Perry County Courthouse
The Perry County Courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document: Smith, Janet C., Perry County Courthouse, 1973, nomination document, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C. Adaptation copyright © 2007, The Gombach Group.
Perry County Courthouse, designed by Jacob Bishop, has been extensively altered since its original construction in 1826. Prior to its remodeling over forty years later the exterior appeared much simpler, lacking architectural adornments and was structurally square rather than oblong. An addition was made to the north end or rear of the building with the remodeling in 1868, and before the end of the century an annex was built. Much of the early construction was carried out by John Rice who was also contracted to build the county jail.
Today, the courthouse with its classical trim appears as a product of the Greek Revival. The two story white brick structure measures three bays across and six bays long. A low hip roof is crowned with a cupola designed by James M. Duncan in 1826, and a small gable appears at the front. Resting on a square base with a cornice, the cupola is embellished with elaborately carved consoles and small pediments. The bell is encased in an arcaded section which supports an entablature with modillions. Prominent keystones and imposts articulate the arches and modified Corinthian columns flank the openings. Balustrades span the base of these openings. The ribbed copper dome bears decorative metal pieces and a finial with a fish weathervane. When the front of the building was entirely altered in 1868, pilasters, which achieve a rusticated buttress effect, were applied to the four corners, the east and west sides near the front, and to either side of the front entrance. Around the whole structure a string course of brick with quarter round coping separates the first floor from the second.
The fenestration on the front includes five windows and an entrance way. Facing the building the right lower story window is blocked in but was included to retain symmetry of design. Both windows on this level have a semi-circular arched surround and a projecting sash with two supporting consoles underneath. On the upper level the two outer windows have round arched openings with pronounced keystones and above this a pediment head supported by larger consoles. In place of a cornerstone a circular plaque giving the date of completion appears above the south west corner window. The center window, slightly larger than the rest, is flanked by two composite order columns supporting a round arch with keystone. The entire window is set off by two pairs of larger fluted Corinthian columns, freestanding but close to the wall. A balustrade at the foot of the window connects these columns, which serve as extensions of the brick piers or pilasters below and as supports for the gable end pediment above. The pediment is formed with a molded cornice, dentils, and modillions which continue around the entire structure. The doorway just below this window has a vaulted recession; and the stone steps leading to it probably date to 1833. Other side windows are rectangular double hung with stone sills and lintels.
Inside, the courthouse was designed with offices on the first floor and court room and jury rooms on the second. During the remodeling lower level front offices were torn out and winding stairways were built instead. The old court room was divided up into four rooms with a hall between. The new court room extended from these offices to the north wall of the old building. The jury rooms were added beyond.
The Perry County Courthouse was built in 1826 and completed the next year, settling one of the county's gravest instances of dissension — that of selecting the county seat. Previous to 1820, the settlers north of the Blue Hills or Kittatinny Mountains, (then part of Cumberland County), complained of having to cross the mountains to reach the seat in Carlisle. At certain times of the year the mountains were impassible and even in the best weather a trip to Carlisle meant an overnight stay. The Sherman Valley "separatists," comprising an area of seven townships, eventually petitioned the state government, and the act creating Perry County was signed on March 22, 1820, by Governor William Findley.
Initially the temporary seat of Justice was set up in Landisburg, but a more centrally located spot was desired. Within a period of four years four different commissions were appointed to select a site. Finally in 1824, land belonging to George Barnett of New Bloomfield was appointed as the site for a courthouse, jail, and other public buildings. The county commissioners were to "assess, levy, and collect money for the construction of these buildings.
Since the county prisoners had to be confined in the Cumberland County jail, it was decided to build the jail first. Shortly afterwards the commissioners advertised to receive plans for a courthouse. The plans drawn by Jacob Bishop in 1825 were accepted, and in the same year the contract to build the structure was awarded to John Rice. The latter increased the height of the walls and added a cupola, slightly altering the original plans.
Completed in 1826, the courthouse adequately served the county seat for over 40 years. By 1868, however, the building had become too small and needed improvement. The remodeling enlarged and modernized the structure for a cost of $25,000, six times the original cost. A $300 donation from New Bloomfield citizens provided for a clock in the cupola. During renovations county offices were installed in the basement of the Presbyterian Church and court sessions were held in the old Methodist Church on High Street. Then, in 1892 an annex was added to the rear of the building which now appears as a noticeable addition, incongruous with the rest of the structure.
In spite of this latest addition, the main portion of the Perry County Courthouse is significant for its architectural style in Greek Revival and for its association with the founding of the county.