Readers: Today marks the 10th anniversary of the day the old Palm Beach County Courthouse reopened on March 15, 2008, with a new legacy and a new mission, as the Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum and home to the Historical Society of Palm Beach County.
Here’s more from previous news articles and Post Time columns:
In 1916, when Palm Beach County had only 18,000 residents and Military Trail would have been considered “out of town,” it spent $135,000 — some $3.2 million in 2018 dollars — to build its first courthouse, a 38,400-square-foot, three-story neoclassical structure that housed both courts and county offices. A 1927 expansion doubled the size of the complex.
By 1967, the postwar boom had expanded the county’s population. A study recommended a new courthouse. Instead, the county opted to expand. It tore down the courthouse’s iconic columns and plastered a “wraparound” that was finished in 1972, which created a 232,150-square-foot box.
With more and more growth, the courthouse continued to groan under its added burden. A new complex opened in 1995.
But what to do with the old building?
As is often the case in a community in which few have roots, many endorsed just tearing down the monstrosity. Others begged to save it. In 2002, the County Commission opted for the latter.
Over the next several years, workers painstakingly salvaged limestone, granite, marble wainscot, windows and mosaic floor tiles — even doorknobs. The original columns and capitals from both the 1916 courthouse and 1927 addition — 20 in all — had been moved to nearby Hillcrest Cemetery, in hopes that the courthouse would one day be restored. Stone carvers and masons hoisted the massive — up to 3 tons — columns back into place.
By the time the restored courthouse reopened in March 2008, the restoration had cost $18.9 million — $22 million in today’s dollars.
The new museum opened as a 3,500-square-foot complex telling the story of Palm Beach County to school tours, jurors, seniors, tourists, residents, and guests at private social events and lectures. Historical Society members have toured the permanent galleries, traveling exhibits and the two-story, 2,897-square-foot historic courtroom on the third and fourth floors. The collection includes 3,000-year-old spearheads, fine hotel china, dioramas and a replica of a pioneer house.
In the new history museum’s first year, it hosted 15,665 visitors. On Jan. 29, 2016, it got its 100,000th. Actually, and appropriately, a group of school kids collectively earned that distinction. It was the eighth-grade class from Palm Springs Middle School. The kids were met with cake and balloons and free family memberships in the society.
Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum: 300 N. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach.
Historical Society of Palm Beach County: 561-832-4164 or visit www.historicalsocietypbc.org.
Submit your questions to Post Time, The Palm Beach Post, 2751 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, FL 33405. Include your full name and hometown. Call 561-820-4418. EK@pbpost.com. Sorry; no personal replies.