Centre County Courthouse

The Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, built in 1805, is one of the county’s most historic landmarks.

The courthouse has been transformed over the years with additions and renovations. The Soldiers and Sailors Memorial and Andrew G. Curtin statue, dedicated in 1906, stand in front of the building framing it from High Street.

Erected five years after Centre County was established in 1800, the original building was a simple rectangular two-story structure. The first picture of the courthouse appears on a hand-drawn map of Bellefonte, dated 1818. Six years later, the building was expanded with two brick wings.

In 1835, a Greek Revival porch was added to the front of the courthouse. The porch features eight 26-foot-high Ionic columns that support a triangular pediment decorated with modillions and dentils. In 1855, the courthouse was enlarged and an octagonal cupola with a clock was added. The cupola has Doric pilasters on each corner and is topped with a copper fish weathervane.

The courthouse was built in 1805.
The Centre County Courthouse was built in 1805. The Greek Revival porch and octagonal cupola with a clock were added later. (Photograph by Ford Risley)

In 1909, the building was enlarged again with an addition on the rear. There was no basement under the original building, so one was dug under the addition. As part of the work, the interior of the courthouse was remodeled and new stairwells were built. Marble was installed on many of the floors and wainscoting was added to the lobbies and hallways. The cupola also was rebuilt and a new clock installed.

A modern addition on the east side of the courthouse was built in 1964. It is not stylistically integrated with the old building.

The interior of the courthouse features a double staircase leading to the second floor. The upper lobby has three arched glass doors flanked by Corinthian pilasters leading to the courtroom. The courtroom has an elaborate ceiling with a circular medallion of leaves and fretwork. Other classical details in the courtroom include Corinthian pilasters and sculpted medallions, many painted gold. The judge’s bench is ornamented with dentils.

Three nineteenth-century Central District Court judges from Bellefonte – Charles Huston, Thomas Burnside, and George W. Woodward – began their careers at the courthouse as president judges of the Central Judicial District and later became justices on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Jonathan Hoge Walker, another president judge, continued from the Central District Court to the U.S. District Court.

Throughout its history, the courthouse has been the site of many newsworthy events and trials. Most notable was the 2012 trial of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was charged with the sexual abuse of young boys. Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts and sentenced to 30-60 years in prison. The trial received state and national news coverage.

The courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and is located within the Bellefonte National Historic District.

Shannon Wright


Sources:

Linn, John Blair. History of Centre and Clinton Counties. Philadelphia, 1883.

Walling, Henry Francis. Topographic Map of Centre County, Pennsylvania. New York, 1861.

National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, Centre County Courthouse.


First Published: June 10, 2021

Last Modified: September 30, 2021