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200th birthday plans unveiled

Published March 29. 2010 05:00PM

Elaborate plans for celebrating Schuylkill County's 200th birthday in 2011 were unveiled at a meeting Friday at the Schuylkill County Courthouse in Pottsville by county commissioners and the bicentennial committee.

State Representatives Jerry Knowles, 124th Legislative District, and Tim Seip, 125th Legislative district, addressed the committee. Knowles, a former county commissioner, spoke of the accomplishments achieved in the county over a long period of time, chiefly in the area to promote jobs through the Heritage Park and education through various schools and colleges available to area students.

Seip predicted it will be a wonderful celebration with many events scheduled throughout the county. Commissioner Mantura Gallagher called it an important milestone and was proud of the progress made by the bicentennial committee and thanked all who signed on to work to make the celebration a success.

Commissioners Francis McAndrew and Frank Staudenmeier also made brief statements.

Register of Wills Michael McCord explained some of the signature events planned, including a semi-formal ball at the Lakeside Ballroom, fireworks at Sweet Arrow Lake, a flag ceremony planned for Laurel Boulevard in front of the courthouse and a dedication ceremony for the courthouse commons. A bicentennial history hike schedule has been developed and will feature monthly walks to historic and scenic natural areas located throughout the county.

One hike includes the site of America's oldest transportation tunnel (1827) near Landingville and another is on top of Bear's Head in Delano, with a nod to Service Electric Cable TV.

Commemorative bicentennial trees will be planted throughout the county. A grant is being pursued to procure 200 trees (possible oak) from municipalities that choose to plant a tree.

Committee chairpersons include McCord and Gary Bender, bicentennial steering committee; Darlene Robbins and Frank Zukas, fundraising; Bender, courthouse commons structure; Irene Doucherty and Kyla Snyder, commemorative merchandise; Susan Smith and Sharon Love, signature event; partnered events, Pat McKinley and Carole Sysdek; treasurer, Jackie McGovern; logistics, Scott Krater; and publication committee, McCord.

Funds sought

Zukas and Robbins, co-chairpersons of the bicentennial funding committee, announced the fundraising goal is $400,000 to construct a "courthouse commons" on the courthouse grounds in Pottsville.

The grassy area facing Laurel Boulevard is being designed by Youngcheol Kim, an architect.

It will be a place for outdoor gatherings; can be used as a forum where celebratory or other public functions can take place; or it can be used by students and visitors to learn about the history, geography and people of Schuylkill County.

The "Commons" was designed in several tiers of leveled platforms to conform to the gentle sloping terrain in the theme of growing concentric circles. Each platform is bordered by 16-inch-deep and 16-inch-high bricks to be installed.

The total number of name bricks is expected to be over 4,000 which will bear the names of donors for each brick.

The donation is $100 per brick. The area will be landscaped including trees interspersed on the platforms to provide shade.

The main platform will have the seal of Schuylkill County on the paved ground.

The "Commons" will have foot lights embedded in the ground which can be powered by photovoltaic solar panels located nearby.

Several corporate donations are planned. Legacy Partner ($20,000) will be prominently featured in all advertising.

The company logo will appear on all bicentennial banners, and 10 tickets will be awarded to a large scale event and a plaque presented by the bicentennial committee for media photo opportunities.

Other donors include Heritage Partner, $10,000; Platinum Partner, $5,000 and Gold Sponsor, $5,000.

Zukas reported the donations are tax deductible and should be made payable to Schuylkill Area Community foundation, a non-profit organization.

Chairman of the various committees include:

Bicentennial Steering Committee, McCord and Bender; fundraising, Roberts and Zukas; courthouse commons, Bender; commemorative merchandise, Irene Docherty and Kyla Snyder; education, Martina Chwastiak; signature events, Susan Smith and Sharon Love; partnership events, Pat McKinney and Carole Sysdeck; treasurer, McGovern; logistics, Scott Krater and publication, McCord.

County history

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, 1811, Governor Snyder approved an act designating Schuylkill County and provided until a courthouse could be built all matters of court should be conducted in the home of Abraham Reifsnyder, McKeansburg.

The first court trial was held Dec. 11, 1811.

The first county courthouse was built in Orwigsburg for $5,000.

It was a simple two-story building, made of brick measuring 40 feet by 50 feet.

In 1849 construction began on a courthouse in Pottsville, costing $30,000 to construct and included a 1,623-pound bell and a town clock.

The building was two stories and measured 123 feet by 37 feet and held a courtroom, four jury rooms, a consultation room and library. Construction was completed in 1851.

On Oct. 3, 1889, a cornerstone was laid for the third and current courthouse on the sight of the old courthouse.

The current courthouse 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.

Even today the courthouse's Number One Courtroom is the largest public seating capacity courtroom east of the Mississippi, with the exception of the Supreme Court in Washington D.C.

Throughout 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, which houses the county commissioners offices and their board room.

In 1987 a remodeling project added additional courtrooms and allocated more office space for the growing county, which now has six judges presiding over trials.

It was dubbed Schuylkill County's "Temple of Justice" by Judge Oliver P. Bechtel at the dedication ceremony 120 years ago.

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