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Art And History A Winning Combination

DALLAS -- Anticipating the view from one of the highest structures in Dallas, a group of excited children make their way up the staircase leading to the Polk County Courthouse's clock tower.

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County administrator Greg Hansen looks on as campers explore the tower of the Polk County Courthouse.

DALLAS -- Anticipating the view from one of the highest structures in Dallas, a group of excited children make their way up the staircase leading to the Polk County Courthouse's clock tower.

It certainly wasn't the first time a line of wide-eyed youngsters have climbed the steps of what is arguably the most recognizable landmark in Dallas, if not Polk County.

But for these kids, the short tour may leave a lasting impression and give them a different perspective on their community.

The group of 10 children ranging in age from second grade to sixth grade were in a four-day camp, "A Bird's Eye View of Dallas," which took the group on "walkabouts" through town with stops to sketch, paint and learn about major landmarks.

The camp combined local history with art.

"It's really good for them to look at their own city," said Mary Christensen, who led the camp with fellow art teacher Francie Zandol. "It gives them an appreciation (of Dallas)."

On July 23, the first day of the camp, the children sketched the courthouse and learned they would be touring the tower on the last day of camp.

The idea was a hit.

Photo by Pete Strong

Campers Joe Foster, 11, of Rickreall, and 8-year-old Madeline Altenburg of Dallas sketch the courthouse from the lawn July 23.

Jon Holton, 11, said art is one of his favorite activities, but he excitedly declared he was most looking forward to "when we go up the tower."

Greg Hansen, Polk County's administrator, was the tour guide for Thursday's exploration of the clock tower.

The only access to the tower is through the elegant Courtroom No. 1 and Polk County Circuit Court Judge William Horner's chambers, where a narrow door opens to an equally narrow staircase.

Exposed brick walls and simple wooden steps give the passage a utilitarian feel, but also a sense that, unlike the rest of the building, this staircase has gone unchanged for more than a century.

The first level of the tower housed an old desk and daybed. Windows to the west and north gave an expansive view of downtown.

Hansen explained that visiting judges used to sleep in the small room when the county shared judges with Yamhill County.

Moving up to the second level, the view from the windows reaches beyond downtown.

"You're probably higher now than in any other structure in Dallas," Hansen told the children, who gathered around the windows to catch a glimpse of businesses on Ellendale Avenue.

"I can see Safeway!" exclaimed one of the campers.

Finally, the group climbed to the third level.

There were no windows there -- but still plenty to see.

Hansen had taken the cover off the clockwork casing, so the kids could see the intricate workings that keep the clock ticking.

Students have been climbing to the top of the clock tower for generations and many left behind their signatures.

"Can we sign our names?" one of the girls asked Hansen.

When he said "yes," the girl asked "Really?"

Zandol and Christensen seemed almost as excited as their students.

"This is the essence of what we planned this camp around," Zandol said.

Zandol is the camp's "historian."

She brought old photos of downtown and detailed the history of the downtown buildings the students were scheduled to tour, including the Latitude One and Some Things locations.

"She's pretty excited about the history, and so am I," Christensen said while watching her students sketch the courthouse. "The kids are doing a great job. It's really great that they are all at different levels and they just do what they see."

The students also carefully studied the facades on Main Street in order to paint a watercolor of the storefronts.

"They are going to see how some of the facades have changed," Zandol said. "Those are going to be fun elements for the kids to see."

Madeline Altenburg, 8, said she liked the camp's art history focus.

"You are learning stuff while doing art," she said.

Holton added the history of town was intriguing, he said, especially learning Dallas wasn't always named Dallas, but Cynthian for a brief period in its early history.

As for the artistic side of the camp?

"I like art because there's no end to your imagination," he said.

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