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A Courthouse for the County

A history of the courthouse and what may be in store for the future.

by Keith Shovlin

The Bobcat's ECHO

Beaver Area Schools

June 5, 1998


The County Courthouse is (arguably) the most important building in Beaver County (other than the Hot Dog Shoppe, of course).

Throughout our county's 190 years, there have been four courthouses. They have ranged from a tavern to a jail to an actual courthouse.

The first court of the newly formed county was held in a tavern owned by Abner Lacock in 1800. The tavern was in what is present day Quay Square. The county continued to use the tavern until 1804, when a more suitable building was built.

In 1804, the county constructed a jail next to Lacock's tavern (the current jail was not built until 1859). Due to the low crime-rate, the first floor was occupied by prisoners while the second floor served as the courtroom. This building is accepted as the county's first courthouse. The building quickly became cramped and a new courthouse was needed.

In 1810, the county built a new courthouse on the land formerly occupied by the jail and Lacock's tavern. This courthouse was designed to allow room for expansion. In 1840 wings were added on each side. The center of the courthouse was renovated and enlarged, which finally completed the construction in 1846. In 1870, the county realized, once again, they were in need of a new courthouse. The building had become unsuitable, unsafe, and uncomfortable.

In 1877, Judge Daniel Agnew opened the new courthouse in Gibson (now Agnew) Square. The courthouse stood as a model of late nineteenth century architecture. This Victorian style building had a tall bell tower with sloped roofs. At the apex of the main roof stood statues facing in opposite directions of each other. This courthouse was expected to last for 100 years.

Unfortunately, the building did not have that chance. On May 26, 1932 painters were finishing a recent job on the courthouse. A painter was attempting to dry paint with a blow torch when he accidentally caught an old bird's nest on fire. The fire spread quickly, and by the time the fire department arrived, it was too late. Forty minutes after the fire had started, the building was completely filled with smoke.

The fire was finally extinguished later that evening. When the next morning arrived, town residents did not awake to the chimes of the Courthouse clock, because it was in ruins. Construction began immediately on a new courthouse.

In 1933, the new courthouse was completed. It had been built from the wreckage of the previous courthouse. (The basement and first floors of the courthouse were actually part of the former one.)

This building was built in a modular design and was set up to be added onto if desired. Additions were constructed in 1976 and 1993. When the 1976 addition was attached, the county closed off part of Turnpike street to create room for the expansion. They also had to tear down a historic home.

The home of Daniel Agnew stood on Turnpike St. for many decades. When it was demolished in 1978, the county renamed Gibson Square as Agnew Square in Daniel Agnew's memory. The addition suited the courthouse well, until more space was needed and the third addition was built in 1993.

Currently at the courthouse, the second wing is being renovated and a plan is being formulated to change the courthouse entrance. The plan consists of building four wings around the courthouse, two on each side. The front two will house county offices while the back two will hold new courtrooms and holding cells for criminals awaiting trial. Upon completion of the front two wings, the current entrance of the building will be demolished. A park like entrance will be designed in its place. The 1976 addition will be the new main entrance.

This plan is currently in deliberation by the County Commissioners. If it passes, Beaver County will, once again, gain a new courthouse.