Dome seems set to stay at home

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 21, 1999

The vintage 1884 Mower County courthouse dome may have found a permanent home: right where it’s at today.

Sunday, August 21, 1999

The vintage 1884 Mower County courthouse dome may have found a permanent home: right where it’s at today.

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The Mower County Historical Society’s members want it to remain at the historical center on the fairgrounds.

"No vote was taken Wednesday night," said Steve Neiswanger, a board member, "but the people there overwhelmingly wanted it to stay at the fairgrounds."

The dome has been a target of mixed feelings this summer.

Its detractors said it was ugly and an eyesore where it was located, on a platform behind other historical center buildings.

It’s supporters said it is a link the Mower County’s past and should be preserved.

Concerns for the safety of those who walked under or around it were the driving force behind the MCHS efforts two months ago to ask the Mower County Board of Commissioners for advice.

The commissioners said the MCHS would have to ensure its maintenance and upkeep, as well as safe display, if it were to remain at the fairgrounds. Otherwise, the county commissioners said it would be taken away to a landfill.

The dome was raised by horses to the top of the original Mower County Courthouse building in downtown Austin in 1884. For decades, it was the highest point in the cityscape.

When the courthouse was remodeled in the mid-1960s, it was moved to the fairgrounds, where it has remained since 1966.

The exterior is tin with a wood lining and the entire dome was surrounded by snow fence prior to the start of the 1999 Mower County Fair for safety reasons.

Now, the MCHS has commissioned architect Paul Johnson to prepare preliminary sketches of how the dome could be mounted on a permanent platform and become a kiosk or informational center.

However, just where it would be displayed remains uncertain.

The commissioners are proposing to build a new multi-purpose building at the fairgrounds. The building would be used for the annual County Fair, National Barrow Show and other hoped-for year-around events.

In addition, it would hold two sheets of ice for hockey and figure skating purposes.

Plans call for marketing the new facility as a year-around venue for a variety of events, plus the annual County Fair each August.

The MCHS expects to hear from Johnson, when it meets Sept. 22 for a long-range planning session, according to Neiswanger.

That’s also when MCHS members will "brainstorm" plans for its future and that of the historical center.

"Because the county board is planning to build a new multi-purpose building on the fairgrounds that could involve some redirecting of traffic," Neiswanger said. "Depending upon where the new building goes and how they direct traffic along the streets of the fairgrounds, we don’t know at this time where the dome-kiosk would go."

Because some MCHS futurists anticipate a "village" setting for the historical center’s individual buildings, the dome-kiosk could be displayed in that village’s own "town square."

For those who labored and lobbied this summer to save the dome, the news that it will become a permanent gazebo or informational center at the fairgrounds, it welcome.

Also welcoming is the early discussion that the original bubbling water fountain from the old county courthouse could be displayed underneath the dome, bringing yet another piece of history into more public display and use.

The MCHS members authorized a fund-drive be started immediately to help cover some of the costs for the dome restoration project.

Anyone interested in contributing may send their donations to the MCHS in care of "Save the Dome" Project, P. O. Box 804, Austin, MN. 55912.