110 years since the Lebanon Court House burned

3 min read135 views and 13 shares Posted November 18, 2018

Today marks 110 years since the Lebanon County Court House burned. Here’s what the front page of the Daily News looked like the day after.

November 19, 1908
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According to the Daily News report, Judge Ehrgood directed an immediate adjournment and an evacuation then took place, but not before important papers could be put inside fireproof vaults that were shut before the conflagration grew too large. The fire was first called around 4:40pm and “fire out” was called around 11pm.

The Blue Eyed Six faced trial here 30 years before the fire took place.
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Authorities took care to disable the wires of the Edison electric system so they didn’t complicate or exacerbate the situation, but the wires still limited operation of the long extension ladder. The fire was also worse than it might have been otherwise due to a delay in calling it in initially. Snow-covered streets furthermore slowed down crews in arriving.

The water supply was also inadequate until the American Iron and Steel Manufacturing company began its big pump forcing water into the supply.

Contemporary coverage of the fire makes no mention on the tunnels that may have been in the cellar.

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A couple other highlights from the Daily News:

Harpel’s had pictures available almost immediately.
The County Commissioners included a thank you to firefighters in the next day’s papers.
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According to a 1911 review of insurance affairs, the insurance company contested paying but was ultimately forced to do so.

Contest Loss Caused by Painter’s Torch – On the 15th at Lebanon, Pa. Judge Henry filed a decree refusing a new trial to the Franklin Fire of Philadelphia which objected to the verdict of a jury awarding $6,276.02 to the County Commissioners for loss incurred in the partial destruction by fire of the Lebanon county courthouse in November 1908. The company has resisted payment of the claim on the ground that the fire was due to gross carelessness of painters in the use of a torch and will appeal to the higher court

The Spectator: An American Weekly Review of Insurance, Volumes 86-87 (1911)

A number of artifacts from the court house remain visible locally.

The gold-plated “Lady Justice” statue that used to sit atop the building is housed inside the lobby of the current court house/municipal building, built in 1963.

The lamp posts that used to sit out front the building were donated in 2002 when John and Marie Wengert acted to purchase the 8-foot-tall, cast-iron lampposts when they went up for auction after the death of demolition contractor Harold Moody, who had accumulated the lampposts among his collection of historical artifacts.

The lamposts were converted from gas to electric, refinished in black gloss enamel, and fitted with new globe lights. They sit at the entrance to the municipal building on South Eighth Street (near the historical marker for Lebanon County).

Two bells from the court house remain on display in Lebanon, one in front of the Historical Society and another older bell next to the municipal building. Check out this page on the county site for some more info.

The building was torn down in the 1960’s after an unsuccessful campaign to protect it.

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