Friday, October 24, 2003
John and Marie Wengert describe themselves as auction addicts. Because they are, a part of Lebanon County history has been preserved for future generations. Yesterday (10/23/03), the Wengerts' generosity and that part of county history were honored in a ceremony at the County-City Municipal Building in the 400 block of South Eighth Street.
Three years ago, the couple attended an auction of belongings from the estate of Harold Moody, a demolition contractor who through his work had accumulated a number of valuable historical artifacts.
Among the items at the auction was a pair of antique lampposts dating to 1816 that once lit the sidewalks around the Lebanon County Courthouse on the northwest corner of Eighth and Cumberland Streets. County Commissioner William G. 'Bill' Carpenter and county administrator (Mr.) Jamie A. Wolgemuth had been told about the lampposts and were at the auction hoping to buy them on behalf of the county.
The 8-foot-tall, cast-iron lampposts were unremarkable in appearance, having been neglected since the courthouse was torn down by Moody in the early 1960s, Wolgemuth said. "They were in really bad shape". "It looked like they'd been left outside in the mud on Moody's farm for years".
Ugly or not, the lampposts were attractive to a pair of New York antique dealers, and soon Wolgemuth and Carpenter found themselves in a bidding war. "We bowed out when the bidding hit $3,000", Wolgemuth said.
That's when the Wengerts, who are part of the then-family-owned Wengert's Dairy, stepped in. "We just thought they couldn't leave the county, which probably would have happened, Mrs. Wengert said.
When the dust settled, the Wengerts were the proud owners of the lampposts, having forked over about three times as much as the county was prepared to pay. But the Wengerts never intended to do anything with the light standards; the couple immediately gave them to the county.
After being converted from gas to electric, refinished in black gloss enamel and fitted with new globe lights, the lampposts were installed a year ago (2002) in front of the municipal building facing South Eighth Street.
Recently placed alongside the lampposts was a 500-pound bell that once rang from a tower at the old courthouse. The bell also dates to 1816. The bell and lamps join the gold-plated Lady Liberty statue that once stood atop the former courthouse and now graces the municipal building lobby.
The bell was given to the county last year (2002) by the city's-Lebanon Hook and Ladder Fire Company #1, who purchased it at an auction for $290 after the old courthouse burned in 1908. The bell was used at the fire station in the 100 block of South Eighth Street from 1911 through the 1960's, said Jeff Starner, the fire company's secretary.
Yesterday (10/23/03) the bell, lampposts and a plaque explaining their significance were dedicated in a ceremony before dozens of onlookers who braved a chilly wind laced with snow flurries and were entertained by the Lebanon High School Jazz Ensemble.
Among those present were the Board of County Commissioners William G. Carpenter, Chairman; Rose Marie Swanger, Vice-Chairperson and Edward L. Arnold, Secretary; and representatives from all levels of government, including U.S. Representative Tim Holden, State Senator David J. 'Chip' Brightbill, State Representative Mauree Gingrich, Lebanon Mayor Robert Anspach and several members of city council.
The lampposts were dedicated in memory of John and Marie Wengert's fathers: Samuel Wengert, who was a county commissioner from 1948-52 and Roy Bowman, who served as county solicitor for all but two years between 1922 and 1948. "We think it is important that some things in this county remain here as part of our cultural heritage". "It is really for all of the people of Lebanon County that we contributed these light standards".
When the courthouse located on the north-west corner at 8th & Cumberland Streets, was being torn down in the 1960's, a 2nd bell was given by the Moody Company, Lebanon, PA to the Lebanon County Historical Society when they were located at 6th and Walnut Streets. The stone base, which the bell rests upon, is a portion of the steps. This bell can still be seen in front of the Historical Society located at 934 Cumberland Street, Lebanon, PA.
The inscription on the 2nd bell reads as follows:
front of bell:
THIS BELL WAS INSTALLED ON THE REMODELED COURT HOUSE MAY 30, 1911
COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF
LEBANON COUNTY, PENNA.
H.M. MILLER JOHN H. GINGRICH,
CLERK ROB'T. B. LIGHT, SOLICITOR, E.D. SIEGRIST.