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Preservation can be a lengthy process

Posted: April 20, 2017 1:15 p.m.
Updated: April 21, 2017 1:00 a.m.

You may have seen signs stating “Preservation in Progress” around the first floor of the historic Robert Mills Courthouse. Unfortunately, weather events over the past two years have caused damage at the courthouse and some of you may be wondering why the damage hasn’t been fixed promptly. I have learned very quickly that preservation is a process and sometimes progress is slow.

The first weather event that caused the majority of problems was the historic flood of 2015. The ground was so extremely saturated that the walls of the courthouse began to absorb, or “wick,” water from the ground up. The wetness in the walls then caused the plaster to flake and crystallize, creating patchy white spots and bubbled paint in some areas. Over the weeks and months after the flood, the Chamber leadership took steps to assess the situation and determine the best course of action. During the assessment phase, we asked historic building experts from the State Archives to come and offer recommendations. One thing we learned during their visit was that for every inch of thickness in the wall, we needed to wait one month for it to dry. The walls are 18-24 inches thick; therefore, we need to wait up to 24 months to get the walls as dry as possible before repairing, plastering and repainting. 

In the meantime, we have taken some additional steps to try and mitigate the problem. Specifically, we extended our drain spouts, particularly on the back portion of the building, to reduce the amount of water being released at the base of the building. In addition, we installed new heating and air units as well as dehumidifiers that allow us to better control the internal temperature, humidity and air flow. We also installed a keypad access system for the back side door (near the elevator) so that the door does not need to be propped open for events, helping us reduce the amount of hot wet air entering the building. There are additional, more intensive upgrades that we may consider at a later time, but we want to monitor the effects of the changes we’ve already made before we commit to these larger projects.

The second weather event that created damage to the Robert Mills Courthouse was 2016’s Hurricane Matthew. Over time, the caulking around the chimneys on the roof has deteriorated, and that, along with slight damage to one of the chimneys, allowed water to seep into the attic and create a wet spot on the ceiling of the courtroom. This dampness has, much like the downstairs, caused the plaster to peel. Thankfully, our state legislative delegation, led by Vincent Sheheen and Laurie Funderburk, were helpful in acquiring state funding ($60,000) to assist in the repairs. However, due to the historical significance of the building, we must get approval from the State Archives before any repairs can be made. We are in the middle of that process now.

If I had my way, all of these problems would be fixed already, and the building would be back to its perfect restored condition. Please don’t misunderstand -- the building is still in great condition. It just has a few aesthetic flaws that need to be addressed. But as I stated at the outset, there is a process and the progress is slow. I am very thankful for the individuals and businesses that donated to restore the building, to our members who pay the 10 percent building uplift, and to the many individuals and businesses that continue to use the courthouse for their parties, meetings and events. It is an amazing building that is an important landmark in Camden and Kershaw County. The chamber is committed to taking care of this historic building, looking at all options and opportunities to make sure we preserve the building appropriately. We want the Historic Robert Mills Courthouse to continue to be something the community is proud of and for it to be used and enjoyed for many, many years to come. Preservation is in progress at the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Center’s home, the historic Robert Mills Courthouse.

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