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 History of the Courthouse

 
 
This documentary was created by Pennsylvania Cable Network in 2018

The story of Clarion County’s Courthouse has a rich history of construction and destruction until it was finally constructed to what we know it as today.

The first Courthouse was bid to the firm of Derby & Clover of Ridgeway, PA and Levi G. Clover of Clarion, PA. Mr. Derby was the Superintending Partner of the firm. The total contract price of this project was $8,500, which as it appears, exceeding the lowest bid by $2,700 (The extras brought up the cost to $10,363.16). The building was started in the spring of 184, but was not entirely finished until the spring of 1843.

1st courthouse picture.jpgThe Courthouse was brick, two-storied and divided by a slight offset – from which there were to narrow recesses into two longitudinal wings. The rear annex was slightly lower than the front part of the building. A wooden cupola in the center of the roof surmounted the main section of the building. The main entrance was through a portico in the Grecian style, and was reached by four low steps. Two wooden fluted pillars with plain capitals, and two pilasters, one at both end and painted white, supported the roof of the porch.

The County offices were on each side of the corridor, the main body of the building. The second story contained jury rooms. The courtroom was occupied on the ground floor in the rear of the building. Two doors in each of the recesses opened into the entry leading to it. The hallway above the courtroom was used as a conference room for public meetings.

The circumstances attending the destruction of the first Courthouse were very similar to those of the burning of the second courthouse.

About 9:00 a.m. on the morning of March 10, 1859, smoke and flames broke through the roof near the cupola. This fire was thought to be the result of a faulty flue. The citizens of the town had no means of getting water up to the second floor area and within two hours, the building was in ruin. However, all the records were preserved. The loss was estimated to $10,000. Insurance thought the Lycoming and York Companies resulted in acclaim for $7,000.

The Presbyterian Church was used as a courtroom until the completion of the second Courthouse. All other county offices were occupied in the Arnold block of Clarion. The second Courthouse was built by Daniel and Edmond English of Brookville, PA and was completed in 1863. It was necessary that a special act of the legislature be passed empowering the County Commissioners to erect a new structure.

2nd courthouse picture.jpgThe total contract was $15,000 plus extras of $1,500 (total cost of the courthouse was $17,200). Architect on this project was Mr. John R. Turner of Carlisle, PA. County Commissioners Daniel Mercer, C. Seigworth and Benjamin Miller entered into this contract with Mr. Turner. This undertaking was a losing one for the contractors. The building was substantial brick with a wooden roof. It measured 60 feet wide by 98 feet long. The height of the first story was 13 feet and that of the second story was 21 feet in height. The overall height of the building excluded the belfry was 65 feet. The building was constructed cheaply considering the cost as to the size and solidity of the building.

About 1:00 a.m. on the morning of September 12, 1882, fire that had been smoldering in the loft, burst through the roof. Water pressure was not strong enough to reach the top of the Courthouse and the flames gained resistless headway. The building was gutted in a few hours, leaving the walls standing comparatively intact. Total insurance received from the result of this fire amounted to $25,000. Fortunately again, no records were lost in the fire.

Between the destruction of the second Courthouse and the completion of the present Courthouse, the Methodist Church was used for the other county offices.

The present Courthouse, built in 1883, was awarded after 16 bidders placed contracts for the new building.

John Cooper’s bid was the highest at $135,000 and the lowest bid was that of P.H. Melvin at $88,370. This bid allowed $5,000 for materials from the former Courthouse and jail. Mr. Melvin was awarded the contract and work was to be completed by November 16, 1884. The work commended on July 16, 1883 but the building was not handed over to the County Commissioners until October 14, 1885. At his time, the Commissioners were John Keatly, Aaron Kline and Johnson Wilson. However, Board of Commissioners Samuel Bell, David Heffron and Emmanuel Over were the ones to assume office in the new building.

Henry Warner of Allegheny executed the Fresco work. The Star Encaustic Tile Company of Pittsburgh laid the tile floors. Howard Clock Company of New York furnished the clock dial, which is 9 feet in diameter and the bell that weighs 1,313 pounds.

P.H. Melvin, the contractor, failed to complete the project on January 27, 1885 and at that time the bondsmen, Augustin Dietz, Edward Denneny, and Edward Lyman, thereupon became the acting contractors. Melvin, however, was retained as superintendent of construction.

courthouse current.jpgThe present Courthouse is a variation of the Queen Anne style of Architecture. When originally constructed, details of the building were recorded as follow: Its general dimensions are 78 feet, 8 inches wide, 134 feet long and the elevation from the ground to the top of the tower figure is 213 feet. The tower rests on foundation walls 4 ½ feet thick, which in turn are supported by three graded courses of stone. Stone columns in the corner of the vestibules and iron cross-girders carry the tower up in the three internal sides. It is surmounted by a galvanized iron figure of justice 9 feet, 11 inches in height. The interior of the clock loft is fitted with gas pipes for illumination. The tower is 25 feet square and its elevation above the roof is 139 feet, and that of the tapering part is 56 feet. The height of the highest part of the body of the structure is 90 feet, 9 inches. The walls of the main part of the structure are constructed of stone and brick and are 22 inches in thickness. The roof is of tin and slate.

The basement part of the building extends the whole length and width of the building and is 10 feet in height. It contains the engine and boiler room.

The building is ventilated on the vacuum principle. A large fan exhausts the vitiated air from all parts of the building. The fan is 62 inches in diameter and 27 inches wide; it escapes up the foul air flue. All the heating and ventilation is done by one engine. The basement is also furnished with a gas regulator and water meter.

In the first story are county offices on each side of the corridor, which is 16 feet wide. This story is 14 feet, 9 inches high and has a vaulted brick ceiling and is fireproof. The second story is 21 feet in height and the third floor or mezzanine story is 12 feet in height. Each has a lobby that is 21 feet square. The corridor and the lobbies are paved with ornamental tile. On the second floor outside the front of the courtroom on either side of the lobby are two waiting rooms for ladies and in the rear are the judge’s and attorney’s room and two rooms for petit juries. The third story contains the apartment of the County Superintendent and surveyor, opening from the front vestibule. From the rear, the grand jury room and two witness waiting rooms.

The courtroom is 74 feet long, 55 feet wide and 45 feet high. 12 double windows and four chandeliers of 18 lights each light it.

The heating and ventilating apparatus were included in the contract. The following shows the cost of the furnishings, etc.:

Architect $4418
Furniture $4248
Bell and clock $2800
Gas/ Plumbing $1500
Carpet $510
Total $13,476
 

An allowance of $661.50 was made for a drain. The Commissioners deducted $949.77 for the neglected and defective work. The total cost to the county was $97,124.27. $18,000 was to the contractor and the sub-contractor, $3500 for the bondsmen, thus bringing the total cost of the building to $126,936.

P.H. Melvin, on February 12, 1886 brought a lawsuit against the County Commissioners, totaling $40,000 stating that the Commissioners failed to comply on their part with several of the contract stipulations, that the estimates were not advanced at the time agreed, that the work was delayed by failure to furnish him with the plans properly, that the Commissioners compelled him to purchase new brick at a great loss, and that he was harassed and hindered in the work by the objections of the supervising architect.

Although the undertaking has been an unfortunate one to the contractor and the sub-contractors, the citizens of Clarion County may congratulate themselves on possessing a creditable, solidly constructed Courthouse, at a comparatively small expense.

 

CHANGES TO THE PRESENT COURTHOUSE

1889 CLOCK WAS ILLUMINATED AT NIGHT
1907 EXTERIOR WOOD AND LADY OF JUSTICE WAS PAINTED
1910 NEWLY GRADED AND TERRACED LANDSCAPING
1918 ERECTION OF FLAGPOLE (CLARION WOMAN’S CLUB) 70 FEET HIGH
1920 COUNTY MEMORIAL IN FRONT LAWN
1922 INSTALLATION OF 2 DRINKING FOUNTAINS
1923 WIRED FOR ELECTRIC LIGHTS
1941 LIGHTS IN TOWER DARKENED DURING WWII PERIOD
1944 LIGHTS BACK ON IN TOWER
1977 COMPLETE RE-WIRING OF THE ELECTRICAL SYSTEM

1981 
and again in 2002

A COMPLETE EXTERIOR RENOVATION

 

COURTHOUSE RENOVATION PROJECT OF 1981

On May 18, 1981 the Clarion County Commissioners namely, Fred C. McIlhattan, Thomas M. Armagost and Elmer A. Barkay, opened bids for the exterior renovation project of the Courthouse. Four bids were received with the firm of General Masonry Contractors of Columbus, Ohio receiving the low bid of $370,278.

Actual work began on June 22, 1981 with the erection of the scaffolding at which time, work then began on the repairs to the roof on June 29, 1981.

Landmark design of Pittsburgh, Mr. Ellis Schmidlapp, president of the firm, served as the project architect.

Needed repairs were as follows:

  • LADY JUSTICE – removed and repaired/ restoration and re-anchored
  • NEW ROOF – slate shingles
  • CHEMICAL CLEANING – exterior brick work
  • BRICK WORK – re-set and re-point all brickwork
  • PAINTING - paint and replace all ornamental mental work, woodwork and iron
  • CAULKING - all windows
  • WINDOWS - replace all windows
  • CLOCK – replace clock face glass
  • DOORS – refinish front doors, removal of back door and replace with glass door
  • STEPS – removal and re-installation of front and rear steps
  • LIGHTNING PROTECTION ADDED

The “Lady of Justice” came down from her pedestal on July 23, 1981. This was quite an attraction to the area residents. KDKA-TV crews from Pittsburgh were on the scene filming the descent of the Lady. At approximately 3:30pm she was raised from her position by pulley. Scaffolding was erected around her previous to her removal. 3 workmen carefully guided her down to the main roof then lowered her. Prior to this the crew did not know how much she actually weighed and removal of the statue was a main concern on their part.

statue.jpgUpon examination she was quite deteriorated. Her left arm, the arm that held the “scales of justice”, was missing. Rumor has it that a small airplane hit her arm and scales a few years ago causing the statue considerable damage. There were approximately 25 bullet holes in the statue and she was quite weathered. As stated previously she was made of galvanized iron. However, the material that she is comprised of is zinc. When measured she stands 9 feet, 11 inches in height and her approximate weight was estimated to be 125 pounds.

The female figure of “Justice” comes to us from Greek mythology. Themis, mother of the fates and the seasons, was the goddess of divine justice. The rites of hospitality were under her protection and she also presided over public assemblies. She is protection and she also presided over public assemblies. She is represented in art as a commanding, austere woman holding a sword and scales, the symbol of order and justice. Her daughter, Astraea, who wears a crown of stars, also represents justice in classical mythology.

It has not been determined who designed this statue, which is hollow. By what method it was originally placed atop the clarion county courthouse is also not known. It is likely the identical figure produced from the same mold was used at other courthouses, as she is a fitting guardian for a hall of justice and a government seat.

The “lady” was then placed in a small van and taken to the firm of Ranochak & Company located in Shelbyville, Indiana. There she was restored with the fiberglass coating shaded in the pewter color. She now weighs approximately 250 pounds upon restoration.

Plans were made to have the “lady of justice” on display in the courthouse. A ceremony was planned for her return trip to her pedestal for 3:00 pm august 24, 1981 at which time a time capsule was inserted in the base of the statue.

Commissioner Elmer A. Barkay was the person in charge of the overall project.

 

2001/ 2002 COURTHOUSE RENOVATION

This project began in the summer of 2001 and was originally slated to be completed in November 2001 with an estimated cost of $1.2 million; the renovation project grew to a cost of almost $1.9 million and extended five months as serious deterioration was found in the buildings clock tower.

Initially, the commissioners Donna Hartle, David Cyphert, John Shropshire (and later George “Butch” Campbell) planned to repair masonry work on the exterior of the building and the balconies of the clock tower while also giving the building a new roof, gutters, sidewalks, exterior painting, and refurbishing the statue of lady justice that stands at the point of the clock tower.

Shortly before those renovations were complete, major structural damage to the clock tower was discovered including rotting rafters and deteriorating brick, causing the tower to be structurally unsound. The additional repairs, representing costs that were time and materials only, were expected to push the final cost up by a maximum of $473,000.

A lightning protection system was also installed during the renovation process. The courthouse has a long history of severe lightning hits that have caused repeated damage to phone lines and computers.

The county’s courthouse renovation project was one of eight projects (out of a total of 67 applications) awarded a citation on October 2002 from the American institute of architect’s central Pennsylvania chapter. This award is given for projects that include historic preservation, restoration, and new structures.

R.G Friday restorations of Pittsburgh was the general contractor and Crabtree, Rohrbaugh & Associates of Harrisburg served as architects.

A rededication ceremony was held in the county memorial park across the street from the courthouse on July 15, 2002.

 

COURTHOUSE WINDOWS & LAW LIBRARY

With the building going nearly untouched for over 15 years, in 2018 Clarion County began the task of making much needed renovations in the Courthouse, beginning with replacement of its 88 windows. Fulfilling this task was not as easy as taking a trip to the store as the height of the windows ranged from 7 feet up to 12 feet. The windows were able to be ordered locally through a COSTARS vendor and installed by Clarion County’s Maintenance Department.

COSTARS is Pennsylvania’s cooperative purchasing program that allows government projects to get the highest savings and best value through an interactive partnership with local dealers. The goal of this program is to procure savings and best value by providing contracts with competitive pricing which increases opportunities for suppliers of any size to participate and complete for members’ business.

The project didn’t begin until late October 2018 leaving only a small window for the maintenance crew to make the installations before winter’s cold air set in. With the assistance of renting a bucket truck, Clarion’s maintenance crew installed 58 windows in the front and sides of the Courthouse. When the old windows were torn out, it became clear as to why the courtroom, as well as the building, was so cold in the winter. The windows originally had weights installed within the sides of the windows allowing them to stay open. Over time, a lot of the chains holding the weights broke and the windows were unable to be opened. Many of the window frames were found to be empty as no insulation was put in when first installed. Prior to the new windows being installed, it was a normal sight to see people and jurors sitting in Courtroom I wearing heavy coats in order to stay warm. Many jurors would sit and feel winter’s chill blowing at their backs from the windows behind them. It was not hard to hear the wind whistling in through the west facing wall.

The cost for first 58 windows, supplies and paint totaled $201,901.45. Even with the maintenance crew working within the county’s most used courtroom, no court days were missed.

During the windows’ installation, maintenance began another project within the Courthouse to make best use of the space. The Courthouse’s law library, located outside of Courtroom I, was a dated and rarely used area – all except a few seats placed in the area.

The remodeled area is now equipped with the Law Clerk’s office, the law library, two conference rooms and a safe room.

With purchasing all supplies through COSTARS and work being completed by in house employees, the county spent $22,048.91 on this project.