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History of the Court
Court Administration

The area comprising Lehigh County was originally part of Northampton County, which was formed in 1752. About 40 years later, Ann Penn Allen and the Allen family started a movement for the creation of a new county with the county seat in what is now Allentown. The heirs of the Penn family opposed the creation of a new county, and the proposal died.

About twenty years later, a second attempt to form a new county was successful, and the Pennsylvania Assembly passed the act creating Lehigh County on March 6, 1812. The lots which became site of the old courthouse were sold to the three appointed County Commissioners by William Tilghman on November 19, 1812.

The first term of Lehigh County Court was opened on December 21, 1812. On that day, the Court of Common Pleas, of Oyer and Terminer and General Jail Delivery, and the Orphans' Court was opened under President Judge the Honorable Robert Porter, Esq. On that day, nineteen attorneys were admitted, there were nineteen civil cases, three petitions to open roads, and one case praying for the appointment of a Commissioner to examine a person of unsound mind. Three persons made declaration of their interest in becoming citizens.

The first term of court was held in the hotel of George Savitz on the main square in Allentown, which later became the Hotel Allen. In 1813, the court moved to the upper story of the prison building, which had been erected on the southeast corner of Margaret and Andrew Streets (later known as 5th and Linden Streets).

Court was held here until final completion of the courthouse at 5th and Hamilton Streets. The plan of construction for the courthouse was secured by a citizen named John Yeakel, who had visited Lycoming County and had obtained a plan of the courthouse there. The total cost of completion was $24,937.08 and court was held in the newly built courthouse for the first time in August 1817.

The first President Judge of Lehigh County, Robert Porter, had also been a President Judge in Northampton County. He had been a member of the Fourth Pennsylvania Artillery Regiment near the end of the Revolutionary War at the grand old age of thirteen. He had been helped in his enlistment by his father, who was Colonel of the Regiment. After the war, he studied law and was admitted to practice on May 15, 1789. He was appointed to the position of President Judge in the newly created Lehigh County by Governor Simon Snyder.

The first major renovation of the courthouse took place in 1864, and, by the new century, the building was getting crowded. In 1915, a new wing was constructed to the rear of the building to add a second courtroom and office space.

By the 1960's, the old Courthouse could not accommodate an expanding County government and a new building was proposed. Designed as part of a government center next to Allentown City Hall, the newly-constructed eight story courthouse was dedicated at Fifth and Hamilton Streets in June 1965.

In a further expansion over thirty years later, County Administrative offices moved to a new building at 17 South 7th Street in 1997, allowing the Court of Common Pleas to occupy offices formerly used by the administration. The Office of Adult Probation was able to rejoin court colleagues as Adult Probation returned to the main courthouse at 455 W. Hamilton Street.

Over the next decade, the new Courthouse at 455 W. Hamilton Street underwent significant renovation and expansion following years of planning. The results of construction and renovation included a four-story addition to the Hamilton Street side of the Courthouse.  A new façade, internal reconfiguration, and the installation of a fire suppression system throughout the building brought the entire Courthouse a new look and more modern feel.

To achieve the installation of the fire suppression system, the original 1962 building underwent asbestos removal. Court offices were temporarily relocated and then returned to their original, or in some cases, new locations within the building. The new façade replaced the original leak-prone panels of stone with metal panels and watertight windows on all sides of the building.

The new larger lobby and entrance on the first floor of the addition allowed for a more secure entrance and new elevators. The relocation of Domestic Relation Section, additional courtrooms, secure elevators, new network wiring, and a consolidated Family Court office created a courthouse better prepared for operating a court in the 21st Century.

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Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas, 455 West Hamilton Street, Allentown, PA 18101-1614 • (610) 782-3000