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The 1774 Court House

The Court House built in 1774 was the second to be used for Bedford County since the county was erected in 1771. The first Court House was a log structure that stood on Lot #6 on the northeast corner of the Square and was in use between 1771 and 1774. The third Court House is a brick structure that stands on the southwest corner of the Square and has been in use from 1819 until the present day.

The second Court House was constructed of stone and construction on it began in 1774. The Bedford County Commissioners paid the amount of £43 10ƒ to George Woods ostensibly for his services as ‘project manager’ for the construction of the stone building. He was not specifically named as such but earlier historians have made that assumption from the wording of the Minutes of the Bedford County Commissioners’ meeting of 31 May 1783: George Woods, Esquire, drew an order for the sum of £43:10:0, it being for 116 days service attending at the Building of the Court House & prison at 7 shillings 6 pence per Day as Trustee in the years 1774 & 1775. George Woods might have been the general manager of the Court House and Jail project, and certain aspects of the job were handled by others. The particular job of quarrying and hauling of the stone was managed by William Doe. The carpentry work was managed by Mathew McCallister. Five documents are maintained in the Pennsylvania State Archives which detail the activities and their costs for the work performed under the direction of Doe and McCallister. A couple of the documents bear the title “Contra,” which was a term used in construction to mean those activities which are ‘contractual.’ One is noted as an ‘estimation’ and is what we today would call a ‘proposal.’ The other documents consist of accounts of the itemized payments made by the trustees for the county.

Mathew McCallister submitted “To the Trustees of Bedford County An Estimation of the prices of the Carpenters work proposed to be done by Mathew McCallister in the Prison and Court House of the said County.” Dated 10 May 1774, the proposal included flooring; 9 window cases; 2 doors and door cases; 4 inside doors; one door for the dungeon; 13m shingles; scantling; rafters; framing 3 floors and roof; shingling the roof and finishing the eve; lathing; and roof. Certain of the items in that list should be noted. In regard to the nine ‘window cases,’ casement windows are windows which are hinged on the side. They have been used in building construction for hundreds of years. A door case is a frame which supports a door. Though it is fanciful to think that the dungeon door might have been constructed of metal, it would have been wood, since it was supplied by the carpenter. The dungeon door could very well have had metal straps holding multiple wood pieces together, though. The item listed as scantling is not commonly encountered. The word normally would have referred to the dimensions of lumber required; it can also refer to small pieces of lumber. The word Eave was misspelled in the list; it referred to the part of a roof that met or overhung the upright wall. And finally, lathing were thin pieces of wood applied to the wall with spaces between them, providing the surface preparation for plaster. McCallister’s estimation amounted to a total of £112 18ƒ.

On the back of the list submitted to the trustees by Mathew McCallister, he wrote: “Balcony and Staircase work, the Bench, Barr, and Jury Rooms if they cannot be agreed for by the Trustees to be left to be Judged by workmen as soon as finished…

The trustees for the county, which included William Proctor, in addition to Woods, Dougherty and Coulter, apparently reviewed McCallister’s proposal on the same day that he presented it. Under the same date of 10 May 1774, and under the title of ‘Contra,’ the trustees countered the carpenter’s proposal with some changes. They reduced the prices of most of the items and the quantity of certain items. The number of inside doors were reduced from four to three. Certain things were added to the list that had not been included in the original proposal. Three door cases were added for the three inside doors (which had been missed by McCallister in his proposal). Also, a door case for the dungeon door was added. Three sashes (the wooden structure of a window that holds the panes of glass) with twenty-four lights (i.e. panes) each were added. Two sashes with twelve lights each were also added. Two window cases were added for the ‘Gerret’ and one small window case was added to be installed in the ‘East end’ of the building.

The ‘Gerret’ needs some additional consideration. ‘Garret’ was the name given to the small room located underneath the inside peak of the roof and above the flat ceiling of a building’s uppermost full-sized room. At the present time we refer to a garret as an ‘attic.’ None of the historical accounts of the building state that it contained three floors and a garret. They all state simply that there were two and a half floors. So it might be that the ‘half’ or ‘third’ floor was, in this case, called the garret since it was located above the uppermost full-sized room ~ the courtroom on the second floor ~ and beneath the peak of the roof. The small room created in the very peak of the roof served as a second court room if needed.

The decision to provide access to the second floor courtroom by external stairs called for an exterior door and door case, both of which were not specified on McCallister’s proposal. The Contra included an item noted as ‘Court house Door & Door Case.’ It might be assumed that that item would have been used for the second floor court room because the ground floor was considered the ‘jail.’ It was only the second and third floors that were considered to comprise the ‘court house.’ And so a logical assumption would be that the ‘court house door’ would have been the one at the top of the exterior stairs, opening into the second floor court room.

Despite the addition of a number of items, the changes in pricing that had been made to Mathew McCallister’s ‘estimation’ by the trustees, was £12 lower than his own. The proposal submitted by McCallister amounted to £112 18ƒ; while the trustee’s counter proposal amounted to £100 3ƒ 10d. The difference might not seem, at least at the present-time, to be very great. But in the 1700s, £12 was a significant amount and not easily acquired. Payments for the carpentry work were made to Mathew McCallister over the next year. Another document maintained at the State Archives provides a list of “Moneys Advanced him [Mathew McCallister] on account of his contract to do the Carpenter Work of the Court house and Prison at Bedford.” Payments in uneven amounts, ranging between £3 and £21 were made in ‘1774’ and then on 14 February, 02 May, 24 September, 21 November and 10 December 1775. McCallister had also been paid £6 in December 1774 for ‘Halling Stone.’

In regard to the stone work, William Doe submitted an account to the trustees which covered the period between 22 May 1774 and 22 April 1776. The trustees signed the approval to pay the account on 14 October 1776. The account noted the number of days spent quarrying stone by William Doe, himself, in addition to Alexander Cook, Charles Linning, Robert Love, Samuel McCashlan, Moses Mahafey, Thomas Sharon and Peter Sheklat. The stone was being quarried ‘at the Brige,’ ‘at the Hill,’ ‘in the Street,’ and ‘behind the fort.’ A “Measure & Contents of the Mason Work at the Prison of Bedford County” was submitted by William Doe. The document gave detailed descriptions for the various segments of the work that he and his stone masons had performed. For example, he noted: “N & W Wall to first Story from foundation” Also included in the Measure were the physical dimensions of those segments and their costs, which totaled, in all: £53 9ƒ 1d. Mr. Doe also submitted an account which included the Measure along with “A Bill of Sundry Labour in quarring Stone & paying hands” which amounted to £44 9ƒ 9d and “1100 Bushels of nearly Slaked Lime Equal by Estimate to 800 bushels at sixpence p[er] bushel” which amounted to £20. The grand total for the masonry work came to £117 18ƒ 10d. Moses Carson, a ‘meason’ was paid £16 5ƒ 3d ‘for work don’ according to the Contra covering various aspects of the overall project. Carson was not noted in any other entry, especially those referring to the quarrying of the stone. It is probable that the ‘work don’ by Moses Carson, in view of the fact that he was a [stone]mason, was the laying of the stone on the walls. Carson’s entry in the Contra was immediately followed by an entry noting £8 17ƒ 6d paid to ‘the Hands at Work.’ The entry that immediately followed next noted £2 6ƒ paid to Samuel McCashlan ‘for boarding the men.’

The exact completion date of the stone court house is not known. In 1907, William P. Schell suggested that the court house was built during 1773 and 1774. Other early historians have suggested that the structure was completed in 1774 primarily due to the fact that loan from the Pennsylvania Assembly to be used in the construction of the building was made in that year. The above transcription for the payment to George Woods, noting that it was for his service “in the years 1774 & 1775,” would indicate that the structure was not completed until at least 1775 ~ an assumption promoted by some historians. The newly discovered papers at the State Archives would tend to push the date of completion even later. The payments which the trustees made to Mathew McCallister for the carpentry work, if made concurrently with the completion of various segments of the work, rather than after all of the work was completed, would indicate that the work was not actually finished until 10 December 1775: the date of the last payment to McCallister. And it should be noted that the account for the stone work was not approved for payment and signed by the trustees until 14 October 1776. As with the carpentry work, if the date on which the trustees signed the approval to pay was after all, or at least the majority, of the work was completed, then the Court House and Jail were not ready for use until late 1776.

Before settling the date of completion on either 1773, ‘74, ‘75 or ‘76, another document must be reviewed. An entry dated 10 January 1775 on the Contra for the overall project stated: “By Cash payed Abraham Milly Esqr…” and noted the amount of £10 13ƒ 10d. Although the purpose of that payment was not specified, it was a significant amount, pointing toward some significant activity. Another document from the Dr. John Anderson Papers maintained at the Pennsylvania State Archives was titled “Account of Boards” The document contained an account of the lumber used by Mathew McCallister in the construction of the court house and jail. It stated: “To Ten Thousand Seven hundred feet of Boards as appers by Mr. Millys accounts Settled by the Trustees.” The document noted the quantities of lumber used for “laying two floors in prison and Court House…” and among other things, suggests that Abraham Milly had supplied the lumber in the form of boards. Abraham Miley resided in Colerain Township and was listed on various tax assessment returns as the owner of two mills, one of which was no doubt a saw mill. Many owners of grist mills also owned saw mills, utilizing the same raceways and even the same gears to operate both types of mills. The account for the lumber was settled by the Trustees, William Proctor, Thomas Coulter and George Woods on 03 May 1780. If the account was not settled until all the work was completed, then the document itemizing the flooring lumber would indicate that it is possible that the work was not totally completed until May 1780. At the same time, it is possible that the work had been completed in 1775 or ‘76, and the account just not settled until four years later.

The Court House originally consisted only of the second floor and garret court rooms. The ground or first floor served as the jail along with a room for the jailor's family to reside in. The three offices of the Prothonotary, Clerk of Courts and the Register of Wills and Recorder of Deeds occupied other buildings. It is known that during the time that Arthur St. Clair served in all three positions, he maintained an office in the basement of Thomas Smith's stone house (later known as the Espy house). In August 1793 plans were made to construct a separate building in which the Prothonotary and others could perform their functions near to the Court House. A brick structure was built along Juliana Street adjacent to the north side of the stone Court House. Some historians claim that the building was not completed and occupied until 1795; others claim it was completed in 1793, the year plans were drawn up for it. The fifty-three feet by eighteen feet building would house the Prothonotary and the Register and Recorder. A third room would be used by the County Commissioners.