Medina County Courthouse, Hondo, Texas

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“Medina County covers 1,331 square miles with elevations ranging from 1,995 feet in the northern Hill Country to as low as 635 feet in the southern region. The county is divided from east to west by the Balcones Escarpment, which separates the Edwards Plateau and Hill Country to the north from the Rio Grande Plains to the south. The climate is subtropical and subhumid; the summers are hot and dry.”

“The Upper Presidio Road, as the Camino Real was known in 1807, purposely skirted the Indian strongholds of the Hill Country beyond the Balcones Escarpment. Throughout the 1700s the area was frequented by roving bands of Lipan Apaches and Comanches, whose seasonal raiding parties traveled south from the plains area of North and West Texas and New Mexico on their way to Mexico. From this vantage point the Apache-Comanche Indians would attack San Antonio with impunity.”

“The Republic of Texas was convinced that if this large block of land were settled it would provide a protective zone against any invasion forces approaching San Antonio from the south and west. They negotiated an empresarial contract with Frenchman Henri Castro on February 15, 1842, to settle the area. One of Castro’s land grants began four miles west of the Medina River. He purchased the sixteen leagues between his granted concessions and the river from John McMullenqv of San Antonio. The Old San Antonio Road to Laredo and the main road from San Antonio to Eagle Pass both crossed the land grant.”

“Castroville, founded on September 3, 1844, was the westernmost settlement in Texas. It received the first post office in the county on January 12, 1847. In a relatively short time the settlements of Quihi (1845), Vandenburg (1846), New Fountain (1846), and Old D’Hanis (1848) were established. The layout of each of these settlements was similar to that of Castroville, in a pattern reminiscent of their European villages.”

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“Medina County was separated from Bexar County by the legislature on February 12, 1848, and enlarged on February 1, 1850, again gaining lands from Bexar County.”

“Castroville, with a population of 366, was the twelfth-largest town in Texas and an important commercial center by 1850. Fort Lincoln had been erected in 1849 near Old D’Hanis to furnish protection for the new settlements and commercial traffic between San Antonio and Mexico. Most settlers operated subsistence farms while they learned stock raising, which many realized was best suited to the area.”

“The arrival of barbed wire and the railroads during the 1880s was a significant turning point for Medina County. Cattle raising had more than doubled during the 1870s. Property values tripled during the same period. Barbed wire effectively ended the practice of free-range cattle ranching; disputes over grazing access led to many conflicts. Livestock raising was the dominant agricultural activity in 1882; large sections of land supported 33,000 cattle, 33,000 sheep, 8,000 horses and mules, and 4,000 hogs.”

“The Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway and the International and Great Northern Railroad extended their lines west and south through Medina County in 1881 and 1882, respectively. The towns of Hondo, La Coste, Dunlay, and New D’Hanis were established along the GH&SA; the towns of Devine and Natalia were established along the IG&N. The citizens of Castroville, after having been given the initial opportunity to have the GH&SA pass through their township, voted against the issuance of bonds necessary to support such a route. The rapid commercial and population growth of the newly established railroad towns, particularly at Hondo and Devine, significantly altered the future demographic makeup of the county.”

“By then Hondo and the other railroad communities had become the most convenient and economically accessible marketing centers. Changes in demographic influence were evident in the embryonic newspaper publishing industry as well. The county’s first newspaper, the Castroville Era, began operations in 1876. This newspaper was changed to the Quill in 1879 and was sold to a group in Hondo in 1884, when it was renamed the Medina County News. Without a newspaper of its own and apprehensive of Hondo’s attempts to gain the county seat, Castroville began publishing the Anvil in 1886.”

“The completion of the Medina Dam in 1913, at that time the fourth-largest dam project in the United States, provided water sufficient to irrigate an estimated 60,000 acres. Six million dollars had been raised through the sale of bonds to British subscribers to finance the project. The onset of World War I cut off the flow of British capital, significantly reducing the sale of farmland dependent upon the irrigation system. The irrigation project was placed in receivership by the federal courts in 1914 and remained in this suspended condition until 1924, when it was ordered to be sold at public auction in Hondo.”

“During the early decades of the twentieth century the population of Medina County fluctuated markedly. In 1910 the population was 13,415; in 1920 it fell to 11,679; and in 1930 it rebounded to 19,898. During the years of the Great Depression it fell again, and by 1940 it stood at 17,733. Throughout this period the Mexican population was significant, due to the lure of jobs in the cotton and corn fields, in railyards, at the lignite coal mines near Natalia, at the Medina Dam construction site, on ranches, and at the D’Hanis Brick and Tile Company and the Seco Pressed Brick Company around D’Hanis.”

“By 1982 Medina County was one of the most prolific producers of Spanish peanuts in southwest Texas; Devine was recognized as the largest shipping point. That year 84 percent of the county was used for farming or ranching, and 21 percent of the farmland was under cultivation. Crops grown included sorghum, corn, grasses, wheat, carrots, watermelons, and pecans. Cattle, sheep, and hogs were the principal livestock.”

“The largest community in Medina County is Hondo (population, 9,080), the county’s seat of government.. Other sizable towns include Devine (4,622), Castroville (2,925), La Coste (1,179), and Natalia (1,506. Medina County offers visitors a wide range of recreational opportunities. Hunting and fishing are available throughout the county, and Medina Lake in northeastern Medina County is noted for its large numbers of large yellow catfish, black bass, white bass, walleyes, and bluegills. Hunting is available mostly through leasing arrangements with private land owners. The game most likely to be hunted in the county are white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and javelina, although leases are available for hunters interested in sika deer, axis deer, and mouflon sheep.”

- Handbook of Texas Online, Ruben E. Ochoa, “Medina County“ 

I was the guest of Hondo and Medina County on August 10 & 11, 2014.

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Medina County Courthouse – 1893

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(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)

This building is still standing in Hondo, except it’s received some renovations over the years.

Here’s a brief history of this courthouse, provided by the Texas Historical Commission:

“On December 12th, 1892, the Commissioner’s Court voted to approve the bid of Martin, Byrnes and Johnston of $40,300 for the design and construction of a new courthouse. The stone for the building was quarried from Joseph Decker’s ranch, approximately seven miles northeast of Hondo. The laying of the cornerstone took place on March 16, 1893, and the building was finished seven months later on October 7, 1893.”

And, if you’re interested, the THC provides some detailed information on the architectural heritage of this building:

“The three-story Italianate-style building follows a traditional floor plan with the first floor divided into four quadrants by bisecting corridors. The second and third floors are each divided by a central corridor, with the courtroom disrupting the corridor on the second floor. Access to the upper floors is provided by two sets of staircases, one on each side of the building. The exterior featured central entrances on all four sides. The entrances were defined by porticos supported by six classical columns topped by a balcony with a stone balustrade. A large window spanning the height of the second and third floor provided access to the balcony. Smooth cut pilasters on either side of the central window and a pedimented roof topped with an antefix further enhanced the entrances. Other decorative building treatments included an ornate metal cornice and carved smooth-cut lintels. Originally the building was surmounted by a modified hipped roof with an ornate Gothic central tower featuring an artificial clock and topped with a weather vane. Four symmetrical pyramidal roofs surmounted by ornate finials flanked the tower.”

In the year 1940, the WPA swooped into Medina County and this courthouse underwent serious interior/exterior changes. As to how much of that narrative above is still part of the courthouse today, I’m not really sure.

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Medina County Courthouse – 1940

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(Photo Courtesy: www.historictexas.net)

This is the courthouse after its 1940 renovations, during a rare snow storm.

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Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.37.39 PMThe Medina County Courthouse’s imposing front façade faces south on 16th Street.

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I visited this courthouse during a renovation. Fortunately, work was only being done on the landscaping when I arrived, and not the building itself (not to say it doesn’t need it).

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.55.42 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.56.15 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.38.20 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.38.30 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.45.32 PMThe main entrance’s view of 16th Street was, at the time, obstructed by that construction effort.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.37.50 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.39.01 PMI love the ornamentation above each window.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.38.47 PMThe courthouse is noticeably more long than wide.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.39.24 PMThe western façade on Avenue M, with features of renovation in sight

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Here it is without those orange cone eyesores.

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The rear entrance, on 15th Street

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Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.44.05 PM…and the WPA’s 1940 version

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.42.42 PMThe historic county jail is directly diagonal from the courthouse’s northeast corner.

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.43.53 PMI found this while scoping the grounds. It must have been taken down for the lawn renovations. It’s not every day you seen one of these on the ground.

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I spent the night in Hondo. The next morning, I returned to the courthouse for a different set of lighting conditions.

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The eastern entrance (the closest to the jail), on Avenue K
Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.53.00 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.51.48 PMCourthouse & Jail

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.54.21 PMAnother shot of the northwest corner, in the morning hours

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.55.07 PMComing back in the morning allowed me to see the interior.

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Hondo

Screen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.48.35 PMDowntown HondoScreen Shot 2015-06-08 at 2.46.21 PMA bit of research reveals that this unique welcome sign was put up by the Hondo Lions’ Club in 1930. Originally, it read: “This is God’s Country. Don’t Drive Through It Like Hell.” The “please” was added in the 1940s after some local residents were displeased with the “tone of the sign”. It’s semi-famous, having been covered in several printed publications (most notably National Geographic).

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