BY FRANK WILKES LESNEFSKY
Carbondale is celebrating its 169th birthday with a new sign commemorating its historic City Hall.
Although the city canceled today’s festivities due to coronavirus concerns, the sign celebrates City Hall’s designation on the federal government’s National Register of Historic Places — a spot it has held since 1983.
The designation means the 125-year-old building at 1 N. Main St. holds architectural significance in local history, said S. Robert Powell, Ph.D., president of the Carbondale Historical Society.
“It’s right at the heart of the downtown area, so it really adds a lot to the stability of the downtown as a configuration,” he said. “It’s right where it belongs, and we’re very proud of it and delighted to have the new sign and look forward to many more years.”
The towering brick structure topped with a clock tower and accented by a stone archway encircling the wooden front door wasn’t Carbondale’s first City Hall, Powell said.
The city constructed its first City Hall in 1851, but a fire destroyed the wooden building, he said. Officials rebuilt the structure in 1860, eventually expanding it in 1895 when they added the three-story section and clock tower, Powell said.
City Hall reflects a “Richardsonian Romanesque design” popularized in the 19th century — Roman-style arches, tall ceilings and towers, he said. Built at the height of Carbondale’s prosperity in the late 1800s, City Hall highlights the optimism and wealth at the time, he said, explaining it showed Carbondale had the civic pride and resources to build it.
“It’s a very grand and imposing style, and it tells the world that this place, this city, is important,” he said.
It incorporates locally sourced building materials, including Pennsylvania bluestone and a foundation of conglomerate rock, a granite-like stone found at the bottom of anthracite coal beds, Powell said. When miners reached conglomerate rock, they knew there was no more coal, he said.
Though city officials eventually modernized its heating and plumbing, the building’s integrity was never violated, Powell said.
City Hall is filled with character, from cast-iron stairs to century-old prison cells in the back of the building, city clerk Michele Bannon said.
Officials considered tearing down City Hall in the early 1990s when the building needed repairs, she said. However, they secured grant funding at the time, allowing the city to install a new roof and repoint bricks, among other renovations.
Last year, the Pennsylvania Economy League told the city to consider selling City Hall and building a more modern facility as part of a strategic management planning program report. Officials don’t intend to sell the building, though.
“I would hope to God not,” Bannon said. “It’s just a beautiful building.”
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