What A HistFic Writer Thinks About While Serving Jury Duty

When I was last summoned to serve a round of jury duty in Pittsburgh’s very own Allegheny County Courthouse, the year was 2006. The state was Tennessee, and I was a sophomore in college. If you ever visit Knoxville, you should definitely gallivant around Gatlinburg, appease your appetite at the famous Apple Barn, and greet a new morning along a Great Smoky Mountain trail.

Naturally, I had to send in an exemption. And, when I finally reported later that year, I wasn’t even interviewed. That experience was fifteen years ago, so some memories of that day aren’t all that solid.

This time, on the third of November in the year 2021 – on a day filled with waiting – it gave an historical adventure writer an opportunity to think about the absolutely gorgeous building’s history.

Construction began on the current Allegheny County Courthouse in 1883. Having gone through several major renovations throughout the centuries, it now takes up an entire city block right in downtown Pittsburgh. It’s nestled in the heart of Pittsburgh, with glittering towers surrounding it on all sides. It can still be seen from I-279, and it’s a gem of Victorian engineering and architecture.

For forty-seven years, court proceedings took place in Market Square, and also housed the Pennsylvania Supreme court until 1841. According to the courthouse’s Wikipedia page:

The Greek Revival design included a domed cupola housing a rotunda 60 feet (18 m) in diameter and 80 feet (24 m) high. The building was completed in 1841. The building’s second floor again served as the headquarters for both the Commonwealth Supreme Court Pittsburgh region and the Federal Western District, serving the latter until a new U.S. Customs House/Post Office opened on Fifth and Smithfield in 1853.[9] Due to corrosion caused by coal smoke, the building deteriorated: the dressed surface of the facade dropped off, some of the cornices near the roof began to fall, and the building had a scaly appearance. Even in its deteriorated state, it was a handsome structure. On May 7, 1882, a fire broke out and ruined the building. Subsequently, it was demolished. The third, and present, courthouse was erected on the same spot.[10]

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The photos of this courthouse do not do this place justice. As with any Pittsburgh location, the building has multiple histories to contend with. In fact, the judge who walked us through opening the day of jury duty selection said that even they’re not sure what’s true about all accounts.

I think that’s what I love about history as a whole. Just when you think you know something about a time period, or an invention, or a people group, or something you learned in school, someone discovers something that throws a curve ball at your knowledge base.

Might I propose a challenge? If you’re a Pittsburgh resident, or even just within the area you live, choose a historical location and visit it if you can. It doesn’t have to be a famous well known place, because sometimes it’s the obscure history people want to learn about. Test your knowledge, and maybe the experience will spark an interest to learn even more!