Italian polkas spouted from a portable boombox as Giuseppe “Joe” Dinardo worked, oblivious to the world around him as he artfully chopped and sanded poplar wood.
It creates an image of an original 1852 courtroom that held one of the nation’s largest murder trials and drew famous fame as a Cub journalist.
The recreation will make it the fifth courtroom in the Lawrence County Courthouse.
Around him, wooden barricades and a jury box were taking shape, and a finely carved but unfinished mallet sat on the edge of the judge’s bench.
Dinardo, a county maintenance worker who is a master carpenter, worked alongside painters / dyers Barb and George Mullett of Harrisville, Butler County, who applied wood grain paint to the woodwork in various parts of the future courtroom 5 to give it an authentic appearance.
County maintenance workers paint regularly.
Mullett, whose company is Barb Como Finishing Touch, has gained a commercial reputation for her artistic work in painting and interior design, a talent and career that she has cultivated for 30 years. She landed the Courthouse Special Wood Painting Project after decorating the interior of District Attorney Joshua Lamancusa’s private home. She had also hung wallpaper inside the Dames des Ducs 25 years ago.
His job was to put the finishing touches on Dinardo’s work.
Dinardo, 71, an experienced craftsman and independent entrepreneur, moved from Italy to New Castle at the age of 21. He started working with wood in the early 1980s when his friend, Joe Abraham, drafted his help with woodworking and fireplace mantels. He just started to do more and more, “little by little,” he said.
But this is his first attempt to build a courtroom, he said. He started work a year and a half ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. He created a near replica of what the courtroom was like in years gone by.
Dinardo worked for City Welding for 30 years, where he gained expertise in metalworking. He worked for about two years in maintenance at the courthouse in 2002, then he was hired by Lawrence County Community Action Partnership, where he worked for 10 years in metalworking. He built the fence around the ACTS bus parking lot on Mercer Street, he said.
The county called him back and hired him to do more work when his public security building was under construction. It is his precision and expertise in woodworking that earned him the courtroom project.
“He’s doing a great job,” former maintenance manager Frank Piccari said of Dinardo. “He made this courtroom look exactly like the original one, and if the county had hired an outside carpenter, the cost would have been unbelievable.”
The project started before Piccari retired.
The renovation plans and their development evoked memories and a lot of history for Common Pleas President Judge Dominick Motto.
The original courthouse was built in 1852, after the county was formed from parts of the Mercer of Beaver counties in 1849 by an act of the General Assembly. The entire second floor was a large courtroom – double what it is now, Motto explained. He noted that a faded photo of it still exists and is displayed on the side of the elevator at the main entrance to the courthouse.
This large courtroom “was like a scene from To Kill a Mockingbird,” Motto said. There was a balcony which has since disappeared. The steps are still there but they lead nowhere. The hall was originally Courtroom 1, which occupied the entire second floor when the courthouse was constructed and was the building’s only courtroom, Motto said.
In the late 1800s, an addition was built on the original courthouse for a second courtroom, which is now the court of Common Pleas Judge David Acker, Motto explained. The new courthouse was built in 1978, with two courtrooms.
A third courtroom, presided over by Judge John W. Hodge, was a vacant space. When the county had a third judge around 1984, the furniture from the old courtroom 1 in the old building was transplanted to make it courtroom 3. When the county had a fourth judge at the start in the 1990s, the second courtroom in the old building was downsized. and bedrooms and an office have been added, he said.
The original Courtroom 1 then became the Law Library in the 1980s. At the time, a lot of books were needed to have an effective library and this included the reporter systems for all 50 states, recalled. Motto.
It was a first-class, functional law library, but computer research came along and fewer and fewer people were using the books. Because more legal material is available online now than in the best-equipped law library, the law library has been moved to the third floor of the old courthouse, furnished with only basic books and a computer.
This left a large room empty, which prompted Motto to think about recreating the original courtroom. This is the same where he had his first trial as a lawyer.
He has planned two needs for the fifth courtroom, he said. One was an additional courtroom to accommodate a visiting judge. Another is for the court for juvenile proceedings, instead of juvenile courtrooms.
“I think when you are dealing with (disciplined) minors it would have more impact on the child if the proceedings were officially held in a courtroom, because it is something very serious and they have to be careful, âhe said. .
So Eckles Engineering drew up the plans for the remodel, and everything inside the room is constructed and constructed as a replica of what it originally was. Motto said he and Piccari had the original blueprints and physical objects of what once stood in this courtroom.
âWith all our thanks to Joe Dinardo, he did a masterful job recreating everything, virtually identical to what it originally was,â said Motto. “With his expertise and that of Frank and my memories, we were able to recreate him.”
Some of the last steps to complete the work will be installing new flooring and hanging blinds.
He expects the hall to be operational in September.
âThe very last step will be to install pews,â Motto said, adding that he hopes the county can acquire pews from a church that is closing.
âEveryone seems to be excited,â the judge said of the transformation. “I know Judge Acker is eager to use it for domestic and juvenile proceedings.”
Motto said he also plans to use it as a ceremonial courtroom where the four judges will fit on the bench.
Mullett has recreated a false door behind the judge’s bench that looks like the one Judge John F. Henderson walked through to enter, Motto said.
And few can realize that the famous Ed Sullivan, host of The Ed Sullivan Show, was sitting in that same room.
The courtroom was the site of one of the county’s largest homicide trials in 1930, for Irene Schroeder, 21, and her slightly older boyfriend, Glenn Dague, who shot and killed Corporal of the Pennsylvania State Police. Brady Paul on December 27, 1929. The trial was so remarkable that the New York Times sent Ed Sullivan to cover it as a small reporter.
âHe came to New Castle to cover these trials,â Motto said. “They were found, returned to New Castle, and executed by electric chair within 14 months, at Rockview State Penitentiary in Center County.
Commissioner Dan Vogler, who also has a keen interest in local history, noted that Schroeder was the first woman in Pennsylvania to die in the electric chair.
The couple had robbed a grocery store at gunpoint in the town of Butler. The New Castle-based State Highway Patrol had set up a roadblock on the Butler / New Castle road and Schroeder and Dagger, heading for New Castle, were stopped at the roadblock and gunshots erupted, according to information provided by Vogler.
Cpl. Paul was shot and his partner was injured. Schroeder and Dagger then fled to New Castle and stole a car at gunpoint from another couple, then drove west in a wave of crime. They were arrested in Arizona following a court shooting. They were sent back to Lawrence County by train, where they were tried and sentenced.