Western Trips

Friday, April 13, 2012

Old Historic Buildings / A Texas Courthouse Tour

Old historical buildings are architectural treasures to preserve. There is no other state with more historic courthouses than Texas. There is estimated to be 234 courthouses in Texas that are over 50 years old and still standing. The Texas Historical Commission is very active in preserving these old historical buildings. About eighty of these structures were built before 1900. Courthouse squares throughout Texas showcase some of the finest examples of nineteenth century and early twentieth century architecture in the United States.

When your travels take you through the state of Texas there is no missing these imposing structures. When you drive through many of these small towns you may want to slow down a bit and appreciate both the architecture employed and the central role these buildings played in everyday life. So different than today's modern glass structures, these old historical buildings represent a time past when things were a bit slower.

Wise County Courthouse, Decatur Texas
To offer you an example of some of these great architectural structures, the Wise County Texas Courthouse located in the town of Decatur dates back to 1895. The Romanesque Revival building was designed  by architect James Riley Gordon of San Antonio. This building was the fourth courthouse for Wise County. Another interesting bit of history about the Decatur courthouse was that it was constructed on the old Chisholm Trail. A marker in front of the historic building denotes the location. The Chisholm Trail was named after Jesse Chisholm and led from the southern Texas cattle ranches to the rail heads in Kansas and Missouri. Decatur was named after the famous naval officer Stephen Decatur Jr. a decorated officer with a string of early nineteenth century naval victories. Decatur Texas is located about 45 miles northwest of Dallas.

Down in the Texas Hill Country in Johnson City Texas is the Blanco County Courthouse. The current structure is the third courthouse for the county. This old historic building was constructed in 1916 and was designed by Henry T. Phelps. The Blanco County Courthouse was originally located in the town of Blanco but was relocated to Johnson City Texas in 1890. The style is Classical Revival and is constructed of stone. Johnson City Texas is also known as the childhood home of former president Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Blanco County Texas Courthouse
An interesting tour while in Johnson City is the home and museum of the late president. Also located in Johnson City is the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park operated by the National Park Service. One of the best times of the year to tour through Johnson City is during the winter holiday season. The entire town is lit with holiday lights and the Blanco County Courthouse in particular is marvelously illuminated. Even though December is not the height of tourist season in the Texas Hill Country, Johnson City sees thousands of travelers enjoying the lighting displays.

The McCulloch County Texas Courthouse built in 1899 is shown next. The courthouse is in the county seat of Brady Texas. As is the case with many county courthouses, this was not the first in McCulloch County Texas. The first courthouse was erected in 1879. The current structure was completed in 1900. The building is a three story sandstone structure built in the Richardson Romanesque style. One thing you may notice is the clock tower built on the top center of the building.
McCulloch County Texas Courthouse

While the clock tower is there just like with the Wise County Texas Courthouse, clocks were never installed. The red roof of the building is the result of a renovation in 2009. In front of the courthouse you'll notice a seven and one-half foot tall Texas Historical Marker. The Texas Historical Commission in 1963 designated the very center of the state of Texas as being located five miles northwest of Brady. Because of this, the town of Brady calls itself  "The Heart of Texas".

These are only three of the many historic courthouses located throughout Texas. When you take a road trip through the state it's almost impossible to miss them. The architectural designs are such that they represent quite a historical treasure. The materials used in their construction are mostly native to Texas. Starting in the early 1900's, around the 1920's, courthouse architecture really entered the modern era. The courthouses built after these dates highlight a much more modern look with straight lines and rectangular shapes. As opposed to these old courthouses, much of the material used was massed produced. Building a courthouse today in the old style would be very cost prohibitive, especially now in the era of prefab. A group called Preservation Texas, working along with the Texas Historical Commission, has restored some of the state's more spectacular old courthouses. Many of these old historical buildings fell into disrepair simply because of their age. Buildings of this nature are also quite costly just to maintain. These preservation groups provided the funding and effort to restore many of these structures to their original grandeur.

Pecos County Courthouse, Ft. Stockton Texas
The Pecos County Texas Courthouse in southwest Texas shown left gives you an idea of the more modern architecture of the 1900's. This courthouse is located in Fort Stockton Texas. When you appreciate the vast differences in architectural styles between the old and new, you can understand why these older structures need to be preserved for historical value alone. They certainly can't be reproduced.

There are three articles related to Texas historic buildings which you'll find interesting. The XIT Ranch and the Texas State Capitol. A tour of the Texas State Capitol

Also see our article on the Historic Homes of Waco Texas

Some additional information regarding the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. Their accomplishments have gained both national and international attention. They received honors from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Texas Society of Architects. In 2008, the program was recognized with a Presidential Award from the White House. Another group very active is Preservation Texas.This group welcomed almost 200 preservationists from around Texas for their 2012 Texas Preservation Summit. According to the group, much of the work involves the identification of historic sites that are in need of preservation. They say that their list for 2012 highlights historic places that were once commonly found around the state that are almost gone along with sites representing varied architectural types.

(Photos from author's private collection)