Pennsylvania Great Outdoors: Jefferson County Courthouse History for 150th Birthday (Part 2)
Part Two of a three-part series of articles on the history of the Jefferson County Courthouse
Written by Dave Taylor
As noted in the previous article posted on May 30, 2019, the first Jefferson County Court House was built in 1832, and by the 1860s, the modest building had outlived its design. In 1866, the County Commissioners embarked on an ambitious building project that would result in a new Court House at the corner of Main and Pickering streets, in the heart of Brookville’s downtown business district.
The Commissioners selected James T. Dickey to be the contractor and on May 30, 1866, the Brookville Republican reported under the heading New Court House.
“The people of Jefferson county will rejoice that at last we are to have a new Court House. The plans and specifications, which can be seen at the Commissioners’ Office, were gotten up by Mr. J. W. Drum, of Punxsutawney, who is the Architect of the building; and if the building is put up in accordance with his plans, it will be one of the finest Court Houses in Western Pennsylvania, and will be a credit and an ornament to our town. The work is to be put under contract on the 20th of June next. We hope to see it pushed forward to completion as rapidly as possible.”
James T. Dickey, the contractor, was listed in advertisements of the time as a Brookville merchant. Little is known about J. W. Drum, the architect of the Court House. He served as Jefferson County Surveyor and laid out building lots throughout the county and lived both in Punxsutawney and Brookville. Throughout much of the nineteenth century, the profession of “architect” did not exist and any carpenter could identify himself as an architect. There were many builder’s guides that included detailed drawings, window and stair plans, trim, etc. Drum may have availed himself of such printed material without any formal training.
On September 1, 1866 the Republican reported, “Mr. James T. Dickey, the contractor for the erection of a Court House, has commenced operations, he having employed quite a number of men in getting out material, and we understand that soon the work of removing the old building will be commenced. It is our hope that Mr. Dickey may be successful in his undertaking, and be able, in the shortest possible time, to give us a building, worthy our humble little County.”
At the same time he was building the Court House, contractor Dickey was engaged by the Brookville Presbyterian Church to build the congregation a new house of worship (this building preceded the present 1905 church building).
The newspaper noted, “The plans and specifications call for a large and finished building, and Mr. Dickey’s reputation as a builder insures our Presbyterian friends a handsome church ere long.”
The Commissioners were faced with something of a dilemma in that, with the September 1866 demolition of the 1832 Court House, no place would exist for the regular holding of Court. This was solved by the Fall of 1866, since it was reported in November that the Commissioners had leased the Presbyterian Church (on the site of the present Presbyterian house of worship) for Court, and that an adjacent building owned by Parker P. Blood had been leased for offices; this building likely stood across White Street from the church.
This was obviously the largest construction project ever undertaken in Brookville.
As a measure of this, the newspaper reported on just the stone being hauled to the site: “The loads of four teams employed by Mr. Dickey in hauling stone for the new Court House were weighed last Saturday evening, resulting in a grand total of 24,414 pounds. Two of the loads weighed over 6,000 pounds each. This is considered very heavy for a single span of horses over the rough roads leading from here to the quarry.” The smooth-dressed foundation stones are of sandstone and, unfortunately, the location of the quarry is not known.
On September 25, 1867, the newspaper reported, “Work upon the Court House is progressing satisfactorily, and it promises to be a credit to the county. We examined the front door frame, gotten up at Judge Taylor’s factory, under the superintendence of Mr. H. V. Arnold, and we can say that for fine workmanship and beauty of finish it is rarely equaled in this section. The major part of the fine woodwork for the building is being done at the same place.” The Judge Taylor referred to here was Associate Judge Philip Taylor, who was a lumberman with a mill, and, apparently a finishing shop, on Sandy Lick Creek, near Belgiumtown.
The total cost of the new Court House is not known. In 1867 the Commissioners paid $26,800 toward the construction as well as $1,400 to Architect Drum. They were able to recoup some of their costs, since in April 1868 they sold the bell from the old Court House to Brookville’s Grace Lutheran congregation for $200. The bell was described as “one of the best in the county, and though old still rings forth its brazen notes in a clear and pleasant manner. It will add greatly to the convenience of the Church and also add materially to its value.” That bell continues to hang in the belfry of Grace church on Franklin Avenue and nearly two hundred years later retains its “clear and pleasant” tone.
Then as now, weather was a factor in the construction schedule.
In the Spring of 1868, it was reported, “Notwithstanding the unfavorable weather, which has greatly retarded the labors of the bricklayers, the work on our new Court House is progressing finely, and there is not a doubt but that Mr. Dickey will have the job completed at the specified time, and in December 1868 our Court will convene in one of the best and handsomest houses in Western Pennsylvania.”
Despite the weather, in June 1868 the project was moving along. The editor of the Republican offered this opinion: “We are pleased to notice the progress made by the force employed by Mr. James T. Dickey in erecting our Court House. The building is assuming dimensions that seem quite formidable, and the excellent manner in which the brick is being done gives promise that our county shall have a Court House second to none in the northwestern part of the state. Mr. J. W. Drum the architect, gave the work a thorough inspection last week and pronounces the work and the materials of the very best order. Those knowing the perfection of workmanship and the degree of quality required of all material passing Mr. Drum’s inspection will have some idea of the great labor being accomplished by Mr. Dickey.
The new Court House was completed in 1869. The uppermost feature is the bell in the belfry that has hung there and chimed the hour daily since that date.
Award-winning photographer Kyle Yates climbed into the belfry and reported that the inscription on the bell dates it to 1868 and identifies it as the product of the A. Fulton & Sons Co. Fulton’s was in Pittsburgh and the firm cast bells from 1832 until 1910.
Regarding the architecture of the building itself, it is an eclectic mix of styles. Originally rectangular in plan, it was gable-roofed with a full return of the cornice and a three-bay façade with a centered entry and side elevations of nine bay, each separated by pilasters. The main entrance is centered on the façade, originally accessed by a 3-run straight stair. The building’s prominent windows are round-arched with multiple lights, characteristic of Colonial design. Beneath the eaves is a series of prominent wooden brackets, harkening to the Italianate style. The prominent bell tower hints at Colonial design. So, it is fair to say that Drum drew from various sources for his design. What is also clear that this landmark building was not just the result of an unskilled carpenter; it was designed by a builder who was familiar with classically derived proportions and with classical detail.
In 1902, work began to erect a drinking fountain in front of the Court House. In 1903, the Village Improvement Society, a womens’ civic group, presented the community with a public drinking fountain that was located at the corner of Main and Pickering Streets. The cast iron fountain was dedicated with great fanfare on October 23 with Judge John Reed presiding. The Brookville Cornet Band performed, and a rousing speech was given by Judge Reed, who reminded those in attendance of the days of hauling creek and spring water for drinking purposes and having to pay for the haulage based on the distance hauled and upon the weather. The cost of the fountain itself was $480.00, and including all installation costs, the project totaled $904.98.
The Republican concluded its coverage of the new drinking fountain as follows: “And now every thirsty one can drink to their fill at the town pump. Ho, everyone who is athirst come and drink of the water of this fountain. And he that has no money, come and drink without money and without price.” It is not known when it was removed.
Although it was never stated, this 1905 drinking fountain was apparently intended for animals, since in August 1915, the Jeffersonian Democrat reported. “There has been a drinking fountain for beasts on Main Street near the Court House for several years. The town council is now putting in one near the same place for men and boys.” No mention was made of women.
The 1832 Sheriff’s House and Jail remained immediately west of the Court House. It was a modest 2-story 3-bay temple-form Greek Revival vernacular brick building with a gable roof and a full return of the cornice. It endured into the 1920s.
The 1869 Court House served with little alteration for a half-century. The third and final segment in this series of articles will discuss the 1927 addition and the other history of this Jefferson County landmark.
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