The Prince George's County Courthouse underwent several major renovations in its 123-year history, but old details from the stately structure always remained.
The familiar cupola that stood for 64 years and its 124-year-old bell were among the most visible of those details. As investigators continued to look into the fire that destroyed the building last week, it was unclear whether the county would be able to save any of those features.
The cupola, for example, burned to a skeleton, and the bell fell through the second floor into a pile of rubble.
Samuel L. Hepford, the lead project architect for the most recent renovation, which was to be completed soon at a cost of $25 million, said the fire destroyed the work of highly skilled builders.
"There are pieces of the old brick wall that nobody bothered to cover up with new plaster," Hepford said. "There are pieces of old masonry with intricate details. Obviously it was expensive craftsmanship."
The courthouse was built by Baltimore architect Frank E. Davis in 1881, when Upper Marlboro was a tobacco town. The town was the county's center of government, commerce and law enforcement.
The original courthouse had a wide balcony, a tall bell tower and a cast-bronze bell. In 1939, major renovations were commissioned to create a new look at a cost of nearly $178,000, according to records.
"People were tired of the high Victorian style," said historian Susan Pearl. "They preferred the neoclassical Georgian style you see on college campuses."
The extensive 1939 renovation included tearing down and reconstructing the facade in a neoclassical Georgian style with Ionic columns and a Grecian-style portico.
"The style denotes institutional or public importance," said Garth Rockcastle, dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Maryland at College Park.
Rockcastle added that such facades are common in the region, particularly on university campuses and for public buildings.
The original bell tower also was torn down in 1939 and replaced with a smaller, humbler domed structure known as a cupola, which housed the same cast-bronze bell that fell in last week's fire.
The courthouse was renovated again in 1947 and 1969.
Still, parts of the original building remained.
During the most recent renovation, two restrooms with wood partitions separating the ceramic toilet fixtures were found in crawl spaces in the basement, Hepford said. The bathrooms had pressed-metal ceilings, which mimicked plaster, he said. Hepford also discovered an original 1881 courtroom.
"It was dirty and full of dust," he said.
While working in the building, Hepford said he saw pieces of original stone masonry in the courthouse attic.
"There is intricate craftsmanship in obscure places," Hepford said.
He wonders whether any of it survived.