Historic Timeline of Cumberland County
March Feature: Our Courthouse on Fire
In 1751, the streets of Carlisle, Pennsylvania were fashioned after those of Carlisle, England, and the first Cumberland County Courthouse was built on the town square in 1765. The Town Hall, where the town’s fire equipment and engines were housed, was nestled next door on the parcel of land, which is now Veterans Memorial Courtyard. A market house stood across the street, where our Main Courthouse stands today.
For decades, the sweet sound of the courthouse bell rang out clearly; proclaiming civil, legal, and religious events, as well as emergencies.Then, on March 24, 1845, soon after 1 a.m., the bell sounded its last note. The Town Hall, with all its equipment still inside, was engulfed in flames. Strong winds carried the blaze to the Courthouse rooftop, and although townspeople were able to save the records stored within, the fire spread rapidly, destroying the entire building, including the bell. By 4 a.m. all that remained of the Courthouse lie in a pile of smoldering ashes.
It was determined the fire was the work of an arson, and a reward of $5,000 was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the criminal. Although the incident was brought to the Grand Jury on April 17, 1845, no evidence was ever brought forth which would lead to a perpetrator.
Soon after the blaze, bids were proposed, and plans for a new courthouse were approved by the Commissioners. Daniel E. Wilt and Samuel Bryan completed the work by 1846, at an estimated cost of $49,000. Our stately Georgian style courthouse stands today, a symbol of Cumberland County’s historic beauty.