Victoria County Courthouse, Victoria, Texas

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“Victoria County is located in southeastern Texas on the Coastal Plain about midway between the southern and eastern extremities of the Texas Gulf Coast. Victoria, the county’s largest town, is the county seat. There roads converge 120 miles from Houston, 102 miles from San Antonio, 110 miles from Austin, and 75 miles from Corpus Christi; hence the town’s nickname, the “crossroads of South Texas.”"

“Victoria County comprises 887 square miles of nearly level to gently rolling coastal prairie, surfaced primarily with dark clay loams and clays that support bluestems and tall grasses, oak forest, huisache, mesquite, prickly pear, and other vegetation. The northwestern part of the county lies in the Post Oak Belt and thus marks the southernmost extension of the East Texas timberlands.”

“The establishment in April 1722 of Nuestra Señora de Loreto Presidio and Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga Mission (La Bahía) near the ruins of Fort St. Louis marked the first Spanish settlement in what is now Victoria County. The mission and presidio were moved in August 1726 to the Guadalupe River near the site of present Mission Valley because of Indian depredations and an ill-commanded garrison.”

“Despite border clashes with DeWitt’s colony to the north and the Power and Hewetson colony to the south, De León’s colonists were settled in all of the territory of present Victoria and Calhoun counties and in part of that of Lavaca, Jackson, and DeWitt counties as well. Such was the area that constituted Guadalupe Victoria as a district under the Mexican government in 1832 and as a municipality under the legislature of Coahuila and Texas in 1835. The settlement had the distinction of being the only primarily Mexican colony in Texas.”

“Victoria was among the original twenty-three counties established by the First Congress of the Republic of Texas on March 17, 1836. Its modern boundaries were defined by the Texas legislature on March 31, 1846. Conflicting claims between Victoria County and Lavaca, Jackson, and Calhoun counties were settled in Victoria’s favor on April 23, 1846, nineteen days after Calhoun County was demarked primarily from the Victoria County coastal area. Because Victoria lay on the important cart road from the port of Indianola to San Antonio and New Braunfels, as well as on the old Goliad road from east to west, the county was heavily traveled by traders and immigrants and populated by many who found the area satisfactory.”

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“Until oil was discovered in the 1930s Victoria County’s economy was primarily agrarian. The major industry remained the raising of cattle, horses, and cotton; other farming generally was for sustenance. Only twenty other Texas counties had a greater number of cattle in 1850, when Victoria County ranked thirteenth in total value of all livestock at $205,725. Ten years later the county still ranked twenty-first, but the number of beef cattle had grown from 8,783 to 39,287, and the value of all livestock had increased to $534,314.”

“Victoria County served as a transportation, military, and supply center during the [Civil] war, since its major town was on a branch of the Cotton Road, which provided access to guns, ammunition, medicine, and supplies from Mexico in exchange for crops. In 1863 Gen. John B. Magruder, Confederate commander of the Department of Texas, destroyed the railroad from Port Lavaca to Victoria when Union invasion seemed imminent; he also rendered the Guadalupe River unnavigable by sinking trees and boats.”

“By 1873 the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railway connected Victoria with Cuero and the coast, and in 1882 the New York, Texas and Mexican Railway, built primarily by Italian immigrants, many of whom settled in Victoria, provided the first cross-country route to Rosenberg Junction. These lines, together with Victoria’s strategic location on the old Goliad and Indianola roads, contributed to the county’s rise as the commercial center of the surrounding agricultural counties.”

“Victoria County has been a leader in the development of the Texas cattle industry since the Spanish and Mexican eras, but especially just after Reconstruction. The abundant natural grasslands and subtropical climate allow grazing year-round and minimize the need for winter shelter.”

“Commercial farming of diverse crops developed only in the 1890s as knowledge grew about cultivating prairie soils. The production of corn and cotton again grew in importance; in 1900 the county harvested 490,080 bushels of corn and 9,459 bales of cotton, a level maintained until World War II. Victoria County’s cotton production of 10,181 bales in 1910 led the coastal region, and in 1934 cotton occupied two-thirds of the county’s cropland, corn about half of that.”

“The oldest industry other than agriculture and ranching was the manufacture of bricks from Guadalupe riverbottom clay; several plants were built before 1850, and the first large factory was completed in 1899. The sand and gravel business grew out of river-dredging operations. John J. Welder, James A. McFaddin, and Henry E. Rathbone established the first large-scale company, the Guadalupe River Navigation Company, in 1906.”

“Although the depression slowed the growth of the oil industry and created widespread unemployment, it also brought the New Deal to Victoria County. The Civil Works Administration allocated $130,000 in federal funds to the completion of several public projects, and the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Work Projects Administration, and the National Recovery Administration were also active in the county. The post-World War II era has seen Victoria County prosper and gain regional importance.”

“The U.S. Census counted 91,081 people living in Victoria County in 2014; about 46.7 percent were Anglo, 44.9 percent Hispanic, and 6.8 percent African American.”

“Victoria (population, 64,834) is the county’s largest town and its seat of government. Other communities include Bloomington (2,540), Inez (2,196), Telferner (700), Placedo (720), and McFaddin (50). The county hosts a Czech Heritage Festival in October.”

- Handbook of Texas Online, Craig H. Roell, “Victoria County“ 

I was the guest of Victoria and Victoria County on June 22, 2015.

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Victoria County Courthouse – 1849

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(Photo Courtesy: Victoria County Archives)

As the first permanent courthouse in Victoria County, this building’s was created in an effort by county officials to entice a district court to Victoria. Richard Owens served as the contractor. It stood for more than forty years until history claimed it for its own in 1892. That year, it was auctioned off to make way for a newer and more impressive courthouse.

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Victoria County Courthouse – 1892

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(Photo Courtesy: THC)

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 8.46.06 PM (Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)

There are many things I could say about this building’s interesting history, but the Texas Historical Marker on the courthouse property can say it much better:

“In 1891, under leadership of County Judge J.L. Dupree, commissioners held a competition for new courthouse plans. They awarded the contract to the San Antonio firm of Gordon & Laub, comprised of acclaimed courthouse architect J. Riely Gordon and D.E. Laub. Martin, Byrne & Johnston served as general contractors. Due to Gordon’s many pressing commitments, he was discharged in May 1892. The commissioners court relied solely on Martin, Byrne & Johnston, who added elements to Gordon’s design. Their work was approved by Eugene T. Heiner, himself a noted architect, and the county accepted the completed building on January 1, 1893. As was his style, Gordon designed a courthouse reflecting the Romanesque Revival architecture of architect Henry Hobson Richardson. He adpated Richardson’s ideas to the Texas climate, providing a central atrium to bring light and ventilation into the building, which features a hipped roof with cross gables, corner pinnacles and polychromatic stonework. In the 1940s, the county adapted the atrium to serve as offices. When the need for more space arose in 1961, residents petitioned to save the courthouse, and the county built new facilities on the northeast corner of the square. Work at the turn of the 21st century largely restored the courthouse to its original design.” - Victoria County Courthouse Historical Marker

James Riely Gordon, Martin, Byrne, & Johnston, and Eugene Heiner: three of Texas’ most storied architectural powerhouses. Victoria County’s lucky!

In my opinion, the resultant courthouse is one of the finest I’ve seen.

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Victoria County Courthouse – 1967

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If you read the historical marker text above, you’ll know that this building was built next to the old courthouse (as opposed to over it). Thanks to efforts by Victoria residents, the 1892 courthouse survived demolition in the sixties, and today the square has two courthouses. However, one is clearly the prettier of the two sisters.

As they sit side by side, access to either building is only granted from the front doors you see in this picture. An above-ground tunnel connects the 1892 courthouse with the modern one.

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Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 12.19.48 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-17 at 9.23.47 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-17 at 9.25.43 PMHere’s the tunnel.

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 9.29.51 PMTo me, it looks like the kind you walk through to see the shark exhibit at an aquarium.

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Both courthouses

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The main entrance (now defunct) faces west on Bridge Street.

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The southern corner

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 12.08.41 PMConstitution Street’s southwest entrance

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Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 12.19.07 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-02 at 12.19.28 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-02 at 12.11.26 PMThe Victoria County Jail, adjacent to the courthouse at the corner of Glass & Constitution

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Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 9.20.26 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-02 at 2.13.55 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-17 at 9.21.26 PMA central atrium boasts an elevator (whose mechanics are open for everyone to see).

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Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 8.58.57 PMThe second-floor courtroom is a sight to behold.

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Behind the partition between judge’s seat and patrons’ seats is a staircase that leads to the judge’s office and an emergency exit.

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Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 9.06.19 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-17 at 9.06.29 PMHistoric wooden fixtures on the north side of the courtroom

Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 9.18.47 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-17 at 9.19.04 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-17 at 9.20.01 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-17 at 9.22.02 PMHeading back to the 1967 courthouse

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Victoria

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