SUNBURY – Two of Northumberland County’s most historic buildings are owned by Sunbury businessman Mark Walberg.
Among Walberg’s properties are the Maclay-Wolverton House at 106 Arch St., Sunbury, which is considered one of the oldest buildings still in use in Northumberland County, and the former Northumberland County Jail on North Second Street, Sunbury. The old county jail is vacant, but Walberg is renovating the property and considering setting up a museum, entertainment space, food court and restaurant there.
Walberg, owner of more than two dozen properties in Northumberland County, makes a living buying and selling antiques. He said he grew up around history, with his mother running a historic company and his father making art from materials discarded from Victorian homes.
âI like brick or stone buildings,â Walberg said. âThey’re not going anywhere. If you keep it going, it can last forever. If you are maintaining old historic properties, there is no limit to their lifespan. Most are better constructed than modern buildings with modern materials.
The restoration of historic buildings – as it is doing with the old jail and as Northumberland County is doing with its $ 4.1 restoration project for the Northumberland County Courthouse – is important.
âThe more you see historic projects like the ones underway, the more people see that this is the way to go and they might want to get involved,â he said.
The 2nd house in Sunbury
Maclay-Wolverton House is currently the Sunbury office of State Representative Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108. It was built in 1773 as a second home in Sunbury. Pennsylvania Senator William Maclay resided there in 1774. In 1865, it was sold to Simon P. Wolverton, who extensively remodeled it in 1888 and added a rear wing.
Colonel Thomas Hartley, in 1778, came to this region with his regiment to protect the border. For some reason, he was dissatisfied with the strength of Fort Augusta and built a palisade at the back of Maclay House, which he used as a storehouse for the storage of weapons and ammunition. It was probably at this time that the underground passage from the river to the cellar of the house was built. In 1779, it served as a storage depot and supply base for General John Sullivan.
The house is built of hewn limestone quarried from Maclay’s farmhouse near Sunbury. It was built in a rectangular shape with two floors and an attic. On the first floor was a large central hall with a large room on either side. Both had large fireplaces. On the second floor there was a main room on the south side of the house and two rooms on the north side.
It has gone through a variety of different owners and served as an assortment of various functions including a school, hotel and tavern.
âYou just feel the finish in there, how solid it is and the details,â Culver said. âBeing so intricate and ornate gives you a whole new respect for this generation that did that. They must have lived majestically in this house.
Culver said the building was a key point in the city, having the first elevator and a tunnel leading to the river. It has 11 different fireplaces, each with a different theme. The staircase, Culver said, is believed to be the tallest free-standing staircase in the United States.
The mirrors above each fireplace are also strategically placed so that sunlight hits the stairwells before there is any electricity, Culver said.
âThere is a lot of history in the building and you gain more respect for it, thinking about who was here before us,â she said.
Culver said his office is in the old library.
âThere is a certain feeling,â she said. âYou can imagine people sitting in front of the fireplace. This is my favorite room.
$ 40,000 to own a piece of history
The Old County Jail, now known as Stone Castle, may not be the oldest structure in Northumberland County, but it is perhaps the most recognizable due to its features resembling a castle.
The 145-year-old structure was built in 1876, badly damaged by fire in January 2015 and purchased in 2017 for $ 40,000 from the county by Walberg. The Northumberland County Jail was built in 1876 to replace a two-story prison built of stone. It was the third prison to serve the county since the municipality was organized in March 1772.
The contract to build the prison was awarded in May 1876 to Ira T. Clement with his bid of $ 91,636, which did not include iron or water pipes. The total estimated cost was $ 140,000.
The prison was known for the last public hanging in Pennsylvania. On October 9, 1879, Peter McManus, the last of the Molly Maguire to stand trial and convicted of murder, was hanged in the courtyard of the Northumberland County Jail.
Walberg is now in the process of restoring and renovating the building and plans to have architectural drawings done this year to show his plans for a museum, entertainment space, food court and restaurant.
Old schools, log cabin
In Sunbury, he also owns the former Shikellamy Middle School at 15 Fairmount Ave., where he is lobbying for a future community college to establish its location there, and the former Fort Augusta Elementary School at Packer Street and Fort Augusta Avenue.
He sold the old Edison Elementary School at 700 N. Fourth St. to a local architectural firm.
Walberg also bought a Northumberland property on Queen Street and rescued a pre-revolutionary war log cabin that was marked for demolition in 2008. He had it dismantled, moved and restored to his property at 96, King Street under the supervision of historical restoration experts. The log cabin was built around 1790 by the first settlers of Northumberland County.
Although it is not open to the public, Walberg said he often invites classes to visit it on field trips or opens it at special events in the borough.
Walberg said he was not looking to add to his collection of buildings.
âAt this point, I’ve had enough on my plate,â Walberg said. âI’m not really in the market to buy more. I just want to finish what I have. The stone castle and the college are both colossal projects. If I can do them, I’ll be a happy camper.