La Salle County Courthouse, Cotulla, Texas

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“La Salle County was named for René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. It comprises 1,517 square miles of usually flat to rolling terrain vegetated with mesquite, small live oak, and post oak trees, scrub brush, cacti, and grasses. Elevation ranges from approximately 400 to 600 feet.”

“After Mexican independence, the Mexican government used land grants to encourage its citizens to settle in Texas. In 1834, for example, Jesús Cárdenas received 31,500 acres of land along the Nueces River, including about 10,000 acres in what is now La Salle County, and a large part of the county was included in a tract granted to John McMullen, an Irish empresario. Few if any grantees seem to have actually settled on their lands, however. In 1836 the area remained populated almost entirely by Indians.”

“Between the Texas Revolution and the Mexican War most of what is now La Salle County lay in the disputed area between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River. Since neither the Republic of Texas nor the Mexican government could establish control over this strip of land, it became a haven for desperados. Even after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo definitively assigned the Nueces Strip to Texas, outlaws and hostile Indians delayed the development of the area for years.”

“When La Salle County was officially formed from the Bexar District on February 1, 1858, the county had only begun to be settled. Some of the earliest settlements in the county grew along the road from San Antonio to Laredo. In May 1852, to protect travelers on the road, the United States Army established an outpost, Fort Ewell, where the road crossed the Nueces. The site proved to be unhealthful, and the fort was abandoned in 1854; meanwhile a small town, Guajoco, also known as Fort Ewell, had developed 1½ miles from the fort.”

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“La Salle County was formally organized in 1880 with Stuart’s Rancho, near Guajoco, designated its first seat of government. The political organization of the county closely coincided with other developments that helped to change La Salle County from a collection of isolated frontier settlements and ranches into a more stable environment for economic and social development. The last Indian raid in the county occurred in 1878.”

“Joseph Cotulla, a Polish immigrant, arrived in LaSalle County in 1868 and gradually established a large ranching operation. After learning in the early 1880s that the I-GN intended to run tracks into La Salle County, Cotulla worked to bring the railroad to a townsite he was developing. In 1881 he donated 120 acres of land to the railroad to encourage it to come his way, and by 1882 a railroad depot had been built and town lots had begun to be sold.”

“While Cotulla continued to develop his town, a competing project was underway just across the tracks, where Jesse Laxton (Laxson, Laxon), the postmaster of Iuka, was establishing the town of La Salle. In 1881 La Salle was granted a post office, and in 1882 Laxton seemed to have won an important victory when his town was designated the temporary county seat. In a special county election held in 1883, however, voters chose to make Cotulla the county seat, and La Salle began to fade away. Though saloons and gunfights gave Cotulla a reputation as a tough frontier town for many years, domestic institutions also evolved.”

“Commercial cool-season farming, now a staple of the South Texas economy, originated in La Salle County during the late 1890s. Early efforts focused on the Bermuda onion, a proven cash crop in high demand during the early twentieth century. The first onions were planted by George Copp on his farm near Cotulla in 1896, and commercial onion culture in Texas began in 1898, when T. C. Nye began growing onions for profit near Cotulla.”

“From 1900 to 1910 twenty-three new towns were surveyed in La Salle County. Not all of them were actually built, but several were: Artesia Wells, Gardendale, Farmington, Fowlerton, Woodward, and other towns were established in the county during this period, often by developers from other areas of the state. New immigrants moved in as national advertising campaigns attracted settlers from states across the country.”

“Though the number of acres planted with vegetables that year dropped to 504, farmers were establishing or harvesting orchards of peaches, pears, plums, and figs. Cotton had also become an important crop for the county. In 1900 it was planted on only forty-three acres; in 1920, 17,753 acres of land in La Salle County produced 4,263 bales.”

“As one wave of immigrants moved in from the north to establish farms, Mexicans moved into La Salle County in large numbers to clear land, to help build the railroads and towns, and to work on the new commercial farms. People of Mexican descent had been a significant part of La Salle County’s population since its earliest days; according to an 1887 state census about half of the county population was of Mexican descent.”

“Since the Great Depression, and particularly since World War II, farmland in La Salle County has been consolidated into ever larger units. Between 1940 and 1954, 171 farms were lost, as the total number of farms in the county declined to only 282 by the middle of the 1950s; by 1964 only 207 farms remained. At the same time, many of the small towns established in the county before the depression shrank or disappeared, and the population dropped accordingly.”

“In 1990, La Salle County had a population of 5,254, 77 percent of whom were of Mexican descent. Most of the towns that had appeared during the agricultural boom of the early twentieth century had severely declined or disappeared altogether, however, and the people of La Salle County were increasingly concentrated in the towns of Cotulla (3,694) and Encinal (620).”

- Handbook of Texas Online, John Leffler, “La Salle County

I was the guest of Cotulla and La Salle County on August 12 & 13, 2014.

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La Salle County Courthouse – 1884

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(Photo Courtesy: THC)

This was a pleasant Second Empire design that would have inevitably met its end at the hands of a demolition crew sometime in the twentieth century. Like too many before it, this building would have bene “outgrown”. Sigh.

However, an arsonist spared it from that fate by setting fire to it in December of 1896. It’s a lesser of two evils, I suppose.

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La Salle County Courthouse – 1897

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(Photo Courtesy: THC)

This went up right after the 1896 one came down. As a result of its quick construction, you can tell that it was small and wooden (two highly dangerous qualities when it comes to courthouse longevity). Understandably, fire destroyed it seven years later in 1904. That, too, was the work of an arsonist. The only difference here was that the county had already finished their next courthouse at the time of the fire. So, this version was fortunately out of commission when it burned.

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La Salle County Courthouse – 1904

This was a much larger building than the two previous courthouses and was designed in the Romanesque style. It bore some resemblance to the 1904 Frio County courthouse, so it is assumed that Henry T. Phelps (the Frio County architect) had a hand in the La Salle County one as well.

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La Salle County Courthouse – 1931

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(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)

Don’t ask me why, but La Salle County demolished the previous one in 1931. And, the strange thing is, if it’s true that the 1904 one was designed by Henry Phelps, then Phelps designed two courthouses in this county (as it’s certifiable that he was behind the Art Deco one standing today).

In fact, this was the last courthouse he worked on in his lengthy career before his death in 1944.

Counting the now defunct jail at its top, this stands four stories tall. In 2008, after nearly eighty years of service, the Texas Historical Commission granted La Salle County a partial construction grant for $2.25 million, and a full construction grant for $3.5 million two years later. A lengthy restoration brought this wonderful courthouse back to life and returned it to its fresh, 1931 look. It was rededicated in 2013.

In August 2014, it looked so rejuvenated, that it seemingly “shined”.

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Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.13.12 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.13.33 AM Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.17.36 AMThe main façade faces west towards Stewart Street and the Cotulla Veterans Park.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.18.33 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.20.11 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.19.30 AMIt bears a grand, Art-Deco-era entryway complete with a shining, ornamental eagle.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.18.56 AM“LS” for La Salle

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The Veterans Park, as seen from the main doors

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.29.11 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.25.57 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.20.48 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.21.10 AMThis entrance faces south on S Center Street.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.38.00 AMHere’s its view.Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.21.34 AMExterior-wise, this is, in my opinion, one of the THC’s finest restorations. It really just sparkles.

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The western entrance is parallel to Kerr Street, and perpendicular to Center Street.

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The northern entrance, on N Center Street

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.25.57 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.37.17 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.29.31 AMThe courthouse interior also looks refreshed and reprieved after that fortunate renovation.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.30.09 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.32.11 AMThe restored, second-floor courtroom
Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.31.43 AMThe lights are straight out of the 1930s.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.32.28 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.30.34 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.31.03 AMThe honorable Stella Saxon presiding
Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.32.46 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-16 at 11.26.37 AMDon’t you just love that ornamentation?

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Cotulla

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Cotulla’s “main drag” is down Center Street, east of the courthouse.

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Previous Courthouse: McMullen County

Next Courthouse: Frio County

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