Volunteers want to restore Arundel courthouse cupola


Picture an old cupola sitting in the middle of a meadow, kept company by its bell, base and tower.

"It's a lost art. They don't make them like this anymore," Mel Wilkins, 66, said yesterday as he and other local volunteers inspected the curves and squares of the former Anne Arundel County Courthouse embellishments wrought from mahogany, copper and white cedar.

"All together, this structure would be 30 feet tall," he added.

The beautifully crafted objects date back more than 50 years and are the only surviving pieces of the courthouse, which was demolished a decade ago on Church Circle in downtown Annapolis.

After several years at Back Creek Nature Park, their placement on the ground and exposure to the elements is causing deterioration. Now Wilkins and others are moving to restore the cupola, tower, bell and base, and give them some shelter from the elements.

"You've got to get it covered," said Peter Gray, a Naval Academy professor of political science.

The sight of the recovered objects will be there to give future Annapolis residents a visible link to the past, volunteers said.

The nature park is run by the Annapolis Department of Recreation and Parks, and it appears more overlooked than a 12-acre city park should be. The gazebo in the quiet wooded area has an overlook down the creek.

Much is afoot at the park on Annapolis Neck. High on the list of planned improvements is a project to restore the cupola and other objects, said Wilkins, a garden expert who is retired from the National Security Agency and the defense sector.

An Annapolis architect, Donald A. Booth, joined the group and described the sketches he had in mind for a cupola shelter of sorts, which he is drawing free of charge.

"We're thinking of not having walls," Booth said. "We'll have a roof but keep it in the open air."

The group also plans to include an aged light-green "verdigris" copper weather vane from the courthouse -- now in storage -- in the display. It's in the best shape of all of the objects. "That's a classic piece of art in itself," Wilkins said.

Bordering the meadow is a vacant municipal building built by the Depression-era Works Progress Administration.

Wilkins says he gets a kick out of a shuttered brick sewage plant still standing strong to take on a new use: as a planned osprey nature center.

Nearby is the work of Anne Guillette, an environmental engineer, who designed a rain garden that, she said, is helping with the creek's water quality. They are part of a skilled team lending their time to the cause of restoring the cupola and the surrounding waterside park.

Wilkins is leading the volunteer effort at the behest of Mayor Ellen O. Moyer. The city and state will contribute about $600,000 to the park improvements, he said.

The vision for the park -- preserving and saving resources --could be a first in the region, Wilkins said.

"This will be a public park that educates people on environmental issues with working exhibits like living shorelines," he said. "It will tell one story on storm-water management, another on the eco-technology walk."

In addition, a nonprofit group, Friends of Back Creek Nature Park, aims to raise about $100,000, said Gray, who chairs the nonprofit's board.

Said Wilkins: "My pacemaker can't keep up with this."


A wetlands planting and a potluck dinner are open to the public at the park from 6 to 9 p.m. July 12, rain or shine. For more information, call 410-263- 7958.

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