“The Sins Committed In The Name of Progress”

Another CH construction picMy February 9 post, Preservation Zero. Progress One featured Addison Hutton, the architect who designed the 19th Century Bucks County Court House. On February 17, Grafitti on East Court Street promised to write about the protesters who painted THE SINS COMMITTED IN THE NAME OF PROGRESS on the construction fence surrounding the demolition site of the old Court House. With a large can of black paint and some brushes, three teenagers plastered the message on the entire length of the fence along E. Court Street, from Broad Street down to the intersection where the streets of Main, Shewell and Court finger away in different directions.

The image above appeared in my February 17 post.

Somewhere there is a photograph that was taken within days after “THE SINS …” graffiti was discovered on the fence. It possibly was published in The Doylestown Intelligencer (now called The Intelligencer), according to a persistent researcher at the Doylestown Historical Society who found a third or fourth generation image in the Spruance Library’s microfiche collection.The photographer must have snapped the picture from the second or third floor of the old Doylestown Boro School which was located catty-corner at Broad & Court Streets. The words are invisible in that image. After inquiries to other historians, former and current publications, and a post on the ‘Growing Up In Doylestown’ facebook page, I came up empty in my search for that photograph.

Over 50 years ago the buildings across the street on East Court Street that face the Court House were homes to Doylestown families. If you walked on the pavement after 10 on any given evening it was typical to find no lights at all shining from the windows of those homes. And as you walked not one human being would cross your path. Now the homes are attorney offices. On this particular July 1958 night, three teenagers decided to make a statement about the loss of the nearly century old County Court House that was being demolished to make way for a more “modern” building.

I spoke to two of the three artists: Ed Greiner and Anne McHugh. Anne who lives in New Jersey apologized for not trusting her memory about this incident that happened 57 years ago. She did however get me in touch with Ed who now makes his home in Maine. The three of them were able to accomplish their task on a dark July night in 1958. Their only fear had been  the prospect of getting caught by their “arch enemy” – Doylestown Police Officer George Silk. Officer Silk often stopped young people who were walking around town after dark; so this midnight excursion was a bold move by the three of them. Not anywhere close to being “juvenile delinquents”, if caught the prank might have been considered Destruction of property or Vandalism.

They hurriedly slapped the words “THE SINS COMMITTED IN THE NAME OF PROGRESS” across the fence along E. Court Street. In a letter to this blog, Ed confessed, “I did drop an ‘M’ or else a ‘T’ from committed, but I was never a strong speller. I made up the statement (maybe). We probably may have had a getaway car and driver.” Ed gets his activism from his mother, Martha Darlington, best described by Ed as a “preservationist”. He recalled how she was a faithful attendee at the County Commissioners’ meetings where she expressed her opposition of losing this iconic structure to the wrecking ball. Each time she spoke during public comments, Ed said “… she was steamrolled”. His mother was one of those Doylestown citizens who pitched in around town when something needed to be done. “Once”, Ed told me, “She gathered some people to go into the woods surrounding Font Hill to clear away underbrush. “She even recruited a Boy Scout troop to help.”

Ed also recalled how back in the day the expanse of lawn surrounding the Court House was a venue for band concerts. At that time there was only one memorial on the lawn, a World War I fountain with two soldiers–one cradling a wounded soldier. After the new court house was built the fountain was relocated to the corner of North Main and Broad Streets. The lawn is now a place with memorials to five wars and a sixth to fireman killed in the line of duty.

Within days after its appearance, local residents would stand in front of the fence, arms crossed in front of them as they silently stared at the message. Before a week had gone by the message was covered over with dark green paint. I smiled every time I walked past the fence because looking closely, the three protestors’ message was still visible. It was a half-ass attempt to suppress a statement that in the 21st Century could be painted on demolition fences  surrounding old treasured buildings or land speculators bulldozing farmland.

Elizabeth Biddle Yarnall, the niece of Addison Hutton, described her uncle in her biography of him as a “Nonconforming Quaker”. Addison would be pleased that almost a hundred years later, three teenagers admired his vision enough to pay homage to him with a classic graffiti statement.

Preservation Zero. Progress One.

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 thisFirst Doylestown CH “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.

An article in “Doylestown: 150 Years (1838-1988)” 1877 ch picturewrote in their Living Spaces website–

“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 ofAddison Hutton 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.