Susquehanna County Courthouse
The Susquehanna County Courthouse Complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Susquehanna County Courthouse Complex consists of a ten-acre tract in the heart of the Borough of Montrose, the seat of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. A total of fourteen resources are found within the complex. Contributing resources in the Susquehanna County Courthouse Complex include one site (the Town Green), four contributing buildings (the Court House, two jail buildings, one of 1853 and the other 1867-1868), a 1925 addition to a demolished 1890 school linked to one of the jails), one noncontributing building (a 1970s gazebo), and four contributing objects (an 1887 Civil War memorial, a 1915 monument to Galusha Grow, an early surveyor's marker, and a 1930s veterans' monument), four noncontributing objects (a 1980 state marker, a 1991 nurse's memorial, a 1992 veterans' memorial, and a 1980s fountain and pool.
Dominating the Susquehanna County Courthouse Complex is the temple-form Greek Revival Courthouse, whose earliest portion dates from 1854-55. The Susquehanna County Courthouse occupies an elevated site of approximately one acre overlooking the central business district. Three stories in height, the Courthouse is built of brick made from banks of blue clay just east of the Borough. The exterior masonry, painted white for many years, was stripped of paint in 1992, revealing the original red brick surface. Stone steps lead from the street level to the Courthouse itself. At the ground level, a round-arched arcade extends across the entire facade with five-bays on the front and one bay on each end. Atop the arcade is a hexastyle Ionic portico with fluted columns. Crowning the portico is a pediment with dentiled cornice which is repeated around the rest of the building. The tympanum within the pediment is plain and unadorned. The portico, cornice, and all other trim are of wood painted white. The building has a shallow-pitched gable roof broken by several chimneys generally devoid of corbeled ornament.
Capping the building is an asymmetrical octagonal cupola which rises twenty feet above the roofline. The four principal surfaces have louvered openings and clock faces. A dentiled cornice wraps around the cupola; crowning each of the four principal sides is a stylized acanthus. The original dome was destroyed by a fire in 1922, but was replaced that same year.
The facade consists of three bays, while the original side walls had seven bays. Fenestration is for the most part flat-topped, with double-hung sash, four-over-four lights. Some window openings on the earliest addition used segmental-arched voids but repeated the use of flat-topped window sash.
As originally constructed, the Susquehanna County Courthouse measured fifty four by eighty-two feet. Five brick enlargements (1883, 1902, 1950, 1954, and 1982) have occurred over the building's 140-year history. The first was a three-story 1883 addition constructed on the north end, which extended the building by about one-third. The other additions were made to the west side. The 1902 modification followed a Grand Jury recommendation to erect a vault for the County Register and Recorder. This twenty-two by twenty-foot addition originally consisted of a basement, first, and second stories with a gallery and vaulted ceiling on the second story. The gallery was later removed and a floor installed, creating a third story. In 1950, a one-story twenty-two by thirty-foot addition was constructed as storage for public documents. Four years later, a one-story annex was completed, twenty-two by forty feet in dimension. The last addition (1982) was a three-story annex, eighteen feet in width and twenty-four feet in length. In 1985, a glass-enclosed corridor was added to the northeast end of the Courthouse, linking it to the Annex.
The main floor of the Susquehanna County Courthouse is accessed through the centered entryway under the portico. The main corridor extends through the center of the building, with county row offices opening off the corridor. Most of these offices have been modernized over the years. The painted wall surfaces of the main corridor date from 1920, when a Chicago firm, the Andrews Decorating Company, was engaged to decorate the walls. Frescoed borders were applied with brush and stencil near the wainscot and ceiling. Additional interior modifications were begun in 1937, when a new stairway was installed from the second to the third floor. Alterations were also made to the main floor offices of the Register and Recorder, the Prothonotary, and the County Treasurer. At the north end of the main corridor is a secondary stair of oak allowing restricted access to the Law Library and the Judge's Chambers. On the south side of the interior are two sets of principal stairs, leading to the second floor. These stairs are five feet in width and are trimmed with oak wainscot, balustrade, and newels.
The fifty-two by sixty-foot, Court Room, with a ceiling height of twenty-four feet, dominates much of the second story. At the north end is an Ionic entablature shielding the Judge's bench. The east and west sides of the room have narrow, five-foot wide balconies, while the south end — apposite the bench — contains the main balcony, with a knee wall and brass rail system. The central portion of the Court Room contains visitors' seating, attorneys' tables, and the jury box, set apart from the rest of the space by a carved oak rail. Two murals flank the Judge's bench. These important artistic features were completed as part of the Andrews Decorating Company's 1920 contract referenced above. One depicts the original Susquehanna County Courthouse at the head of Public Avenue, a portion of Lake Avenue, and the Green. The second mural features a steam-powered train crossing the Erie Railroad's massive stone-arched Starucca Viaduct, located at nearby Lanesboro.
Immediately north of the Courthouse is the rectangular, two-story Jail, built in 1853 of locally-quarried stone, now known as the Montrose County Courthouse Annex. In 1869, following the County's completion of a new Jail in 1868, the 1853 building was leased to the Montrose Fire Department. Several modifications of door and window openings were made early on in the Fire Department's tenancy. In 1880, a two-story wood frame addition was made to the rear (west) elevation, to accommodate a new fire apparatus. After the Fire department vacated the building in 1954, the Susquehanna County removed truck doors and re-installed windows. The latest modification of this building occurred in 1973, with an interior remodeling and the removal of the 1880 wood frame addition and its replacement with a two-story addition of brick.
Appended to the Annex is a 1925 two-story brick building with a flat roof. This was an addition to an 1890 school (now demolished) and is generally devoid of ornament save for the stone arch framing the lancet-arched door, vaguely Collegiate Gothic form. The windows on this building have been altered.
Near the northern terminus of the Susquehanna County Courthouse Complex, across Prospect Street, stands the Jail of 1867-68. The later Jail is three stories in height and built of locally-quarried stone, measuring forty-eight by sixty-four feet, with a gable roof and a quarter-round prison yard on the west side. Attached to the Jail and encircling the prison yard is a massive stone wall twenty feet in height and fifty-eight feet in diameter. Before the building was completed, the Commonwealth authorized the original plan to be modified, resulting in the jail's housing eighteen cells instead of the original twelve. The extension of the new jail was built of red brick trimmed in stone, with a gable roof tieing into the gable roof of the original design. A particularly distinctive feature of the south elevation of the building is the fenestration. Some windows are flat-topped, but other window openings consists of a series of attenuated round-arched windows. Capping the roof of the jail is a metal-clad round cupola, fifteen feet diameter and ten feet in height, with twelve narrow windows placed symmetrically around its exterior. The turret is flat-roofed and has an ornamental wood cornice with crenelated molding. In 1924, a wood frame garage was built against the Jail, just west of the north entrance. In 1954, a new door was cut into the south side of the jail for the use of inmates and visitors alike.
The interior of the jail contains the cell block, with each cell measuring six feet in width and twelve feet in length, and having four-foot tall doors. A manual locking system is used throughout. A 1954 remodeling project saw the remodeling of the interior passageways, replacing the wood structure between the cells with a fireproof material, and the replacement of the original winding staircases. The kitchen underwent a complete remodeling in 1975.
East of the Courthouse, on the Green, are two military memorial structures. Dominating the Green is the Soldiers' Monument. Designed by Captain J. R. Lyons and dedicated on Independence Day, 1887, a bronze plaque proclaims it to be "in memory of the Citizen Soldiers of Susquehanna County who gave their lives for the preservation of the Union in the war of 1861-1865. " At the time of its erection, it was ordered that the monument would not only honor local soldiers, but would also be of local materials. The monument is set upon a heavy base and diminishes in size as its height increases. Each stone of the monument, save the granite soldier's statue at its peak, is of material quarried near the old Fairgrounds in Montrose. Against the base of the monument are sixteen stone tablets, six inches in thickness. Four tablets are found on each side of the monument, measuring thirty-three inches in height and twenty inches in width. Each tablet bears the incised name of the home borough or township of the fallen Civil War soldier. The entire monument is set upon a masonry slab with a cannon at each corner.
Near the southwest corner the Green is a second Civil War monument of stone, this one dedicated to Union soldiers, sailors, Marines, and nurses. Rectangular in form, it is of rough-cut granite and measures sixty-nine inches in height and thirty-three inches in width. This particular monument was unveiled on May 30, 1936, and was erected under the auspices of the Dr. Ellen E. Mitchell Tent No. 5, Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War. A dedicatory plaque, including a likeness of Abraham Lincoln, appears on the face of the monument.
South of the Soldier's Monument is a circular concrete pool, thirteen feet in diameter and one and one-half feet in depth. In its center is a pyramidal fountain of fieldstone. In 1980 the pool and fountain were constructed to replace a similar feature from 1915.
South of the Soldiers' Monument is a boulder roughly five feet in height and twenty-nine inches in width. Attached to the boulder is a bronze plaque in honor of Susquehanna County Congressman Galusha A. Grow, author of the Homestead Act of 1862. An elm tree was brought to Montrose by Nebraskan Daniel Freeman, the first homesteader, at the time of a June 9, 1903 community celebration honoring Grow. The boulder was transported from the Grow farm, and was placed at the foot of the elm in 1915. The elm fell victim to the elm blight and was replaced in 1973 by a green ash from the Nebraska National Homestead Monument.
When the Green was surveyed in 1812, north-south markers were set. The north marker is adjacent to the site of the 1868 Jail and the south marker was south of the site of the present gazebo. The south marker has not survived. The north marker, however, is intact and in its original site. The stone marker is twenty-nine inches in height, ten inches in width, and six inches in thickness. Two and one-half inches from the peak of the marker is a five-inch square cut-out.
Scattered across the Green are several other items which because of their age are non-contributing features within the Susquehanna County Courthouse Complex. On the western Green, Veterans' Monument of 1992, honoring veterans of both World Wars, Korea, and Vietnam; it is a truncated pyramid of granite capped with a flagpole. Surrounding this monument are four granite benches which rest on a cut stone base. One is incised with "Panama," one with "Grenada," and one with "Desert Storm;" the fourth is blank. At the southeast corner of the west Green is a rock seven inches in height and three feet in width, set beside a maple tree, bearing a commemorative plaque dedicated to "the selfless devotion of Susquehanna County's first Public Health Nurse, Mary Borthwick, 1918-1976." The rock and plaque were placed there in 1991 at the base of a memorial tree planted in 1972. On the upper east Green is a 1976 wood gazebo, fifteen by eighteen feet, which was copied from a similar structure located on the English family property bordering nearby Lake Montrose. At the south edge of the east Green is a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission pole-mounted marker dedicated in 1980 to commemorate the settlement of Susquehanna County.
The landscape of the Susquehanna County Courthouse Complex is characterized by formal plantings of annual and perennial plantings, as well as shrubbery at the foundations of the buildings and elsewhere, all of which provides a cohesive setting for this grouping of historic public institutional buildings centered around the Susquehanna County Courthouse.
The integrity of the historic resources within the Susquehanna County Courthouse tract is reasonably high. While changes have been made to the buildings, their overall historicity and their ability to convey their significance has not been impaired. The continuing use of the Susquehanna County Courthouse and related buildings, coupled with the community consciousness associated with the monuments, have assured that the integrity of the resources herein has been protected over the years, and that the evolutionary character and appearance of the nominated area is visible and reflect Montrose's long and continued position as a county seat.
The Susquehanna County Courthouse Complex is significant under National Register Criterion A in the areas of politics and government, for its position as the primary physical embodiment of county government in this northern tier Pennsylvania county since the 1850s. The Courthouse is also significant under Criterion C as a mid- century example of Greek Revival architecture, a style popular for public institutional buildings throughout much of the nineteenth century. The two jail buildings are architecturally significant in their own right and are significant individual manifestations of county government's role in the protection of persons and property; one jail remained in use as a penal institution for many years, while the other was adapted early on for use as a fire department, another reflection of the development of public safety measures in the nineteenth century. Associated historic resources include commemorative memorial monuments erected to honor Civil War dead; these resources are locally important reflections of the community consciousness as it relates to the County's role in the War. The period of significance is 1853 (the date of construction of the earlier jail through 1946.
Susquehanna County was established in 1810 from a portion of Luzerne County. In 1811 Montrose was named county seat, largely due to the efforts of settlers Bartlet Hinds and Isaac Post, who donated a ten-acre tract for use as a "Green" and for the siting of county buildings. The Borough of Montrose was officially incorporated in 1824. Situated nearly in the geographical center of Susquehanna County, the Green, in turn, is at the geographical center of Montrose Borough.
The three buildings within the nominated acreage — the Court House and two historic jails — have been important Susquehanna County institutional landmarks for nearly a century and a half. The Susquehanna County Courthouse was built during 1854 and 1855, replacing an 1813 wood frame building capped with an out-of-scale cupola. A heptastyle Ionic portico dominates the temple-form building in a fashion characteristic of the Greek Revival, an American national style popular for substantial and imposing public buildings throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. The Susquehanna County Courthouse was built by a cadre of contractors including W. H. Boyd, Avery Frink, Levi B. Guernsey, and William L. and I. L. Post. The total cost was slightly over $20,000. Contractors Boyd, Corwin, and Cooley built an 1883 addition, extending the building on the north side by about one-third to accommodate Judge's Chambers, a Law Library and a Jury Room.
As the seat of government, the Susquehanna County Courthouse has been at the center of the day-to-day activity of the County since its construction. The recording of deeds, probating of wills, issuance of marriage licenses, disbursement of county funds, and the hearing of cases and meting out of justice — all these functions have been provided within the Courthouse. In instances requiring sequestration of juries, jurors were housed in the north wing of the Courthouse in a room with fourteen beds: twelve for the jury and two for the tipstaves who stood guard against outside infiltration.
The full evolution of justice is represented as well in the jail buildings. The Jail of 1853 (now known as the Courthouse Annex) was the work of contractors Boyd and Smith. When the "new" jail was built in 1867, the former jail was converted for use by the Montrose Fire Department. The long-time home of the Rescue Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, this building is significant for its role in the evolution of public safety within the community.
Over the next fifteen years, Susquehanna County outgrew the 1853 jail and in 1867 ground was broken for a new facility. The 1867-68 red brick Jail was built by local contractor Avery Frink at a cost of $34,707.07. From the time of its completion until 1994, the Jail housed the county's convicted criminals. The Sheriff served as Jail Warden and lived on the premises. The Jail also became the final home for less fortunate criminals who were hanged publicly in the quarter-round prison yard.
The Courthouse Complex buildings also represent the work of local master builders, particularly Avery Frink. One of the contractors involved with the construction of the 1854 Courthouse, Frink served as the contractor for the jail of 1867-68. A Montrose builder, he constructed more than fifty houses in the area, including the 1859 Greek Revival Sayre House which still stands in Montrose; the Courthouse and Jail stand as Frink's largest public projects and as such represent the work of an important local master builder.
Looking across the region, courthouses have generally been well-maintained and not allowed to fall into disrepair; the Susquehanna County Courthouse is no exception. As would be expected, the seats of county government are generally imposing structures which serve as major architectural focal points in their respective communities. All of the nearby courthouses are executed in masonry, but the architectural styles vary from county to county. The Susquehanna County Courthouse shares the Greek Revival style with the Tioga County Courthouse (1835) in Wellsboro. Later seats of government were executed in the Italianate style (Wayne County Courthouse, Honesdale, and Potter County Courthouse, Coudersport). The Romanesque Revival style was chosen in Sullivan County, while the newest courthouse, that of Bradford County, in Towanda (1898), was built of stone in the Neo-Classical Revival style.
Blackman, Emily C. History of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: Claxton, Remsen, & Haffelfinger, 1873).
Commissioners' Minute Books, Susquehanna County Commissioners.
Garden Club of Montrose, Our Heritage — 1976: Houses Built in the Nineteenth Century (Montrose, Pa.: Montrose Publishing Company, 1976).
Heinen, Ernest D., Architecture in Susquehanna County (Scranton, Pennsylvania, Federal Writers' Project, Works Progress Administration).
"Looking Back Souvenir Book of Susquehanna County Sesquicentennial Celebration, 1810-1960," (Montrose, Pa.: Montrose Publishing Co., 1960).
Montillon, Eugene D., Historic Architecture in Broome County, New York and Vicinity (Binghamton, New York: Frank A. West Co., 1972).
Montrose Democrat, June 8, 1883, April 17, 1891.
Montrose Independent, June 10, 1937, March 2, 1950, March 4, 1954, April 1, 1954, March 10, 1988, May 1, 1991, November 6, 1991, June 17, 1992, May 12, 1993.
Oral history interview with Franklin Daly, former Chief of the United Fire Company of Montrose, November 7, 1993.
Oral history interview with Evan Price, former Chief Clerk to County Commissioners, May 22, 1990.
"Pennsylvania Jail Held Prisoner by Time," Press and Sun Bulletin (Binghamton, New York, November 28, 1988).
Stearns, George A., The Schools of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania 1795-1945 (Montrose, Pa.: Montrose Publishing Co., 1947).
Stocker, Rhamanthus M., Centennial History of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: R. T. Peck & Co., 1887).
Susquehanna County Deed Book 1, page 280.
Susquehanna Register, July 27, 1854.
Williams, Garford A., "Susquehanna County: A Touch of New England," Pennsylvania Heritage, Vol. 8, No. 3, Summer, 1982).