‘How far we’ve come’

Published on: Tue, Jan 08, 2019

Courthouse museum reopens one year after fire

Almost a year after a fire on the Downtown Denton Square, the Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum’s main exhibit is set to rise from the ashes January 1.

The fire took a major toll on the museum and the surrounding areas, originating in the Downtown Mini Mall across the street from the courthouse. The fire’s smoke and soot went through the Courthouse’s ventilation system and through the museum, damaging many of the artifacts both on display and in storage.

All artifacts stored inside the Courthouse-on-the-Square needed to be re-housed after the archival boxes absorbed smoke and soot from the Downtown Mini Mall Fire. (Photo courtesy of the Denton County Office of History & Culture)

“It left a greasy layer on all the walls,” said Peggy Riddle, Head of the Office of History and Culture at the Denton County Courthouse. “We had to have our equipment cleaned professionally — all our computer equipment, communication equipment — and then it got into our collections storage as well as the main gallery on the first floor.”

The museum wasn’t the only Denton favorite affected by the fire. Neighboring the Mini Mall, Jupiter House Coffee, Shop the Barn, La Di Da and nearby apartments suffered smoke and structural damage from the flames. Jupiter House is set to reopen in early 2019 after undergoing renovations and structural changes.

So what does the restoration process actually look like?

Paper, art, object and textile conservators were located to begin the restoration. The search for the right conservators began in Dallas but expanded as far as Michigan.

“I bet we had over half a million pages from books, individual manuscripts and archives,” Riddle said. “This really taught us a lot about our collections, and it gave us an opportunity to inventory everything. “

The inventory allowed the museum to pass duplicate items to sister libraries such as Lake Dallas or Little Elm. Artifacts that were getting older were removed during inventory.

When a disaster happens, Riddle said it’s not unusual for the restoration to take over a year when the museum was severely damaged and in possession of a large collection.

Curator of Collections, Kim Cupit, cleans a quilt using a museum vacuum. (Photo courtesy of the Denton County Office of History & Culture)

“We probably have over 1 million items,” Riddle said. “It’s not like sending your clothes off to the cleaners.”

While smaller exhibits are already open to the public, the main exhibit reopening January 1 will feature the history of Denton County. But the reopening won’t be the only milestone the museum celebrates this year: In March, the museum turns 40.

“I feel pretty fortunate we were able to get this done in a year with our resources,” Riddle said. “We did outsource a lot of it, but my staff had to file, receive and inventory everything leaving the building and coming back.”

With the upcoming “over the hill” celebration, the museum will host a special exhibit: 40 for 40. The exhibit will feature items that have been in the museum’s collection for the entirety of the 40 years. Items will range from a chest of drawers, a dress that was worn to the Denton Centennial and the museum’s very first item: a pie pan.

“That is essentially how far we’ve come,” said Kim Cupit, Curator of Collections for the museum. “From a pie pan and kitchen items to this collection that we’ve amassed today. One pie pan to 50,000 pieces.”

Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum

110 W Hickory St

Hours: Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Saturday, 11 a.m.  – 3 p.m.

More info: dentoncounty.com