A computer-generated view of how the historic Ceremonial Courtroom in the Kenosha County Courthouse would appear after a proposed renovation is completed.

Historic Ceremonial Courtroom restoration project looking for support

Blue Ribbon Committee's objective is to raise $1.35 million in private funds


Kenosha County is located in the southeastern corner of the U.S. state of Wisconsin. Its population in 2019 was estimated to be 169,561, making it the eighth most populous county in Wisconsin. The county is named after the county seat, Kenosha, the fourth largest city in Wisconsin.

A Blue Ribbon Committee of community leaders is now actively working to raise private donations for a proposed restoration of the historic Ceremonial Courtroom in the Kenosha County Courthouse, County Executive Samantha Kerkman announced.

The committee’s objective is to raise $1.35 million in private funds to achieve a $675,000 match from the prestigious Jeffris Family Foundation. That challenge grant requires a 2-to-1 match of private funds in order for it to be received.

The Blue Ribbon Committee, which has been conducting planning meetings since late 2021, is co-chaired by former Kenosha County Executive John Collins and retired Circuit Court Judge Mary K. Wagner.

“It would be a wonderful thing for our county if the private funds can be raised to restore this historic space to its former splendor,” Kerkman said. “I support and appreciate the efforts of the Blue Ribbon Committee, which is working hard to make the project a reality. It would be especially meaningful to see it to fruition by 2025, when our Courthouse will turn 100 years old.”

A two-story-tall space located on the second floor of the Courthouse, the Ceremonial Courtroom maintains a stately presence, though much of its original ornamentation is now obscured by a drop ceiling that was installed when central air conditioning was added to the room in the 1960s.

A look at the corner of Kenosha County’s historic Ceremonial Courtroom where a micro restoration process has been completed. The canvas panel in front of the window in the second mimics the ornamental decorating on the panels that line the room’s other walls.
A closeup view of the goldleaf Abraham Lincoln quote that lines the room, seen from above the drop ceiling that now obscures it.
A look at the small, restored portion of the original skylight in the historic Ceremonial Courtroom.

Concealed above the drop ceiling is a large, inlaid glass skylight, highly detailed ornamental plaster, and a frieze that rings the room with a quote from Abraham Lincoln on “Law”:

“Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well-wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others.”

The skylight and ornamentation were partially damaged by the 1960s installation of mechanical equipment, but a micro restoration conducted in 2020 demonstrated the viability of a full-scale restoration.

The courtroom’s current look, with the drop ceiling that has obscured many of its ornamental details since the 1960s.
A view of the original ceiling plaster and skylight and the damaged was caused by the 1960s installation of a drop ceiling and mechanical equipment.

“Fixing this courtroom up, restoring it to its previous glory, is not about the politicians, the elected officials, the judges,” said Collins, who served as county executive from 1986 to 1998. “It’s about the community, because this is really a magnificent community space that was put here by our forebearers. The community ought to be proud of it, and we ought to show our pride by supporting the restoration of this room.”

Wagner, who retired in July 2021 after 30 years on the Circuit Court bench, said the courtroom can and should be restored as a space that could have many uses.

“It’s such a symbol of the grandeur of the law,” Wagner said. “What a fantastic edifice it is, what a tribute to the law of our community, to justice in our community. And it’s a room that can be used in the community for a variety of events besides court. There are opportunities to hold functions that are important, that would meet the significance of the room.”

In addition to Collins, Wagner and Kerkman, the Blue Ribbon Committee members include:

  • Tamarra Coleman
  • Anthony Davis
  • Patrice (Pam) Drummond
  • Neil F. Guttormsen
  • Len Iaquinta
  • Heather Iverson
  • County Board Supervisor Zach Rodriguez
  • Retired Judge Wilbur W. Warren III
  • Jane Harrington-Heide
  • Tami Rongstad

More information about the project, including images and videos, is available online at https://www.kenoshacounty.org/supportthecourtroom.

Tax-deductible donations to support the project may be made to the Kenosha Community Foundation, the fiscal sponsor of the courtroom restoration project. Online donations may be made by clicking a button on the above-mentioned webpage.

For more information about the project and donations, please contact the Office of the County Executive at 262-653-2600.

A look at the courtroom as it appeared upon the opening of the Kenosha County Courthouse in 1925. The skylight, ornamental plaster and Abraham Lincoln quote that lines the ceiling were damaged and obscured by the installation of air conditioning equipment and a drop ceiling in the 1960s.