse grounds.
He said the cannons are Rodman guns, named after Thomas Rodman. He was a West Point graduate who designed the method by which the guns were made. Hall said they are rifled cannons, meaning they could fire farther, faster and more accurately.
Rieley and Hall said at some point years ago, the cannons on the courthouse grounds were put in upside down. As part of the current project, they will be placed back in their proper positions and rust will be cleaned off them.
Hall said the landscaping project is at least 80 percent complete, with the plantings to be done in October.
The project includes restoring the cannons to metal bases; expanding the brick plaza in front of the courthouse; removing the front row of parking and putting a brick walkway in its place; replacing concrete ramps with broad steps that will be wrapped in stone walls; and flanking the plaza with plantings — Princeton elms, red bud trees, serviceberries and hypericum.
So far, Hall said the brick plaza has been replaced and expanded. It now is about 60 feet wide by about 70 feet long, and in the second phase of the project the brick plaza will be expanded to about 140 feet long, including a drive-through, according to Hall and Rieley. The six current parking spaces will be eliminated, Hall said.
The expanded plaza now has “tent holders” that can hold a 30- by 30-foot tent, good for activities during inclement weather, Hall said.
The plaza has several benches.
The steps and handicapped ramp to the old courthouse have been redone, improving accessibility, Hall said. Steps on Jones and Franklin streets have been redone.
Hall said she hopes the second phase of the project will start in October and take a couple of months, depending on the weather.
Proceeds from the Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week, a statewide tour of gardens and homes, have financed more than 40 restorations since 1929, according to the club’s website.
Rieley said the club chose the old Henry County Courthouse grounds for a restoration project because of the historic significance of the property, the “great setting,” its central location and, perhaps most important, the Garden Club wanted to be part of the revitalization of uptown and maybe encourage others to invest.
“I think it’s (the project) gone very well. ... Seeing it come to fruition is a delight,” Rieley said.
The city owns the road and parking area in front of the courthouse. It will use funds from a Community Development Block Grant and the Harvest Foundation to do landscaping in that area in concert with the Garden Club of Virginia’s plans for the courthouse property.
The Martinsville-Henry County Historical Society also is involved in the project.
Hall said the historical society wants to keep the old courthouse and grounds “a focal point of the community, a gathering place.”