In days of old, great buildings rested on cornerstones. They were the principle piece of their building’s foundation, and often the first piece that workers would lay before laying all others in relation to it. A good cornerstone kept the foundation from turning out crooked and then lent support to the structure above it.
Today, as per modern construction practices, cornerstones have been moved from the foundation to the façade. There they serve a more symbolic role and may be inscribed with information about their building. However, they are not a necessary piece of the architecture.
One cornerstone in Beaver, though, has served both roles; both structural and symbolic. Currently, it sits on the corner of Third St. and College Ave., bearing a plaque that explains it once belonged somewhere else. It once sat beneath the Beaver County Courthouse built in 1877.
The 1877 courthouse happens to have been Beaver County’s third, though it was actually the fourth building, generally speaking, to have hosted court proceedings. The first building where local judiciaries convened was, in fact, a tavern, since Beaver did not yet have a courthouse when Pennsylvania established the state judicial system in 1800.
That tavern hosted the court for a total of three years, preceding the completion of an official courthouse on Quay Square. Court proceedings moved again from that location to Agnew Square in 1810, and have remained there since. But while the location change for the courthouse to Agnew Square was permanent, the 1810 building was not.
Our young community outgrew the structure within two generations – despite the addition of two wings in 1840 and 1848. So, they built a larger one in 1877 above the cornerstone that now rests on Third and College. This judicial building endured until a fire consumed it in 1932, and another was constructed upon its foundation in the following year.
By the turn of the 21st century, though, the 1933 courthouse began showing signs of structural fatigue. And so, on November 30, 2001, Beaver County retired that building with a farewell ceremony. The occasion was heavy-laden with significance, but hopeful as well. People looked forward to the day when they would have a new courthouse.
History shows that the day came on January 17 of 2003, when Beaver County officials dedicated our present courthouse. However, something happened in the yearlong interim.
In 2002, the Beaver Borough began its streetscape initiative. As part of that initiative, the borough renovated several blocks in town, burying the powerlines and repaving the sidewalks. Additionally, the streetscape committee began adding permanent displays to a few street corners in town.
Simultaneously, workers were unearthing the old foundation on Agnew Square. The construction company, which had been given the rights to recovered materials, made plans to repurpose the foundation stone. This included the cornerstone, since the new building would not have a structural need for it.
Yet some saw another purpose for the old cornerstone, other than the recycling of materials.
Working closely with the Beaver Borough and Streetscape Committee, the McLaughlin family – longstanding residents of Beaver – bought the cornerstone from the construction company. Immediately after purchase, the stone was given a plaque and moved to its present location.
Once, the stone sat below court proceedings, supporting the judicial work of Beaver County. Now, it sits above ground in the center of city activity. And, in a way, it presents us with a question: What is the cornerstone of our community? What supports Beaver as that foundation piece once supported the courthouse?
No doubt, there is more than one answer to this question. But, at least one answer is you. And me. And all of us together. We serve as another kind of cornerstone in Beaver, supporting our community.