Most Pennsylvanian’s think of jury duty, county assessment records or where they went to apply for their marriage license when someone mentions a courthouse.
Not me, I immediately think of the tall columns and central rotunda of Lancaster County’s Courthouse – or the countless hours I spent in its basement pouring through early deed books researching elusive title chains.
Pennsylvania’s Historic Courthouses
My favorite aspects as the Keystone grant manager is the opportunity to interact with many of Pennsylvania’s historic county courthouses. I have visited several of them, even climbed onto the roof of one too – with much cajoling, mind you.
It is no surprise that often the county courthouse is the most architecturally significant and high-styled building in the county seat if not their entire respective county.
There are thirty-four county courthouses listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places, while many others are listed in the National Register as part of their surrounding historic district.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Allegheny County Courthouse & Jail, 436 Grant St. (Key #001716) is considered a National Historic Landmark.
Preserving County Courthouses
The Keystone Historic Preservation grant program has funded many of the architecturally significant county courthouses in the commonwealth. Nineteen counties have received grant funding through the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission for the continued preservation of this resource type.
County courthouses have unique preservation challenges. They are architecturally complex buildings, with towers, rotundas, domes, dramatic decorative flourishes, elements that require continual maintenance by artisans and specialized contractors.
Because courthouses are heavily occupied buildings so these finishes and features are especially vulnerable.
I appreciate how difficult it must be for County Commissioners to stretch their budget to care for these impressive buildings and still provide necessary county government services.
And how they must complete the complex puzzle to balance the demands for safety and security of our modern world with the architectural characteristics of the buildings all while ensuring that the building is barrier free for all members of the public.
Fayette County Courthouse
The Fayette County Commissioners invited me a few years ago to tour their impressive 1892 Richardsonian Romanesque building (Key #088148) designed by Butz and Kaufman in the Uniontown Historic District.
It was a memorable visit to enjoy the behind the scenes tour of how they maintain the facility and incorporate other county buildings to supplement the services. I enjoyed my visit immensely and certainly got a better understanding of all the moving parts that factor into their decision making.
Blair County Courthouse
One of our recent projects certainly highlights how careful planning and dedicated commissioners can restore the glory of the interior decorative finishes of their courthouse.
The Blair County Courthouse, 423 Allegheny S. (Key #001295) in Hollidaysburg was constructed in 1875, designed Philadelphia architect, David Smith Gendell (1839-1925).
The Athenaeum of Philadelphia’s Philadelphia Architects and Building Project has a brief record on Gendell’s career. The courthouse was listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places on June 17, 1976 but is also a prominent building in the Hollidaysburg Historic District (Key #078872), listed in the register in 1985.
The Blair County Commissioners were recognized by Preservation Pennsylvania in their 2019 Historic Preservation Awards.
Interested in more information about the Pennsylvania’s County Courthouses?
The Pennsylvania County Commissioner Association teamed up with the PCN to offer tours of several of courthouses. Check out select episodes on their website: https://pcntv.com/pahistoriccourthouses/.
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