History of Clarion County

Clarion County | The Courthouse | The Jail | Claims to Fame | Other Related Links


Clarion County, erected on March 11, 1839, from parts of Venango and Armstrong counties, is named for the Clarion River, as is the county seat town of Clarion.

The Clarion River was the dividing line between Armstrong and Venango counties. In early times this river was known as Stump Creek and Toby’s Creek. These names were retained until an act of assembly was passed declaring it a public highway under the name of the Clarion River. When surveying for a road, the surveyors camped by the river. They heard ripples of the water made mellow by the wall of timber on both sides of the river. One man said it sounded like a distant clarion. Thense the river was known as the Clarion River.

Clarion County was the 54th county in the state to be formed. The following townships were made from Armstrong County: Clarion, Madison, Monroe, Perry, Redbank and Toby. The following townships were made from Venango county: Beaver, Elk, Farmington, Paint and Richland.

Application was made to the legislature and the governor by act of March 14, 1839 to authorize the appointment of three citizens; namely, James Thompson, John Gilmore and Samuel L. Carpenter, who were empowered to take deeds of trust from persons donating land, to lay out the town in lots, to see the same, and to make contracts for the public buildings. Shortly afterwards, Mr. Thompson resigned, and by the act of June 25th, John P. Davis, of Crawford County was appointed to fill the vacancy.

When the site for the seat of justice was selected the lands belonged to General Levi G. Clover, James P. Hoover, Peter Clover, Jr (heirs of Phillip Clover) and Hon. C. Myers, who donated the towns site to the county, on condition of receiving half the proceeds from the sale of lots.

Sometime in the fall of 1839, the town plot containing 200 acres, was surveyed by John Sloan, Jr. There were 275 in-lots and 50 out-lots. The public sale of the lots began October 30, 1839 and continued for three days. The highest price for a lot was $757.50 and the next in value was sold for $560.00.

On April 6, 1841, the village of Clarion was incorporated into a borough.

Grounds for the county buildings and public square were reserved from sale. At this time a dispute arose about a strip of land lying between these tracts, and which would be the central part of the future town. This ground being needed for lots before the question of ownership could be settled by law, the parties agreed in writing to release their claim to the title of lands, reserving the privilege of testing the right to the purchase money. Application was made to the legislature and the governor, by act of June 25th 1839, was authorized to appoint three citizens of the county who were empowered to take deeds of trust from persons donating lands, to lay out the town in lots, to sell the same, and to make contracts for the public buildings. Accordingly, the governor appointed George B. Hamilton, Lindsey C. Pritner and Robert Potter commissioners, who proceeded to the discharge of the duties of their appointment. It was a short time before 1839 that any part of the chosen site had been cleared out, and even then only a small portion. There was only one house in all that is now included in the borough limits. The greater part of the site was still covered with large pine and dense underbrush. It was previously esteemed good hunting grunds, where wild game had been frequently caught. As the commissioners entered upon their work, they laid out the town in lots, employing Mr. John Sloan as surveyor who for a series of years before and afterwards, was identified with the interest of the county. The first sale of lots was in October 1839, and a second sale was made in the following spring.

The first settlement was made in 1801. Pioneer settlers were predominately Scotch-Irish and German from the older counties of the state.

Growth of the county in population and enterprise was due mainly to the rise of iron, lumber, and oil industries. The iron business declined after the civil war with the emergence of the new steel industry.

The large stand of virgin timber in the county attracted the lumbermen. The earliest means of livelihood other than farming were the sawmills which produced lumber which could be floated to market at Pittsburgh. The sawmill operations of pioneer days were replaced with larger scale operations and the Clarion River again helped provide a way to market.

Clarion County was within the oil producing region of the state and shared in the development of this natural resource after the drilling of "Colonel" Edwin L. Drake’s well at Titusville in 1859. The county was at one time a leading oil producer. In addition to an oil belt, the county has extensive gas fields, sand for glass making, good fire clay and bituminous coal reserves.

Cook Forest Park, a tract of 6,000 acres with a frontage of eight miles on the Clarion River, lies mostly in Clarion County and contains the largest stand of virgin white pine east of the Mississippi rRiver. The Clarion River provides an attractive scenic and recreational area.

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The Courthouse

The first courthouse was bid to the firm of Derby & Clover of Ridgewood, 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 $8500, which as it appears, exceeded the lowest bid by $2700. (The extras brought the cost up to $10,636.16). The building was started in the spring of 1842, but was not entirely finished until the spring of 1843.

The courthouse was brick, two-storied and divided by a slight offset - from which there were two 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. No clock appeared on this building. The main entrance was through a portico in the Grecian style, and was reached by four low steps. The roof of the porch was supported by two wooden fluted pillars with plain capitals, and tow polasters, one at either end and were painted white.

The county offices were on each side of the corridor, the main body of the building. The second story contained four jury rooms. The courtroom was occupied on the ground floor in the rear of the building. Two doors one 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 second burning of the second courthouse.

About 9:00 am 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 throughout the Lyciming and York companies resulted in a claim for $7000.

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 Brockville, 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.

The total contract was $15,700 plus extras of $1500 (total cost of the courthouse was $17,200). Architect on this project was Mr. John R. Turner of Carlisle, PA. County commissioner’s Daniel Mercer, C. Seigworth and Benjamin Miller entered into this contract with Mr. Turner. This undertaking was a losing one for the contractors.

The second courthouse was a substantial brick building 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 excluding 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 am on the morning of September 12, 1882, fire which had been smoldering in the loft, burst through the roof. The water pressure was not enough to force the water to 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.

Between the destruction of the old and the completion of the new courthouse the Methodist Church was used for holding court and the residence part of the jail 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, 1894. The work commenced on July 16, 1883 but the building was not handed over to the county commissioners until October 14, 1885.

E.M. Butz of Allegheny was the architect and D. English of Brockville was the supervising architect. The county commissioners at this time were John Featly, Aaron Kino 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 painting was under the supervision of Brockville, PA. 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, which weighs 1313 pounds.

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

The present courthouse is a variation of the Queen Anne style of architecture. 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 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, 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 ventilating 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 are the courtroom and in front of which on either side of the lobby are two waiting rooms for ladies and in the rear the judge’s and attorney’s room and two rooms for petit juries. The third story contains the apartments 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. It is lighted by 12 double windows and four chandeliers of 18 lights each.

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

architect = $4418
furniture= 4248
bell and clock= 2800
gas/plumbing = 1500
carpet= 510

= $13,466

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 expendure.

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 W.W.II period
1944 lights back on in tower
1977 complete re-wiring of the electrical system
1981 a complete exterior renovation

Courthouse renovation project of 1981:

On May 18, 1981 the Clarion County commissioners namely, Fred C. McIhattan, 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, serving as the project architect.

Such needed repairs are as follows:
lady justice -removed and repaired restoration and re-anchored
new roof – slate shingles
chemical cleaning – exterior brickwork
brickwork – re-set and re-point all brickwork
painting – paint and replace all ornamental metal 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. Three 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.

Upon 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. Themes, Mother of the Fates and the Seasons, were the goddess of divine justice. The rites of hospitality were under her 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 Themis is a fitting guardian for a hall or 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 a 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 3:00pm 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.

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The Jail

The contract for the first jail was awarded simultaneously with that for the courthouse to Jonathon Frampton of Clarion County at the sum of $2834. Difficulties in settling an account of extra extras, etc. Ensued. Frampton & Craig (as the firm had become) sued the county. The venue was changed to Armstrong County where judgment was obtained to the amount of $3097.70, exclusive of costs, making the total cost of the jail at $7000.

The first jail was a plain structure of square cut sandstone with a small yard surrounded by a stone wall in the rear. In 1847 the building was remodeled and a new front put on. After the completion of the new prison, it was finally torn down in 1883 and it’s stones used in the foundation of the courthouse. The old jail stood a few rods west of the present one.

The old jail became dilapidated and insecure. A new building was deemed necessary. After the proper recommendations, the contract was awarded on April 7, 1873 to Samuel Wilson and W. W. Greenland at the price of $96,737 to which extras to the amount of $23,527.50 were added, making the total cost $120,274.50. James McCullough, Jr. of Allegheny was the architect. The county commissioner under whom the work was done was Isaac Mong, John Stewart and Chris Brenneman. The interior was not completed until the spring of 1875.

The structure is imposing in appearance and is half brick and half stone. The front comprising the sheriff’s residence is of brick with semi-octagonal projecting wings. The basement walls are dressed sandstone. A square battlement tower arises from the front section. It is 97 feet in height from the ground and 18 feet square at the base and 10 feet at the top. The outside walls of the prison proper are of ashlar rough dressed sandstone 2 feet in thickness. It contains 20 cells at 81/2 x 14’ each, arranged in two tiers on each side of the interior cout or corridor which is 15’2" wide by 56’ long and the full height of the prison. There are two bath cells. Each cell is provided with a water faucet, etc. The floors are of iron grating with outside doors of oak that 2 thick. The jail is heated by steam.

In 1885 the interior of the prison was repaired and renovated with steam heating apparatus.

Invitation to a hanging:

Foster M. Mohney

This invitation to a hanging — the only execution in the history of the county — was issued to and used by the late Foster M. Mohney, who was prothonotary and also served occasionally as deputy sheriff. The card is a valued item among other historic articles owned by his son, Claude E. Mahney of Clarion.

The execution was the punishment for a murder that occurred in Rimersburg on October 18, 1909. An immigrant coal miner, Vincent Voycheck stabbed to death his landlord Andrew Stupka. He fled following the crime but was captured a few hours later by constable Frank Shearer and taken to the county jail where he was placed in the custody of sheriff Win S. Smothers.

The trial against Voycheck began March 1, 1912 before Judge Harry R. Wilson. The district attorney was William J. Geary. Attorneys Hogn T. Reinsel and John S. Shirley had been named counsel for the defense. Among numerous witnesses were several prominent people in the county. Dr. H.B. Summerville, Dr. John T. Rimer, D.E. Snyder, E.B. Murford, George Eonick and widow of the slain man, Mrs. Mary Stupka. Serving on the 12-man jury were A.L. Wiser, C.H. Fye, Fred Metz, Arthur Latshaw, J.P. Gilmore, James E. Hefren, Peter Peters, J.M. Polliard, D.P. McKinley, E.V. Curll, and E.L. Over, and L.L. Jordan. On March 4th the jury reached a verdict which read: we find the said defendant Vincent Voychek guilty of a felony and muder in the first degree. Twenty days later defense counsel entered a motion for a new trial. This action was over-ruled by judge wilson and on April 1 he pronounced the sentence: the sentence of the court is that you, Vincent Voychek, be taken hence by the sheriff of Clarion County to the jail of said county and there to the place of execution within the walls or yard of said jail and that you be hanged by the neck until you are dead on the date the governor of the commonwealth shall appoint andy may god in his infinite wisdom have mercy on your soul.

The sentence was carried out as ordered and it was 10:07 am on June 1, 1911 that Voychek was pronounced dead by hanging. The clerk of courts at the time was Henry M. Hufnagel whose hand inscribed the entire proceedings of the case.

the late H. Les Carson who witnessed the execution said that the invitations issued by the sheriff were highly valued and that a goodly number of citizens were highly incensed when they were not invited. He also stated that a woman, Zoe Himes, secretary in a courthouse office pulled the cord that released the trap on the gallows.

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Claims to Fame

Foxburg Golf Club — oldest course in continuous use in the US. Houses the Golf Hall of Fame

Highest bridge — spans the Allegheny River on I-80 near Emlenton

Summer home of President Buchanan — only PA President has a summer home in Lucinda

First woman ever elected to state office — Honrable Genevieve Blatt, East Brady native was Secretary of Internal Affairs 1955-1967.

Honorable Grace M. Sloan State Treasurer from 1961 – 1964. Auditor General from 1965 – 1968. State Treasurer from 1969 – 1976.

Forest the most important tract of virgin timber, composed of primeval white pine to be found in the state. Mecca for thousands of visitors each year

The leatherwood anti-horse thief assoiation unique in continuing active membership for over 100 years. Famous throughout the state and nation is usually referred to as the "Clarion County horsethieves"

The Autumn Leaf Festival, held every fall is a week long festival with fun for all ages

Clarion University is well known throughout the state as one of the best teacher’s colleges. Also many state champions have excelled in the field of sports. (wrestling, swimming, etc.)

I-80 has 6 exits in Clarion County — this access had brought considerable industry to the county.

Miss Teenage America Melissa Galbraith in 1973

Mother of the Year (PA) Louise Jordon 1973

Mrs Pennsylvania 1960 was Mrs. S. Charolotte Logue from Sligo

Cecil B. Demille filmed the movie "Unconquered" at Cook Forest State Park in the early 1940’s

Jim Kelly, formerly of East Brady, inducted in the Football Hall of Fame 2002.

1996 Olympian gold medal winner Kurt Angle graduated from Clarion University

Olympian Rod Eiter graduated from Clarion University

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Other Related Links

CensusLinks.com (non-current census information)

Clarion County Historical Society

Clarion County, Pennsylvania Genealogy and History

Early Life in Clarion by Paul Fredrick

Pennsylvania Roots

Pennsylvania Cemeteries - Cemetery Records on the Internet

Pennsylvania Obsolete Currency 15c 1863 Greenville, Clarion County Pennsylvania

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