Cornerstone ceremony a celebration of historic Onaway Courthouse

On July 4, the people of Onaway, and their guests, will get a glimpse into the past when the cornerstone at the historic Onaway Courthouse is pulled to reveal a time capsule placed inside the stone on July 4, 1908.

At a celebration that day, Mayor C.W. Bahel ensured the stone was perfectly level, placed the time capsule items in a small tin box, and put the box in the stone, after which a layer of cement was placed overtop.

At this year’s celebration, beginning at 10 a.m., Mayor Gary Wregglesworth will reveal the contents of the box before replacing them with items that reflect Onaway present. The courthouse, completed in 1909, has a rich history. Its construction was intended to assist community founder Merritt Chandler in his effort to have a growing Onaway established as Presque Isle County’s seat.

When that effort failed, Mr. Chandler petitioned the Michigan legislature to create Forest County, which would have included western Presque Isle and the eastern Cheboygan counties, with Onaway as its seat.

That attempt also failed, leaving the community with a beautiful facility but no county government to operate from within its walls. The building served various functions during the next 90 years.

Over the course of time, however, the courthouse fell into a state of disrepair. Falling pieces of masonry made it unsafe, and the lack of a heating system made it unusable for much of the year.

In the late 1990s, a group of citizens formed a committee that worked hand in hand with the city in the collection of donations and identification of grants that might be utilized to restore the facility.

Through those efforts, more than $1 million was raised, much of it through donations and grants, and invested in the courthouse. The masonry exterior and roof have been repaired. There are new heating and electrical systems. There are new windows. The walls have been re-plastered, the hardwood floors refinished. Bathrooms were added, as was an elevator and there is a clock in the clock tower.

The City, the Onaway Branch of the Presque Isle District Library, the Onaway Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Onaway Area Historical Museum now share space on the first and second floors.

Nothing would have been possible without the grants ? from USDA Rural Development, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and the Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs.

But the grants would not have been secured had it not been for the many who opened their hearts, and their checkbooks, to the project. Some $350,000 has been donated to the project to date.

Committee members hope the public, which has been so generous throughout the restoration, will come to the courthouse on the morning of July Fourth and celebrate its success.

Those wishing to tour the building’s interior, including the museum, may do so following the ceremony. All are welcome and encouraged to attend the celebration.

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