Armstrong County’s Temple of Justice

greek revival building

Current courthouse

There isn’t a person from Armstrong County that doesn’t know what our present courthouse looks like. The Greek Revival (Hulings and Dickey, architects) courthouse was constructed from 1858 to 1860 on the site of the former courthouse that was consumed by fire in 1856. The location and design of the courthouse contribute to its unique and striking appearance, and make it one of the most popular on the courthouse circuit in Pennsylvania.

black and white photo of courthouse

Courthouse photo

There are many photos, postcards and other renderings from all eras of courthouse, of which I am sharing a couple.

view of Market Street toward Courthouse

Postcard

This was our third temple of justice built for Armstrong County. The second courthouse was constructed on the site of the present building. Evidence shows that much of the first story stone of the current courthouse was salvaged from the second building. There has been little written or documented about this second building. It was noted that the building fell short of the citizens expectations and when the fire was discovered, many citizens yelled out, “let it burn!”. This short lived structure was built in 1850, to replace the first courthouse that had become insufficient for the needs of the growing county. What about that building?

yellowed drawing of building with tower

1854 Armstrong County Courthouse

The need for a courthouse in the newly formed county was evident from the formation of the county. Public lots were established in the new town of Kittanning when laid out in 1803. One for the construction of a courthouse and the other for a county jail. The lot for the jail was the North West corner of Market and McKean Streets. The lot for the courthouse was the South East corner of Market and Jefferson Streets. The first courts were held at David Reynolds Inn on lot 121, the North West corner of Market and Jefferson Streets. Known as the Kittanning Inn, it became the social hub of Kittanning from its inception.

On October 7, 1809 the first courthouse for Armstrong County was begun on the reserved public lot, with the order for the first 120,000 bricks used in the construction of the building were supplied by the Paul Morrow Brick Company in Kittanning. The building was 50′ x 50′, and had a high hipped roof, where a large bell tower was constructed. The building fronted both Market and Jefferson Streets, and each offered entrances to the main level of the building. Two Double windows flanked the entrances, with windows repeating on the second level. On August 7, 1818, and order was placed for a bell at a cost of $212.81, which weighed 283 ½ lbs.

It is still unclear where the bell was purchased from. Oliver Williams in his, County Courthouses of Pennsylvania, A Guide, suggests the bell in the current courthouse was the 1818 bell from the first courthouse. Research that I have conducted does not fully support that theory. The bell in the current courthouse was cast by A. Fulton Bell Foundry in Pittsburgh, PA. The Fulton family were casting bells early in the 1800′s and could have cast the bell for the first courthouse. The name, A. Fulton, casting on the current bell does not appear to have been used until about the time of the construction of the present courthouse in 1858. The commissioners reports no longer exist to offer proof for the bell in either courthouse.

The last construction completed to the first courthouse were the wings that were constructed for offices. One on the Market Street side and the other on the Jefferson Street side. Those occurring 1819 and 1820. The complete total cost to the county for this building was $7,859.19. This building served the county, until the needs of the county outgrew its limitations, by 1849. The building was removed and the lots were split and offered to the public for sale. Today, viable businesses are housed in the buildings that have been constructed on those lots today and complete the layout of Kittanning’s business district.

What did this first courthouse look like?

That is a very excellent question. I am so thankful you asked!!! My research on the construction of the building, offered an insight to its location, size and layout of the structure. The only image that offers a glimpse of the building can be seen in the image taken from Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania(1843) by Sherman Day, and depicts what Kittanning looked like in the 1840′s.

painting of town along river

1842 Kittanning

In the left center of the image, a yellowish building with a red roof is the first Armstrong County Courthouse. Another image taken from an 1856 Bridge Bond from Kittanning, offers the Seal of the Borough of Kittanning. Centered in this seal is a drawn image of the courthouse.

rubbing of seal

1821 Drawing of Courthouse

The image is small and only gives a glimpse of the outline of the building. From the research and the images I contain, I have decided to complete a detailed pen and ink rendition of the first Courthouse for Armstrong County. Currently the project is still in design mode and has only been completed in and outline drawn by pencil. The image is representing what the courthouse would look like at street level standing on the North West corner of Market and Jefferson Streets. To my knowledge, this will be the first ‘real’ look as to how our first Temple of Justice appeared to our ancestors.

drawing of a square building with a tower

First Courthouse

5 thoughts on “Armstrong County’s Temple of Justice

  1. This is a well-researched and illustrated overview of our Courthouses, Christopher. Thank you. When I was a boy in the 1950s and early 1960s, my mother would take me once every summer to the Courthouse to read inscriptions and take in something of the importance of the place. When I’m there now for research, I feel at home with the building as well as the presences of ancestors who came there to meet the requirements of law. It is the Significant Building in our town. The Memorial Wall has enhanced its importance for all of us who lost a friends or family member from Armstrong County.

  2. “The poetry of history lies in the quasi-miraculous fact that once, on this earth, once, on this familiar spot of ground, walked other men and women, as actual as we are today, thinking their own thoughts, swayed by their own passions,but now all gone,one generation vanishing into another, gone as utterly as we ourselves shall shortly be gone, like ghosts at cockcrow.”

    G. M. Trevelyan, “An Autobiography And Other Essays” (1949)

  3. Sums it up, pretty well, I’d say. Brings to mind how I used to play in Truby Run, as a kid….and, then finding out later that, during the depression, my grandfather and uncle lived in the little barn-wood, one-room shacks that stood along Truby Run behind the brickyard on Oak Ave.

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