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Clarion County Courthouse

Clarion Boro, Clarion County, PA

The Clarion County Courthouse and Jail were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1]


The present Clarion County Courthouse is a variation of a Victorian structure with Classical details.

Its general dimensions are 78 feet, 8 inches on front; 134 feet deep; elevation from the ground to the top of the tower figure is 213 feet. The tower rests on foundation walls four and one-half feet thick, which in turn are supported by three graded courses of stone columns in the corners of the vestibules, and iron cross-girders. It is surmounted by a galvanized iron figure of justice, eleven feet in length. The interior of the clock loft is fitted with gas pipes for illumination. The tower is 25 feet square. Its elevation above the roof is 139 feet. That of the tapering part is fifty-six feet. The height of the highest part of the body of the structure is 90 feet, 9 inches. The walls of the main part are 22 inches thick. The roof is of tin and slate.

Henry Warner of Allegheny, executed the fresco work. The painting was under the supervision of H.H. Holbrook, of Clarion and D.D. Dunkelbarger, of Brookville, Pennsylvania. The tile floors were laid by the Star Encaustic Tile Company of Pittsburgh. The clock dial nine feet in diameter, and bell, weight 1,313 pounds, were furnished by the Howard Clock Company from New York.

The Clarion County Courthouse is ventilated on the vacuum principle. The ventilated air is exhausted from all parts of the building by a large fan 62 inches in diameter and 27 inches wide, placed in a room in which the exhaust pipes center. From here it escapes up the foul air flue. All the heating and ventilating is done by one engine. The basement is also furnished with a gas regulator and water meter.

In the first story are the county offices on each side of a corridor, 16 feet wide. This story is 14 feet, 9 inches high, has a vaulted brick ceiling, and is fireproof. The second story is 21 feet in height and the third or Mezzanine story, 12 feet. Each has a lobby in front, 21 feet square. The corridor and the lobbies are paved with ornamental tile. On the second floor are the court rooms, in front of which, on either side of the lobby are two waiting rooms for ladies, and in the rear, the judges and attorneys room and two rooms for petit juries. The third story contains the apartments of the county superintendent and surveyor, opening from the front vestibule. From the rear, the grand jury room and two witness waiting rooms.

The court room is 74 feet long, 55 feet wide, and 45 feet high. It is lighted by 12' double windows and four chandeliers of 18 lights each. The cost of this building (including old material) was $126, 936.00 total.

The Clarion County Jail is imposing in appearance. This half brick, half stone structure is located behind the Courthouse. The front of the jail is of brick, with semi-octagonal projecting wings, and basement walls of dressed sandstone. A square battlemented tower arises from the front section. It is 97 feet square at the base and 10 feet at the top. The outside walls of the prison proper are of ashlar sandstone, rough dressed, two and one half feet in thickness. It contains 20 cells, eight and two-thirds by fourteen feet each, ranged in two tiers on each side of the interior court or corridor which is fifteen and one-sixth feet wide by fifty six feet long, and the full height of the prison. Iron balustrades extend the length of the corridor before the upper tiers of cells. There are two bath cells.


The Clarion County Courthouse is a fine Victorian structure on the monumental size. The courthouse and its castle-like jail are the center of county government in the County of Clarion.

Clarion County was formed from parts of Armstrong and Venango Counties on March 11, 1839 and named after the river flowing through its boundaries, the Clarion River.

Christian Myers, proprietor of Clarion Furnace at Perm Mills, and others offered to sell land to the new commissioners to set up the new county seat. This land had the advantage of being elevated and level. It was near the Clarion River but centrally located on the Bellefonte and Meadville turnpike. Town lots were laid out in the fall of 1839 and work began on the courthouse in 1841.

Clarion County has had three courthouses and two jails. The contract for the first Clarion County Courthouse was awarded to the firm of Derby & Clover, Edward Derby of Ridgway, and Levi G.Clover of Clarion. Derby was the superintending partner. The contract price was $8500, which, it appears, exceeded the lowest bid by $2700. The extras brought the cost up to $10,636.16. The building was commenced in the spring of 1842 and was ready for occupation in the winter of 1842, but not entirely finished until the spring of the succeeding year.

The first Clarion County Courthouse was brick, two stories, and divided by a slight offset — from which there were two narrow recesses into two longitudinal wings. The rear annex was slightly lower than the front part of the building; the main building was surmounted by a wooden cupola in the center of the roof. There was no clock. The main entrance was through a portico, in the Grecian style, reached by four low steps. The roof of the porch was supported by two wooden, fluted pillars with plain capitals, and two-pilasters, one at either end, all painted white. The county offices were on each side of the corridor in the body of the building. The story above contained four jury rooms. The court room occupied the ground floor of the rear department. Two doors, one in each of the recesses before mentioned, opened into the entry leading to it. The hall above the court room was used for public meetings, drill, etc.

About nine o'clock on the morning of the 10th of March, 1859, smoke and flames issued from the roof, near the cupola. They had come from a faulty flue. The citizens of the town had no means of getting water up, and in two hours the building was a ruin. The records were all preserved in the Lycoming and York Counties amounted to $7,000.

The Presbyterian Church was used as a court room until the completion of the new building, and county officers occupied Arnold's block.

The second Clarion County Courthouse was built by Daniel & Edmond English of Brookville and completed in 1863. It was necessary that a special act of the Legislature be passed empowering the Commissioners to erect a new structure. The contract stood at $15,720. Extras amounted to $1,500 were allowed. John R. Turner of Carlisle was the architect. Commissioners Daniel Mercer, C. Seigworth and Benjamin Miller. The undertaking was a losing one for the contractors.

The second Clarion County Courthouse was a substantial brick building, with a wooden roof. Its dimensions were sixty feet by ninety eight feet depth. The height of the first story was thirteen feet, of the second twenty-one feet. Average height of the buildings (exclusive of belfry) is sixty five feet. It was extremely cheap, considering its size and solidity.

About one o'clock on the morning of September 12, 1882, fire which had been smouldering in the loft, burst through the roof. The water pressure was not enough to force the stream to the top, and the flames gained resistless headway. The building was gutted in a few hours, leaving the walls standing comparatively intact. Insurance received was $25,000. Between the destruction of the old and the completion of the new courthouse, the Methodist church was used for holding court, and the residence part of the jail for offices.

There were sixteen bidders on July 3, 1883, when the contract for the third Clarion County Courthouse was awarded. John Cooper's bid, $135,000 was the highest, and P. H. Melvin's bid of $88,370, was the lowest. This allowed $5,000 for materials from former courthouse and jail. Mr. Melvin obtained the contract. The building was to be finished by November 16, 1884. Work began July 16, 1883, but the building was not handed over to the commissioners until October 14, 1885. E.M. Butz of Allegheny, was the architect. Mr. Butz designed the old Dollar Savings Bank in Pittsburgh. He delegated D. English of Brookville as supervising architect. The commissioners who granted the contract were John Keatly, Aaron Kline, and Johnson Wilson.

The contract for the first jail was awarded simultaneously with that for the courthouse, to Jonathan Frampton, of Clarion County, at the sum of $2,834. Difficulties arose in setting an account of extras, etc. and Frampton & Craig sued the County. The venue was changed to Armstrong County, where judgment of $3,097.70 exclusive of costs, making the total cost of the jail about $7,000.

The first jail was a plain structure of square cut sandstone, with a small yard, surrounded by a stone wall in the rear. In 1847 the building was remodelled, and a new front put in. After the completion of the new prison, it was finally torn down in 1883, and its stones used in the foundation of the courthouse. The old jail stood a few rods west of the present one.

The old jail became dilapidated and insecure, and a new building was deemed necessary. After the proper recommendations the contract was awarded, April 7, 1873 to Messrs. Samuel Wilson and W.W. Greenland, at the price of $96,737, to which extras amounted to $23,527.50, making the total cost of $120,274.50. James McCullough, Jr. of Allegheny was the architect. Commissioners under whom the work was done were Isaac Mong, John Stewart and Chris Brenneman. The interior was not completed until the spring of 1875.

References - Davis, A. J. History of Clarion County, Pennsylvania. Syracuse, New York: D. Mason & Co. Publishers, 1887, p.101, 107.

History of Clarion County. Bicentennial project of the Clarion County Commissioners, p.15-20.

Witney, Henry F. Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased). Los Angles: Hennessey & Ingalls, Inc., 1970, p.102.

  1. Zacher, Susan M., Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, Clarion County Courthouse and Jail, nomination document, 1978, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

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