A presentation about the Schuylkill County Bicentennial celebration and courthouse was provided to members, guests and friends of the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce during the Chamber's breakfast mixer held Wednesday morning in the community room of the ABC Hi-Rise in Tamaqua.
Everyone had the opportunity to learn about many of the activities planned during this year's Schuylkill County Bicentennial Celebration. Special guest for this event was Mike McCord, chairman of the county's Bicentennial Committee and Schuylkill County Register of Wills, who spoke of future bicentennial celebration plans and a brief detailed history of the Schuylkill court house.
Schuylkill County was formed from parts of Berks, Northampton, and Northumberland counties arising from the need to allow easier and more effective access to the judicial process. In March of 1811 Governor Snyder approved an act designating a part of Berks and Northampton County into a new county named Schuylkill. Schuylkill's first courthouse was a simple building, two stories made of brick measuring 40 feet by 50 feet. The courtroom was on the first floor and the jury room and public offices were located on the second floor.
Around 1831 opinions started to circulate that the courthouse and county seat should be moved to Pottsville again because of the inconvenience of travel to Orwigsburg. Ten years later when the rail connection between Pottsville and Philadelphia was completed, Pottsville became the de facto center of commerce in the county. The Legislature responded to petitions from the public and on March 13, 1847 the act was approved designating Pottsville as the seat of justice for Schuylkill County.
In October of 1849 construction began on the first Pottsville Courthouse. Total cost of the structure was about $30,000 including a 1,623 pound bell and a town clock. The building was two stories high and measured 123 feet by 37 feet. It held a courtroom, four jury rooms, a consultation room, and a library. Construction was completed in 1851 and in December of that year all records had been moved from Orwigsburg to Pottsville. The first case was heard in Pottsville on December 8, 1851.
Rapid growth because of industrialization and the development of mineral resources soon caused Schuylkill County to outgrow its second public courthouse. On October 3, 1889 the cornerstone was laid for the third and current courthouse on the sight of the old courthouse grounds on "Pine Hill". This building is constructed entirely of Cleveland Limestone and designed in the Romanesque style of architecture. Its total cost was around $400,000 for a five story building that measured 195 feet by 100 feet. The interior was finished in natural red oak. Even today Courtroom No.1 is the largest public seating capacity courtroom east of the Mississippi with the exception of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
Through the years the courthouse has undergone many changes and renovations. An annex was added in 1932 and in 1968 a juvenile detention center was constructed and later converted to office space. In 1987 a remodeling project added additional courtrooms and allocated more office space for the growing needs of the county. The courthouse is still serving as Schuylkill County's "Temple of Justice" as it was dubbed by Judge Oliver P. Bechtel at the dedication.
Some future bicentennial events consist of multi-community fireworks, time capsule placements, walk through tours and much more. More information about the Schuylkill Bicentennial celebration could be found on their website: www.Schuylkill200.com.
The ABC Hi-Rise sponsored this event. Building Communities affiliate director Pat Stefanek pointed out her appreciation to all who attended the mixer. The mixer is one of several educational opportunities organized by the Tamaqua Chamber throughout the year. Each bi-monthly event provides a brief program on different topics, along with a catered breakfast.