Webb County Courthouse, Laredo, Texas

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“As I walked out in the streets of Laredo / As I walked out in Laredo one day / I spied a young cowboy, wrapped in all in white linen / Wrapped in white linen as cold as the clay” - Marty Robbins, “Streets of Laredo

“Webb County includes 3,363 square miles of generally flat to rolling terrain covered with grasses, mesquite, thorny shrubs, and cacti. Elevation ranges from 400 to 700 feet, and soils are primarily clayey and loamy. The northern and eastern sections are drained by a number of creeks that flow north and eventually enter the Nueces River; the southern and western parts of the county are drained by the Rio Grande.”

“In 1755, under the direction and guidance of José de Escandón, a settlement was established near the Jacinto ford by Tomás Sánchez de la Barrera y Garza. The settlement, named Laredo, was actually little more than a ranch in its first years of existence, but it flourished under the leadership of Sánchez. In 1755 only three families moved to the area, but by 1757 Laredo had grown to eleven families and eighty-five people. By 1767, when a royal commission visited Laredo, 185 people lived there.”

“In 1772 the Spanish authorities had placed a permanent military garrison at Laredo, but neither these troops nor their successors sent by the Mexican republic after 1824 could ensure permanent protection for settlers. Indian attacks became a particular problem during and after the Mexican War of Independence; writing for help in 1837, a Laredo official estimated that since 1813 the area had known “only three years of peace.”"

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“The area suffered most from Indian attacks during the 1830s, especially after 1835 when the Texas Revolution diverted the attention and resources of the Mexican government away from the growing Indian menace. Receiving no help from the Tamaulipas state government, the alcalde of Laredo petitioned Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna for help and suggested that, in the face of continuing Comanche attacks, the town might have to be abandoned. Preoccupied with their own problems, and content for the moment to remain within the Republic of Mexico, the people of Laredo and the surrounding area played only a small role in the Texas Revolution.”

“Between 1836 and 1848 the area that is now Webb County was part of the disputed strip of land between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River claimed by both Mexico and Texas. Though Laredo was briefly designated capital of the short-lived Republic of the Rio Grande during a federalist rebellion led by Antonio Canales, residents remained primarily loyal to the Republic of Mexico.”

“The area was brought more firmly into the orbit of the United States during the Mexican War of 1845–48. Laredo was captured in 1846 and held for the duration of the war. Meanwhile, even before the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgoassigned the Nueces Strip to Texas, legislators in Austin included it in the new jurisdiction of Nueces County in 1846; in January 1848 the Texas legislature established Webb County, which was named in honor of Judge James Webb.”

“The connection with the outside world also had far-reaching effects on the culture of the county, for it brought an infusion of American culture to what had been essentially a Mexican ranching community. After 1881 the number of Anglo-Americans began to increase, and by 1900 they represented one-fourth of the population of 21,851. The coming of the railroads also brought about the establishment of numerous new towns, including Nye, Sanchez, Webb, Callaghan, Cactus, Pescadito, Reiser, Aguilares, Oilton, Mirando City, and Bruni, which grew up along their routes, replacing many of the earlier ranching communities.”

“The 1880s also saw the rise of two political factions- the Botas and Guaraches. Leaders of the Botas (“Boots,” a symbol of wealth and class) included Raymond Martin and county judge José María Rodríguez, while Santos Benavides was a major figure in the Citizen’s Party or Guaraches (“Sandals,” symbolizing the lower class). In the 1890s the rival factions united to form the Independent Club, which dominated county politics until the 1970s.”

“On March 12, 1899, the Texas legislature abolished Encinal County and added its territory to Webb County, which became the largest Texas county east of the Pecos River. By 1900 large numbers of Anglo immigrants began to move into the county, turning former rangeland into farmland. The introduction of water pumps powered by wind, gas, and electricity for the first time allowed for large-scale irrigation along the Rio Grande. In 1898 Thomas Nye began to irrigate his fields for vegetables, especially Bermuda onions, which thrived in the warm climate.”

“The population was 42,128 in 1930. Farming continued to play an important part in the economy, but with the onset of the Great Depression in the early 1930s agriculture went into a steep decline. Competition from the lower Rio Grande valleyand a decline in prices dealt a serious blow to the onion and cotton growers, as did increasing diesel fuel prices, which made irrigation more expensive.”

“After [World War II] ranching and the oil and gas industry increasingly took center stage in the county’s economy. Many of the remaining farmers gave up agriculture, and by 1970 farming played only a very minor role in the economy. The county population was 56,141 in 1950 and 72,859 in 1970. In 1980 Webb County was the seventh-largest beef-producing county in the state; principal breeds included Santa Gertrudis, Hereford, Brahman, and Charolais cattle. In 1982 over 90 percent of the county’s land was devoted to ranching.”

“In the early 1980s leading industries in Webb County included tourism, oil and gas extraction, general and heavy construction, meat packing, soft-drink bottling and canning, trucking, and the manufacture of clothing and leather shoes. In 1982 Webb County ranked ninety-eighth in the state in the highest agricultural receipts, with 83 percent coming from livestock and livestock products, especially cattle. Principal crops included sorghum and hay.”

“Laredo, with 122,899 residents, accounted for more than 90 percent of the population [in 1990]. Persons of Hispanic descent formed the largest ancestry group with 93.9 percent.”

“In recent years uranium mining has emerged as a significant industry, and at least one coal mine was operating in the late 1980s. International trade and tourism, however, appeared to constitute the most important future sectors of the economy, with Laredo serving as a major gateway to Mexico.”

- Handbook of Texas Online, John Leffler and Christopher Long, “Webb County

I was the guest of Laredo and Webb County on August 11, 2014.

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Webb County Courthouse – 1882

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(Photo Courtesy: Terry Jeanson)

The county says the courthouse was completed in 1882, but the THC claims 1885. Either way, it burned in 1906. That much is certain. We don’t know much else.

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Webb County Courthouse – 1909

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 11.12.09 AM(Photo Courtesy: THC)Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 11.11.59 AM(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)

Apparently, when the previous courthouse went up in smoke, Webb County put out a state-wide competition for the architectural plans of their next one. Renowned architect Alfred Giles secured first place and his design would cost the county a total of $46,918.00.

Courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission, here’s an excerpt on the lasting architectural heritage of Giles’ work in Webb County:

“It is rectilinear, with its length running from east to west. The courthouse exterior features colorful, native yellow brick embellished by white stone and red tile mansard roofs. The many horizontal bands of brick that dominate the first floor create a rusticated look. Less prominent horizontal banding is seen on the second floor and part of the third floor. Both the north and south have arcaded porches on the first and second levels that are placed between mansard roof pavilions on each corner. Pronounced extrados are found on the circular arches, and prominent white keystones and decorative brickwork are found on the abutments. A white stone balustrade runs between the arched openings along the second-story porch. A parapet, constructed from identical white stone balusters and yellow brick, sits above the second-floor porches. The third story of the building displays both bull’s eye and arched windows. Three white stone voussoirs are used to embellish the third-story windows. Most of the windows on the first and second floors are one-over-one lights, or double-hung windows. The east and west facades are similar to the north and south facades. They feature a recessed entrance and second-story porch, but they are not flanked by pronounced pavilions and do not have bull’s eye windows or a parapet. The second-story porch windows are arched. A cornice and a brick parapet top the building. The four convex mansard roofs are adorned with bull’s eye windows with hoods. Each of these pavilions featured metal ram’s heads accenting the corners of each roof’s cresting. Colorful tile floors characterized the original interior of the courthouse” 

A newer justice center was added to Laredo in 1992, but the historic courthouse still houses some of the county offices.

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Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.20.24 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-13 at 11.42.31 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-13 at 11.44.10 AMThis grand entrance faces directly west, and overlooks a parking lot, Flores Avenue, and Laredo City Hall beyond.

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 11.45.32 AMThat’s City Hall you see there.

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.04.52 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-13 at 11.44.50 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-13 at 11.48.43 AMWonder where that goes…

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.03.19 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-13 at 11.49.44 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-13 at 11.55.24 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-13 at 11.59.33 AMScreen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.00.54 PMYou could say that the Office of the Commissioner is “decorated”.

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.01.50 PMThis stained-glass window was installed in 2009…

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 11.51.42 AM…but this one dates back to 1909, according to a security guard inside.

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.01.26 PMThis fuze box is also original.

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.04.00 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.14.23 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.04.40 PMThe heavily shaded southwest corner

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Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.07.42 PM I was interested to see directions posted on the southern entrance to use the western doors written only in Spanish, as opposed to being in both English and Spanish. I knew that I was getting deep into South Texas.

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Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.08.35 PMHouston Street, as seen from the southern doors

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The sign says annex, but the boarded windows say abandoned.

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.08.56 PMHowever, I understand it is still in use.

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Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.10.45 PMThe eastern façade is a copy of the western, but in my opinion, the trees diminish its grandeur just a little.

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Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.16.14 PMThis is the northeast corner. I love the red roofs.

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.15.35 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.13.10 PMThe northern entrance is on Victoria Street.

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Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.15.06 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.11.42 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.14.10 PMScreen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.16.48 PMThe full building

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Laredo & Webb County

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The Laredo Sheriff’s Office is directly diagonal from the courthouse’s northeast corner.

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“The Streets of Laredo”

Screen Shot 2015-06-13 at 12.19.45 PMSouthbound on Highway 83 through brush country, en route to Zapata

Previous Courthouse: Dimmit County

Next Courthouse: Zapata County

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