NEW BERLIN — Members of the New Berlin Heritage Association say the original courthouse and jail in New Berlin is one of the “best-kept secrets” in Union County.

They hope to change that.

Association Members Jim Lengle and John Showers said they hope more people will learn about New Berlin’s place in Union County History.

The original courthouse, located at 400 Market St., New Berlin, is now home to New Berlin’s U.S. Post Office on the first floor and the New Berlin Heritage Museum on the second floor.

The former jail at 427-429 Market St., New Berlin, is now residential.

“Our past was just not something that was valued. The student focus on our history turned the community around and made it very important, brought it to light,” said Showers.

“What we struggle with today, we have all these new people in New Berlin who aren’t aware of what’s in this structure and the importance of this community in Central Pennsylvania. It gives us a way to preserve it for later generations.”

Lengle said the building would have been lost to time had it not been for a 1970s study by Bucknell University that recommended that New Berlin focus on its history.

“You can’t drive through too many towns and see old buildings still standing, said Lengle. “Not just standing, but in use.”

Lengle and Showers consider it a “best-kept secret” because students who tour the building, even citizens of the county, are not aware of its existence.

Union County History

The history of Union County has a lot of moving parts.

It has multiple permanent structures for the courthouse and jails, but also a few temporary structures.

Union County first became a county in 1813 after separating from Northumberland County.

New Berlin was chosen as the county seat due to its central location and the original Union County Courthouse was built there in 1814 at the corner of Market and Vine streets, according to materials from the Union County Historical Society.

While the courthouse was being constructed, the county needed a temporary location for its legal procedures.

A structure built in 1810 at 406 Green St., Mifflinburg, was selected to serve as the courthouse in 1813.

A German School at 201-203 Fifth St., Mifflinburg, which was built prior to 1813, also served as the county courthouse for a few months between 1814 and 1815, according to historical society materials.

When the courthouse in New Berlin was finished, the red-bricked federal-style building at Market and Vine Streets served as the first courthouse from 1815 to 1855 until the county seat was moved from New Berlin to Lewisburg, according to historical society materials.

In the book “Union County Pennsylvania: A Celebration of History,” Charles M. Snyder wrote that “bill creating Union County placed the responsibility for a courthouse upon the county seat and the citizenry turned over the lot and unfinished courthouse to the commissioners on March 31, 1815.

The brick structure at Market and Vine streets was embellished with an apse at the rear, which added three-directional lighting to the judge’s desk.”

In November of that year, “the commissioners purchased materials to finish the upper floor and engaged unknown mechanics to do the work.

Presumably, they also added a graceful Georgian cupola, which would eventually be replaced by a taller, square Italiante one, a style popular in the 1850s,” wrote Snyder. Snyder wrote that the “growing period, spawning as it did immense business activity, was a factor in the division of the county in 1855 into Snyder and Union counties.

Likewise, the favorable result of the election naming Lewisburg as the county seat encouraged the trends of prosperity (in Lewisburg).”

An Act on March 5, 1855, to create a new county to be called Snyder out of Union County was approved. The county itself voted 1,688 votes for and 1,643 votes against division, according to materials from the association.

Last session, new use

The last session was held in the courthouse in September 1855.

After the division of Union County and the possession of the courthouse by New Berlin, both floors were used as a school building from 1857 to 1857.

Since being used as a school, the former courthouse has been used for various purposes: a community building, by Central Penn College for public entertainment, by dramatic clubs and churches for festivals and suppers, for medicine shows and by the Union Seminary.

It has also been used by the borough to conduct elections, according to materials from the association. It was then acquired by the Union County Historical Society and sold to the New Berlin Heritage Association in the 1970s.

It now houses the U.S. Post Office on the first floor and the association’s museum and headquarters on the second floor, according to materials from the New Berlin Heritage Association.

“It was in really bad shape,” said Showers. “It was on the verge of being condemned. It went up for auction and the Heritage Association purchased it.”

Landing the Post Office contract in 1988 allowed the association to generate money in order to renovate and maintain the building. A later addition was torn down, Showers said.

A study by Bucknell University students in the 1970s helped New Berlin to focus on its history and preserve the courthouse, Showers and Lengle said.

The museum has artifacts from New Berlin’s history and displays about businesses and people from the town’s past.

The museum is not open to the public right now due to COVID-19, but they have opened the museum on appointments for people, class field trips and special events in New Berlin.

During the county’s bicentennial, county officials held a ceremonial day of court in the courthouse to honor the county’s origins, said Lengle.

Original jail

The original Union County jail and sheriff’s headquarters were also built at 427-429 Market St., New Berlin, in 1816.

The building is now owned by Ed and Sharnel Pilko as their home.

“The commissioners agreed to "sell" the erection of a stone jail and jail yard wall to Frederick Hipple of Centre Township (later Snyder County) for $4,000,” Snyder wrote.

“He completed its stone walls in October of 1817. The venerable structure, since converted into a dwelling, still adorns the northwest corner of Market and Plum streets.”

The two-story limestone structure housed the jail in the basement, the sheriff’s office on the first floor and the sheriff’s residence on the second floor. After the division of Union County, all public buildings in New Berlin were sold at public auction in 1854.

John Taylor purchased the jail and converted it into a private dwelling, according to material from the association and Union County Historical Society.

Sharnel Pilko said the previous owners removed the cells from the basement and converted the building into two homes.

Only the original stonework with eight coal fireplaces and two sets of white-painted metal bars remain from the original jail, still covering the basement windows, she said.

The Pilkos purchased the building in 2015 and have been slowly renovating the property ever since.

They plan to tear down the wooden front porch and renovate the inside as well. “We had to rebuild the four chimneys because they were in very bad, crumbling shape,” said Sharnel Pilko.

The chimneys were installed with plaques on the roof featuring the 10 Commandments and the Scales of Justice, she said.

“Our goal is to make sure we do the renovations as beautiful as we can,” said Pilko. “We want to make it the prettiest house in New Berlin.”

Statehouse, new courthouse

The original Union County State House, located at 408 Market St., New Berlin, sits next to the former courthouse.

Built in 1815, the building held the offices of register and recorder, prothonotary, treasurer and law offices.

Although there are no pictures of the official state house during this period there is strong agreement that it was similar in style and materials to the adjacent courthouse built at the same time, according to materials from the New Berlin Heritage Association.

It was sold in 1857 to Henry Seebold and used as a private dwelling.

The former state house was last the headquarters for the Lori Hackenberg Law Office, according to materials from the association.

Construction of the current Union County Courthouse in Lewisburg started in 1855 and the building was dedicated in 1857 when Simon Cameron presented a bell for the cupola.

A new wing was added to the building between 1971 and 1973, according to materials from the Union County Historical Society. The current jail is located at the Union County Courthouse in Lewisburg.

Original Union County Courthouse in New Berlin is “best kept secret”

{child_byline}By Justin Strawser

jstrawser@dailyitem.com{/child_byline}

NEW BERLIN — Members of the New Berlin Heritage Association say the original courthouse and jail in New Berlin is one of the “best-kept secrets” in Union County. They hope to change that.

Association Members Jim Lengle and John Showers said they hope more people will learn about New Berlin’s place in Union County History. The original courthouse, located at 400 Market St., New Berlin, is now home to New Berlin’s U.S. Post Office on the first floor and the New Berlin Heritage Museum on the second floor. The former jail at 427-429 Market St., New Berlin, is now residential.

“Our past was just not something that was valued. The student focus on our history turned the community around and made it very important, brought it to light,” said Showers. “What we struggle with today, we have all these new people in New Berlin who aren’t aware of what’s in this structure and the importance of this community in Central Pennsylvania. It gives us a way to preserve it for later generations.”

Lengle said the building would have been lost to time had it not been for a 1970s study by Bucknell University that recommended that New Berlin focus on its history.

“You can’t drive through too many towns and see old buildings still standing, said Lengle. “Not just standing, but in use.”

Lengle and Showers consider it a “best-kept secret” because students who tour the building, even citizens of the county, are not aware of its existence.

Union County History

The history of Union County has a lot of moving parts. It has multiple permanent structures for the courthouse and jails, but also a few temporary structures.

Union County first became a county in 1813 after separating from Northumberland County. New Berlin was chosen as the county seat due to its central location and the original Union County Courthouse was built there in 1814 at the corner of Market and Vine streets, according to materials from the Union County Historical Society.

While the courthouse was being constructed, the county needed a temporary location for its legal procedures. A structure built in 1810 at 406 Green St., Mifflinburg, was selected to serve as the courthouse in 1813. A German School at 201-203 Fifth St., Mifflinburg, which was built prior to 1813, also served as the county courthouse for a few months between 1814 and 1815, according to historical society materials.

When the courthouse in New Berlin was finished, the red-bricked federal-style building at Market and Vine Streets served as the first courthouse from 1815 to 1855 until the county seat was moved from New Berlin to Lewisburg, according to historical society materials.

In the book “Union County Pennsylvania: A Celebration of History, Charles M. Snyder wrote that “bill creating Union County placed the responsibility for a courthouse upon the county seat and the citizenry turned over the lot and unfinished courthouse to the commissioners on March 31, 1815. The brick structure at Market and Vine streets was embellished with an apse at the rear, which added three-directional lighting to the judge’s desk.”

In November of that year, “the commissioners purchased materials to finish the upper floor and engaged unknown mechanics to do the work. Presumably, they also added a graceful Georgian cupola, which would eventually be replaced by a taller, square Italiante one, a style popular in the 1850s,” wrote Snyder.

Snyder wrote that the “growing period, spawning as it did immense business activity, was a factor in the division of the county in 1855 into Snyder and Union counties. Likewise, the favorable result of the election naming Lewisburg as the county seat encouraged the trends of prosperity (in Lewisburg).”

An Act on March 5, 1855, to create a new county to be called Snyder out of Union County was approved. The county itself voted 1,688 votes for and 1,643 votes against division, according to materials from the association.

Last session, new use

The last session was held in the courthouse in September 1855. After the division of Union County and the possession of the courthouse by New Berlin, both floors were used as a school building from 1857 to 1857. Since being used as a school, the former courthouse has been used for various purposes: a community building, by Central Penn College for public entertainment, by dramatic clubs and churches for festivals and suppers, for medicine shows and by the Union Seminary. It has also been used by the borough to conduct elections, according to materials from the association.

It was then acquired by the Union County Historical Society and sold to the New Berlin Heritage Association in the 1970s. It now houses the U.S. Post Office on the first floor and the association’s museum and headquarters on the second floor, according to materials from the New Berlin Heritage Association.

“It was in really bad shape,” said Showers. “It was on the verge of being condemned. It went up for auction and the heritage association purchased it.”

Landing the Post Office contract in 1988 allowed the association to generate money in order to renovate and maintain the building. A later addition was torn down, Showers said.

A study by Bucknell University students in the 1970s helped New Berlin to focus on its history and preserve the courthouse, Showers and Lengle said.

The museum has artifacts from New Berlin’s history and displays about businesses and people from the town’s past. The museum is not open to the public right now due to COVID-19, but they have opened the museum on appointments for people, class field trips and special events in New Berlin.

During the county’s bicentennial, county officials held a ceremonial day of court in the courthouse to honor the county’s origins, said Lengle.

Original jail

The original Union County jail and sheriff’s headquarters were also built at 427-429 Market St., New Berlin, in 1816. The building is now owned by Ed and Sharnel Pilko as their home.

“The commissioners agreed to ‘sell’ the erection of a stone jail and jail yard wall to Frederick Hipple of Centre Township (later Snyder County) for $4,000,” Snyder wrote. “He completed its stone walls in October of 1817. The venerable structure, since converted into a dwelling, still adorns the northwest corner of Market and Plum streets.”

The two-story limestone structure housed the jail in the basement, the sheriff’s office on the first floor and the sheriff’s residence on the second floor. After the division of Union County, all public buildings in New Berlin were sold at public auction in 1854. John Taylor purchased the jail and converted it into a private dwelling, according to material from the association and Union County Historical Society.

Sharnel Pilko said the previous owners removed the cells from the basement and converted the building into two homes. Only the original stonework with eight coal fireplaces and two sets of white-painted metal bars remain from the original jail, still covering the basement windows, she said.

The Pilkos purchased the building in 2015 and have been slowly renovating the property ever since. They plan to tear down the wooden front porch and renovate the inside as well.

“We had to rebuild the four chimneys because they were in very bad, crumbling shape,” said Sharnel Pilko.

The chimneys were installed with plaques on the roof featuring the 10 Commandments and the Scales of Justice, she said.

“Our goal is to make sure we do the renovations as beautiful as we can,” said Pilko. “We want to make it the prettiest house in New Berlin.”

Statehouse and new courthouse

The original Union County State House, located at 408 Market St.,, New Berlin, sits next to the former courthouse. Built in 1815, the building held the offices of register and recorder, prothonotary, treasurer and law offices. Although there are no pictures of the official state house during this period there is strong agreement that it was similar in style and materials to the adjacent courthouse built at the same time, according to materials from the New Berlin Heritage Association.

It was sold in 1857 to Henry Seebold and used as a private dwelling. The former state house was last the headquarters for the Lori Hackenberg Law Office, according to materials from the association.

Construction of the current Union County Courthouse in Lewisburg started in 1855 and the building was dedicated in 1857 when Simon Cameron presented a bell for the cupola. A new wing was added to the building between 1971 and 1973, according to materials from the Union County Historical Society.

The current jail is located at the Union County Courthouse in Lewisburg.

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