Woodstock symbol returns home

Elizabeth Stevenson, left, president of the Woodstock Library, looks on as Barbara Adamson, president of the Shenandoah County Historical Society, gets a close-up look at the "Swiss Guard" that was once on top of the old courthouse from the late 1700s to the early 1800s. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – After more than 50 years of preservation at the Woodstock Library, the portion of the historic Shenandoah County Courthouse’s weathervane known as the “Swiss Guard” will rejoin the rest of the piece at the courthouse museum.

The sheet and wrought iron piece has become a town symbol and icon since topping the courthouse in the late 18th century – the current one on the building is a replica. After some deliberation, the library board recently decided to donate the figure to the Shenandoah County Historical Society, which has the rest of the weathervane stored in the courthouse museum basement.

Library President Elizabeth Stevenson presented the figure to society President Barbara Adamson at a brief ceremony on Wednesday morning.

“It’s been in our care for a long time, but we really feel that it needs to be home with the rest of the Woodstock memorabilia and we’re delighted that you all want it,” Stevenson said.

Once the figure is unpacked at the museum, the society will send the case frame – made from the wood in the courthouse railings – back to the library for use. Adamson said the society will keep the figure on display for a short while until the board creates a plan of action for appraisal, possible restoration and exhibition.

“Part of the discussion is: do you join the whole thing back together, do you try to replace missing parts, do you replace them but not reconstruct the whole thing?” she said. “There’s different ways to approach it, and we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing.”

The other section of the weathervane bears a few more scars than the “Swiss Guard” and is missing a few pieces. Adamson said the society may consult with museums to learn how they recommend handling artifacts like this.

There’s still a lot of unknowns about the piece, but Sharon Hoover, secretary of the library board, dove into the library’s archive of minutes from past meetings to give the figure a clearer timeline. From those documents, the library staff and society officers know that the figure had been given to the library by at least 1944, possibly after a large storm caused damage to the vane.

Although no one is sure who created the piece – possibly a local blacksmith – the library staff estimated that it went up around the same time the courthouse was built in 1795.

“I wish we had some more exacting records,” Hoover said. “It seems to me that you should be able to find requisitions for whoever they contacted to make it. … I didn’t know where to go for that sort of thing.”

It’s also unclear what the figure is actually supposed to represent. Known commonly as the “Swiss Guard” for the outfit and halberd, Adamson said it could also depict a Native American or a Revolutionary War soldier, as patriotic imagery was popular at the time. She said she hopes more information will be revealed through further research and the help of knowledgeable metalworkers.

“Sometimes things remain a mystery and you just never know exactly what happened,” she said. “We just have a lot more to learn and that’s part of the fun, doing some research … and you don’t know what you’re going to find.”

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com