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Copper Leaves from the Dome

September 17, 2013 Posted by: Jennifer Clark, Archivist

Copper Leaves from the Dome of the Old Courthouse
JEFF-8429 through JEFF-8490

Copper Leaf

One of the copper leaves(shingles) from the dome removed in 1980, JEFF-8463

One of the most noticeable features of the Old Courthouse is its copper dome weathered to a distinctive green patina. But have you ever noticed the smaller dome above it? This dome sits above the lantern (the small tower above the dome made to allow light to penetrate the interior) of the Courthouse.

Old Courthouse with large flag in front

The Old Courthouse

Called a “pineapple” dome because of its resemblance to the scaly skin of the fruit, it is covered with  six hundred and eleven copper leaves (shingles) in thirteen tiers, each containing forty-seven leaves specially made to interlock. As the leaves rise up the tiers, they shrink in size. In the lowest course, the leaves are 16 ¼” inches long by 9 ¾” wide. At the highest course, the leaves are 3” long by 4” wide.

copper leaves on the dome

A closer view of the “pineapple” dome

In 1980, the National Park Service began an endeavor to clean the leaves and to replace those that were irreparably damaged. Upon inspection, it was found that the vast majority of leaves had been damaged by pollution and hail since their installation in 1861. Many were cracked, misshapen or flattened from workers walking on them as they performed repair tasks on the dome and flagpole. First, all the leaves were cleaned in place with a chemical stripper that stripped off the patina acquired over the years along with all the dirt and grease; this is why the leaves in the collection are their original copper color and not green.  Then they were inspected closely. After consultation with the subcontractor who would manufacture the replacement leaves, it was decided that all the original leaves would be removed due to the deterioration of even the originals in the best shape. The replacement leaves are made of a slightly thicker copper that should stand up to the elements better than the originals. Each new leaf was formed on a die that was formed from a plaster cast of an original leaf. The new leaves were installed and quickly acquired their own green patina.

A sampling of the original leaves was preserved in the museum collections for exhibit, interpretive and research purposes. The rest are in storage.

Interlocking copper leaves

A sampling of the original leaves showing both their interlocking feature, and the damage inflicted on them by pollution and weather.

Information for this report came from:

Henderson, David G.,  Historic Structure Report, Architectural Data Section, Phase II: Exterior Preservation, Old Courthouse, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial National Historic Site. (United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service: September 1985), 117-196.


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