Dozens wowed by McLennan County Courthouse statues

William Richter gets an up-close view of Themis, one of the statues that will soon be reinstalled atop the county courthouse.

Dozens of residents greeted the three regal lady statues that adorned the McLennan County Courthouse with royal praise during a public unveiling Thursday.

Johnson Roofing held an open house Thursday at its Robinson headquarters for a viewing of the three goddess statues that were removed from the courthouse.

Themis, Lady Justice and Lady Liberty have been tucked inside the company’s sheet-metal shop since the beginning of the year, when they were taken down to be restored.

Themis had a giant hole in her head and was missing her left arm. Lady Liberty was filled to her waist in honey after bees nested in her head, and Lady Justice was riddled with holes and her shield was broken.

But Thursday, the goddesses stood majestic and tall, appearing nowhere near their 100-plus years in age.

Themis, who is double the height of the other two statues and sits at the very top of the courthouse, still has to be painted.

But even in her plain, silver metal color, she stole the show.

“Big Mama!” said Waco resident Helen Quiram, laughing. “She’s very impressive and she looks like she could take care of everybody.”

Quiram, 78, worked for years at the ALICO Building downtown, which gave her prime views of the courthouse.

“It’s an impressive building, it represents a lot of history, and to think that I have this opportunity to see all of these statues up close after seeing them from a distance all those years is just thrilling,” Quiram said.

Returning home

Johnson Roofing is nearing completion of the first phase of repairing the courthouse dome. Lady Liberty and Lady Justice will be re-placed on the roof Saturday, while Themis will go up Oct. 29.

A number of local leaders also came to the event, including county commissioners Joe Mashek and Kelly Snell, state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, Waco City Councilman Randy Riggs and Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce President Jim Vaughan.

Mashek praised Johnson Roofing for all its precise craftsmanship and care into renovating each of the statues and carefully repairing the damage around the dome. He also made a toast to the soda and water-sipping crowd in honor of Themis.

“I’d like to formally apologize to her for letting her get to the condition that she’d gotten to,” Mashek said. “A hundred years of storms, high winds, hail, rain, she has stood the test of time, she’s gotten beaten up and bruised, but she never left her post over McLennan County.”

Lorena resident Lynn Brown toured the grounds and took pictures of the statues. He said he was excited to see all the work that went into restoring the courthouse pieces.

“I think it’s incredible, not just because of the historic aspect, but because it shows the importance we place on taking care of our historic treasures,” Brown said while examining an eagle with damage around its feet and wingtips. “We have to take care of things as we go along instead of putting off maintenance, because otherwise we could lose these treasures.”

Smaller pieces like an urn, column capitals, and metal-stamped leaves, ribbons and bows also were displayed in Johnson’s sheet-metal workshop.

“It’s amazing that they took so much detail into each piece, even though it was going to be up so high that no one would even see it, really,” said Randy Threadgill as he toured the sheet-metal workshop with his wife, Debbie. “They really took a lot of pride in their craftsmanship in making each piece.”

A pathway was roped off in the workshop so visitors could walk through while safely away from workers who were molding sheets of metal for the drains on the roof. A projector screen also looped hundreds of photos documenting the progress on the roof.

“You don’t really see a lot because it’s so high, but we sure miss seeing that lady on the top,” Dalila Richter said of Themis.

She and her husband, William, both work at the Texas Life Insurance Co. at South Ninth Street and Franklin Avenue and regularly pass the courthouse.

While most of the praise went to Themis, Bill Johnson said another lady caught his eye — Lady Justice, who bears a shield in front of her.

“She’s got that shield and she just stands up there so pretty,” Johnson said with a smile. “It’s like you see a boy you like or a girl you like. I don’t know why, I just like her. She’s just my favorite.”

Favorite projects

Johnson said the courthouse project is one of his favorite domed roof renovations he’s been a part of, with Pat Neff Hall at Baylor University and First Baptist Church in downtown rounding out his top three.

He said he was pleased with the turnout at the event and said he’s glad to see the project near completion.

“You see they’re asking these questions and just in appreciation for the history in Waco, and that’s really great,” Johnson said of the visitors at the open house.

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