“Llano County comprises 941 square miles of the Hill Country on the eastern part of the Edwards Plateau. Altitudes range from 800 to 2,000 feet above sea level. The county drains into the Colorado River, either through the Llano River (from which the county gets its name), which runs from west to east through the center of the county, or through Sandy Creek, which flows across the southern part of the county. Ashe juniper trees grow on the hills, and mesquites, live oaks, post oaks, pecans, and elms grow in most of the county.”
“The soil is sandy to sandy loam, although there are granite outcroppings throughout much of the county, including Enchanted Rock. Granite quarries and finishing sheds operate in the county, and talc, vermiculite, and feldspar have also been produced.”
“Tonkawa Indians occupied Central Texas at the time the future Llano County was first explored, but it is uncertain how long they had lived there. The Tonkawas hunted and gathered along streams and did not farm. They were not warlike, however, and they apparently invited the Spaniards to establish missions that would help them against the fierce Comanches. The Comanches came into the Tonkawa area in the eighteenth century and eventually claimed territory as far southeast as San Antonio and Austin. During the Republic of Texas era, conflict between whites and Comanches in the region was marked by such battles as a fight at Enchanted Rock in 1841.”
“The first permanent settlers of European origin in the area were brought in by the Adelsverein. German settlers established the town of New Braunfels (now in Comal County) in 1845, and Fredericksburg (now in Gillespie County) in 1846. In 1847 John O. Meusebach, the leader of the German settlers, negotiated a treaty with the Comanches to permit Germans to live in the area of the Fisher-Miller Land Grant, which included what is now Llano County.”
“The settlement farthest downstream was Bettina, a communal colony established by the “Society of Forty,” a group of young men from German universities. Settlers began to move into the eastern part of the county shortly thereafter, the first ones settling at Tow Valley and Bluffton on the Colorado River in 1852. A saltworks between the two places operated until after the Civil War, and there was also a sawmill in the area. Small farms were established, and by 1853 settlement had begun in the northwestern part of the county. Soon two settlements, Whistleville and Bugscuffle, combined to form Valley Spring.”
“Llano County was organized in 1856 after the Texas legislature formed the county from the Bexar District and Gillespie County. Donations of 250 acres were made for a site for the county seat. By 1858 the population exceeded 1,000, and cattle, hides, and pecans were being exported. Farming was the chief occupation in the north and ranching in the south. Germans predominated in the western parts and Anglo-Americans in the other areas.”
“When the Civil War came, several companies were organized in the area, known as the Third Frontier District. A company of 100 Llano County volunteers went to Camp Terry in February 1862 and later joined Walker’s Texas Division on the Red River; they were part of the forces at Fort DeRussy when it fell.”
“During and after the war, farmers in the county were harassed by Indians, who frequently raided for horses. In 1867 five members of the Friend family were killed, as were five members of the Whitlock family in 1870. The raids came to a stop after August 4, 1874, when a group of eight men led by Capt. James R. Moss trailed some Comanches who had been stealing horses, surprised them on Packsaddle Mountain, and defeated them.”
“The county’s development accelerated during the 1870s and 1880s, after the danger from Indian attacks had been eliminated. By 1880, 619 farms and ranches had been established in Llano County, and improved acres totaled almost 34,000. Ranching dominated the economy; 31,760 cattle and almost 14,000 sheep were counted that year. Corn culture occupied about 7,700 acres, and cotton was planted on almost 2,250.”
“The county boomed briefly near the end of the nineteenth century, particularly after 1892, when Llano became a railhead and attempts were made to mine iron deposits in the area. In 1900 Frank Teich established the Teich Monument Works, and production of granite became a factor in the economy. Teich was a sculptor whose work may be seen in Confederate monuments in several Texas cities. Two other granite sheds were put into operation at about the same time. Sheep ranching declined during the 1890s; by 1900 there were only about 5,000 sheep in the county.”
“Although the railroad had helped to stimulate the economy, the iron mining proved unprofitable, and the boom soon faded away. Llano did attract some growth as a health resort early in the twentieth century, but the county’s economy declined between 1900 and 1920. The number of farms dropped to 795 by 1910 and 686 by 1920; the population also shrank during this period, to 5,360 by 1920.”
“Like the rest of the Southwest, Llano County was hit hard by depression and drought during the 1930s. The agricultural economy suffered most. Cotton production almost ceased in the county during the 1930s; in 1936 county farmers ginned only 414 bales, and in 1941 they ginned none. Overall, cropland harvested in Llano County declined more than 20 percent between 1930 and 1940, when only 666 farms and ranches remained in the area. Most cattle ranchers suffered but survived.”
“At first cattle were bought by the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation; in 1934 cattle were placed within the authority of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. Government buying of cattle prevented total disaster, although as soon as they could, cattlemen got out of government programs.”
“The building of dams on the Colorado River also offered some relief during the depression, and the dams brought greater benefits for the area than the temporary jobs the construction provided. Samuel Insull’s Middle West Utilities Company had been searching for sites for hydroelectric dams since as early as 1926, and in April 1931, after negotiations with local power companies, Middle West began construction on what was then called Hamilton Dam on the Colorado River. Work stopped, however, in the summer of 1932 as a result of the depression and the collapse of the Insull enterprises.”
“After various efforts to obtain public money, $4.5 million was allotted in 1934 for completion of the dam, largely through the efforts of Congressman James Paul Buchanan. Later that year the Lower Colorado River Authority was established, and it received $20 million to build other dams downstream, largely because the water that caused a destructive flood in 1935 came from the Llano River, which joins the Colorado below Buchanan Dam. Buchanan and Inks dams were completed by 1938. (In 1952 another impoundment project, Granite Shoals Dam, was completed, impounding a body of water later named Lake Lyndon B. Johnson.)”
“Though cattle ranching remains the single most important element of Llano County’s agricultural economy, the county is also one of the ten leading producers of hogs in Texas. Angora goats, although declining in importance, also played a significant role in the area’s post-World War II economy. In the 1940s there were as many as 40,000 Angoras in Llano County, but by 1983 there were only about 5,000.”
“As of 2014, the population of the county was 19,510. About 87.7 percent was Anglo, 1.2 percent African American, and 9.3 percent Hispanic.”
“The three dams provide more than fifty-five miles of lakes on Llano County’s eastern border. These provide recreation and popular spots for retirement. Llano County has for years been a major hunting area, the “Deer Capital of Texas.” It leads the state in the number of white-tail deer harvested annually, with more than 12,000 killed each year. Wild turkeys are also hunted in the county. Other tourist attractions include the Bluebonnet Trail and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. The Highland Lakes Bluebonnet Trail, an April event, is sponsored by towns in the area and includes chili cookoffs, festivals, and art shows, many in Llano County.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Ernest B. Speck, “Llano County”
I was the guest of Llano and Llano County on July 25, 2015.
Llano County Courthouse – 1885
This courthouse was the third for the county, succeeding a wooden design of the late 1850s and a stone, J.K. Finlay-designed, 1881 variant.
It was an Italianate building made of bricks that, apparently (no known photos survive), looked very similar to neighboring Gillespie County’s courthouse. That would point very strongly to the architect involved here being Alfred Giles, though that is not confirmable.
At any rate, the courthouse burned on January 22, 1892 and a new one was put into the works.
Llano County Courthouse – 1893
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT) (Circa 1939)
(Photo Courtesy: rootsweb.com) (Circa 1960)
(Photo Courtesy: Barclay Gibson) (Circa 2003)
The result was a beautiful, charming ode to the Romanesque Revival style and we can hold noted architects Jacob Larmour and A.O. Watson responsible. In fact, this courthouse was a sort of “swan song” where those two were concerned, because their firm broke up while the building was being constructed. As a result, Watson’s name is the only one visible on the cornerstone today.
J.A. & G.H. Wilson of Sulphur Springs served as contractors.
Throughout its over one hundred and ten years, the courthouse has survived three fires. One of the blazes resulted in the county converting the original clocktower (featuring colonnades and a cupola) into more of a pavilion-like shape by covering it with silver painted, wooden shingles. That was in 1913. The resulting appearance carried the courthouse through most of its entire history until a 2006 renovation project brought the old look back to Llano at last.
Wooden doors, windows, and the building’s metal cornice have all been restored. The gutter has also been extensively repaired.
The Texas Historical Commission lengthily describes the courthouse as follows:
“In 1892, the firm of Jacob Larmour and A. O. Watson designed the Llano County Courthouse in the Romanesque Revival style. The composition consists of a large rectangular mass with three corner pavilions and a corner tower. The pavilion roofs are pyramidal, but a hipped roof sits over the main section (courtroom) of the building. The layout is based on a traditional plan. Crossing corridors divide the ground floor into four quadrants that contain offices. The large two-story courtroom and four small rooms used by jurors are located on the second floor; on the third level are additional offices. On the exterior, walls of buff-colored brick rise from a granite base and are terminated by a granite corbel table and a metal cornice. Granite is used throughout for both structural and decorative work. The north and south facades are five-part compositions, and the east and west facades are three-part compositions; all have identical entrance pavilions. At each entrance, granite columns with marble capitals and bases flank the doorways and support an entablature that incorporates a frieze decorated with a saw-toothed pattern. A window appears above the entablature, spanned by a Roman arch with a pronounced archivolt flanked by quoins of quarry-faced granite. A gable with a bull’s eye window and a decorative coping surmounts this central compositional unit. Double doors provide access to the interiors. On the first and second stories, window openings are paired in each compositional component. Granite lintels and Roman arches with granite voussoirs span these openings. On the third story, window openings in the pavilions are set in arcades with granite arches that are supported by polished granite columns with marble capitals and bases. Conforming to the main masses of the building, the tower was built of brick with granite trim. Granite arches span the wide window openings. This material also was used for the finials. The top sections of the tower, including the level that displays the clocks, were finished with sheet metal components with stamped shingle patterns. Additional embellishments include quoining which has tooled corner margins, a wide string course at the second floor level, and narrow courses girdling the structure at the window sill levels on both the first and second stories. The interior finishes of the courthouse featured plastered walls throughout the structure, and wooden wainscot capped by heavy moldings appeared in the circulation areas and in the courtroom. While the hall wainscot and wooden trim have been painted, the wood finishes throughout the courtroom retain their original natural finish. Acoustical tile with recessed lighting has been installed in the courtroom. The stairways feature ornamental wooden newel posts and balustrade. The treads of the stairs are iron and were manufactured by F. Heierman and Bros., in Austin, Texas.”
This is the heavily shaded eastern façade, facing Ford Street. If you look closely, you can see a small sign is up to help show which side this is. For those courthouse patrons who left their compasses at home, I’m sure…
The southern façade (on Sandstone Street)
Larmour and Watson almost surely drew inspiration from Spanish cathedrals in South Texas. I’m particularly reminded of San Antonio’s San Fernando Cathedral when I look at this façade.
Here’s the view from the western façade. That’s Berry Street.
The northern façade (on Main Street)
At first glance, the crowning pieces of ornamentation look like crosses, which adds to that mission-style feeling the architecture exudes. This being a building of justice (a house of government, not God), the courthouse design creates an intriguing combination of church and state while still maintaining a distinct line between the two.
There’s a gazebo at the northeast corner.
The cornerstone’s there too. Only A.O. Watson got his name on the final product, as you can tell.
Ford Street, as seen from the eastern doors
A look inside
The southeast corner
Llano & Llano County
Lake Buchanan and its namesake dam, east of Llano
Westbound on Highway 29 from Burnet, en route to Llano
At Main & Berry
The unassuming annex is across Berry Street from the courthouse.
Llano is the “Deer Capital of Texas”, by the way.
Ford Street, Downtown Llano
The city is split in two by the Llano River. The courthouse is on the south side.
Travel between the two is made possible by the Roy B. Inks Bridge.
Fishermen are plentiful on the narrow, but long, Llano River Lake.
It was near this site in 1856 that Llano County was formally organized with Llano as the seat.
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Next Courthouse: Mason County