The recent ribbon cutting of the completed Bucks County Justice Center recalls a time nearly 60 years ago, a drama that also caused citizens to question the cost, the location and the construction of a tall building in downtown Doylestown. It also recalled to me, an incident that happened in 1958.
Back in 1958 the demolition to tear down the 1877 County Courthouse caused many Doylestown residents to plead saving the 19th Century Courthouse: Their was “Leave it there and build someplace else!”. Jump to 2011 when citizens again raised their voices insisting the Justice Center should be built on a property at North Main Street (Mrs. Paul’s Kitchen, vacant since 1988). The People’s voices were ignored and the County government to this day continues at “… the top of the hill.”
Plug your search engines to The History of Bucks County by W.W.H.Davis (b.1820—d.1910). First published in 1876 it is an online book that devotes an entire chapter to Bucks County heritage. Davis wrote several books but this “History …” details our Bucks’ heritage beginning with a Chapter about our County government when the “… first court house…was probably in Falls Township.” Chapter XLVII, Our Courts: County Seat; Division of County; Building of Almshouse, records the progressive changes of our County seat beginning at Middletown then to Langhorne then to Bristol then to Newtown and finally in 1812 to Doylestown. (Picture above).
By 1877 the new Courthouse was necessary when the business of the County had outgrown that 1812 structure. The next building also stood at the top of the hill until 1958. It was then demolished to make way for the current building–The Toilet Bowl.
Growing up in Doylestown I’m old enough to remember the 1877 Courthouse (Picture Below). My one and only time to go inside was in my early teens. I was breathless looking up and around the amphitheater that was like a cavernous coliseum.
“By the late 1860’s, Bucks County was rapidly outgrowing its courthouse. On October 3, 1877, State Attorney General George Lear turned the first spadeful of earth for a new courthouse on the same site. The completed building was highlighted by a clock tower that rose high above the rest of 1878 Doylestown.
“In addition to the clock tower and the surrounding park, another memorable feature of this second courthouse was its dramatic courtrooms. One was a high-ceilinged amphitheater which could hold as many as 500 spectators in tiered seats. It was in this amphitheater that the first grand jury was convened in the newly finished courthouse.”
Like many long-time residents there remains a place in my heart for that structure. I’m sad that it was destroyed.
I recently discovered that the 1877 courthouse was designed by Philadelphia architect Addison Hutton. His granddaughter, Elizabeth Biddle Yarnall wrote about her grandfather in her book, Addison Hutton—Quaker Architect, 1834-1916.
Born into a Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania Quaker family, Addison was the 2nd of 5 siblings with 2 sisters and 2 brothers. When he was old enough Addison joined his father building houses, work he enjoyed and was instrumental in shaping his life as an architect. An avid reader since the age of four, Addison’s schooling alternated with carpentry and soon he was teaching at the Fairview Schoolhouse which he had helped build with his father.
He left Pennsylvania for a short time to live in Ohio with relatives where he honed his skills as a carpenter. One of his co-workers taught him the rudiments of architectural drawing which Addison much enjoyed. Soon after returning to Westmoreland County his life changed when a leading Philadelphia architect, Samuel Sloan came to Greensburg to oversee the courthouse Sloan had designed. During Sloan’s stay he asked for recommendations about young man who would be interested in coming to Philadelphia to study architecture.
There was no formal school for architecture in Philadelphia. Instead it was a profession learned at architectural firms. Addison began his employment at Sloan’s firm as a draftsman. Within the pages of Yarnall’s book she writes how architects gained their experience by studying buildings and structures often by traveling to Europe. In his later years, after he gained success with his designs Addison did just that. Buildings in Doylestown still standing include the Lenape Building, the Intelligencer Building, the Presbyterian Church, and Bucks County Prison (now Michener Museum). Structures he designed beyond Doylestown can be discovered at Lehigh University, Swarthmore College, George School, Philadelphia, Lincoln University and dozens of stately homes throughout the Delaware Valley and along eastern United States.
Addison kept his Quaker roots and was described by his granddaughter as a “Nonconforming Quaker”. He attended Meetings but also enjoyed outings, traveling, the theater, art, and the fiddle which he learned to play as a youngster. He doted on his children and kept in close touch with the extended families of his sisters and brothers.
Probably one of Addison Hutton’s biggest disappointments was losing the 1901 design competition for Harrisburg’s new state capitol. In her book Yarnall writes the details including how and why this event caused her grandfather to be expelled from the Philadelphia AIA.
Yarnall’s book is not in the Bucks County Free Library system. Gratitude to the staff at the Doylestown Branch for a loan of this book from Kutztown State College. Readers…you can purchase this book through Amazon.
Next time on The Bucks Underground Railroad: In 1958 Doylestown, the high school students who succeeded in painting a protest message across a five-foot wooden fence that surrounded the Courthouse triangle construction site in Doylestown.