Group works to reconstruct Sully County Courthouse

Citizens of Sully County are working to uncover a once hidden decorative dome in the historic...
Citizens of Sully County are working to uncover a once hidden decorative dome in the historic building.(Sully County Auditors Office)
Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 11:04 PM MDT
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ONIDA, S.D. (KEVN) - The Sully County Courthouse is one of the oldest and most recognizable buildings in the area, having been built one year after the State Capitol in Pierre.

The courthouse, like any other, serves as the main hub of government for the county, its two biggest cities being Onida and Agar.

Even though the building itself still has many of the original furnishings and details, something major was hiding in the ceiling.

“Ten years before I had ever gone up into the attic, and that was the first time I ever saw it,” said Sully County Clerk of Courts Nola Larosh. “That was the first time that I had been up there to see the stained glass.”

Larosh has served in her current job for 22 years. Her family has lived in the area for almost 100 years. However, it wasn’t until about halfway through her career stint that she learned about the original stained glass ceiling and murals, hidden under a false ceiling in the courthouse.

The decorated dome sits under the courthouse’s clock tower. Similar in concept to the South Dakota State Capitol, it has different murals on the walls; one depicting buffalo, another depicting Native Americans, and one depicting General Alfred Sully, who the county is named for. Above the paintings is the stained glass ceiling, which originally, was exposed to the sun, but was covered from above to protect from weather and animal damage.

At some point down the line, the decorative roof was entirely covered, hiding it from the public, likely as a cheap way to further prevent leaks and birds getting into the building.

However, the recently formed “Sully County Historical Society” is looking to restore the building back to its original form.

“They will remove the stained glass at the top of the dome for restoration, and take that to Wisconsin, where it will be worked on,” explains County Auditor Susan Lamb. “Then, with the scaffolding, they will go up into the dome and restore the murals, those four paintings that are inside there.”

The overall cost of the project is $360,000. However, just shortly after they organized they group in November, an anonymous donor made a large gift to the project. After only a few months of fundraising, they are over halfway to their goal.

“When the courthouse was built in 1911, they used such thought and workmanship,” says Lamb. “I think it is important for us to maintain it and preserve what our forefathers built.”

The group is planning to get work started by January 2022, regardless of if they have reached their fundraising goal at that point in time. Once started, the project is intended to be completed in about four months.