“I remember the palm trees swaying / Cross the river the sweet music playing / Down on the Rio Grande.” – Johnny Rodriguez, Down on the Rio Grande
Day 2 would cover some 350 odd miles from Hondo to the tip of Texas. Out of every day’s route, this one followed the course of the Rio Grande the farthest. But to start the day, there were still two stops before reaching the US-Mexico Border. The first was to go back downtown to see the courthouse again.
Sure enough, my hunch had been right. Landscapers were already at work early in the morning on repairing the courthouse lawn.
Good thing I took the pictures the night before. The revisit did allow me to see the inside though.
The second stop before the border was ahead, forty-two miles to the west of Hondo. As we crossed into Uvalde County on Highway 90, we passed through the small town of Sabinal. My grandfather recalled that one of his great friends, J.P. Woodley, had lived here at a time. They’d spent their senior year together back in Glen Rose. His father had been the county judge here for twelve years (1951-1962). We made a point to look for his portrait one we got to the Uvalde County courthouse.
When we reached the town of Uvalde, we first had breakfast at a small restaurant called The Kettle and then proceeded to the courthouse. Here I was met with sunlight conditions that I just had to make the best of. You can judge by the picture that I ran into some trouble. However, with the process of editing, I’m able to make my photos here a little better.
We also went inside, looking intently for the portrait. We found Judge Woodley hanging on the wall in the second-floor district courtroom.
He’s the one in the middle
Once done with #187, it was time for our first border town. Our route took us south first to the town of La Pryor, where we changed highways for the west. Speeding down miles of highway through the prairies, we grew closer and closer to the border.
At the end of that highway stretch spilled out the twin-cities of Eagle Pass, Texas and Piedras Negras, Coahuila (Mexico). In Spanish, Piedras Negras, means “Black Stones.” The area was once a prominent coal mining site, reflecting the name.
The third-oldest courthouse to be seen on this trip, this building has been serving Maverick County since 1885. Four years after the creation of the courthouse, national attention was brought to Eagle Pass when Dan Duncan was tried for the brutal murder of three woman and a young boy, inside this very courthouse. That year, the victims had been found weighed down at the bottom of the Rio Grande, and the Texas Rangers had worked tirelessly to find information on the killer. They eventually followed his trail to San Saba and Duncan was indicted. Sentenced to death by Maverick County Judge, Winchester Kelso, Duncan was hanged in the county jail in 1891. This was Maverick County’s only use of capital punishment.
Unfortunately, the historic courtroom where this trial took place, was occupied at the time of my visit. I did, however, get to take a look at the first floor interior.
In addition to this very unique, historic courthouse, Maverick County also boasts a more recent, more modern structure just up the block from its counterpart.
As we left Eagle Pass, we passed by the International Crossing here between the US and Mexico. Piedras Negras advertises itself as “The Safe Border” (more safe, I’m sure, than its neighbor, Nuevo Laredo, to the south).
Crystal City, seat of Zavala County, was incorporated in 1910, became the county seat in 1928, and joined the railroad between the late twenties and early thirties.
The economic boost from the rail system created a market for produce, especially winter vegetables, to send north. Soon, Crystal City’s signature crop had become spinach. In 1936, the town held its first Spinach Festival, and in 1937, a statue of Popeye was constructed in front of City Hall.
The history behind the town is one thing, and the history of the courthouse is another. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much of a history for this 1970s byproduct.
I cannot understand what makes a county do this to itself. Previously, I had made the claim that I thought the ugliest courthouse in Texas was in Baylor County. I was wrong. Now, I have found the real titleholder. Not only is this just a pain to look at, but it has no real inside. Yes, that’s right. Take a closer look.Baylor County has and this doesn’t, is a front door.
City Hall’s just down the street from the courthouse.
Crystal City is in southern Zavala County, just a few miles from the county line. That made the trip to the next county seat very quick.
Carrizo Springs has a pleasant, Classical Revival-styled building as its courthouse. Originally constructed in 1884 (making it the second-oldest courthouse on this trip), it underwent a heavy remodel in 1927 that changed its appearance. It’s still nice. The only issue I had with it, was the assortment of trees partially blocking my view of the main façade.
After asking locals what was good for lunch, we drove south of town to the Balia Inn, a motel on the outskirts of Carrizo Springs. There also, is the Balia Restaurant. We needed to eat while in town before beginning the next stretch of highway to Laredo, more than an hour away. There’d be no other opportunity between here and there.
The closer we got to Laredo, the more I recalled the Marty Robbins song, “The Streets of Laredo“.
Being a huge Marty Robbins fan, and having never been to Laredo, I finally had the chance to see what he’d been singing about in that song. Before we went to explore the Streets of Laredo, we stopped first at the Webb County courthouse (#191).
Inside the courthouse, we were met by a curious security guard who was receptive to the project. He recommended looking at such features as original stain glass panels in the walls and an antique fuse box.
After leaving him, I finished photographing the courthouse and walked back to the car. As I got in, we noticed a police officer briskly crossing the street from the Laredo Police Department, towards our car. When I first got out of the car, I’d noticed the car parked in front of us had a wheel clamp. I figured he was coming over to expect it, but I realized I was wrong as soon as he passed it, instead approaching my window.
Unlike the security guard inside, he was not as receptive to my project. Instead, he demanded an answer as to why I’d been photographing the courthouse and from whom I got permission. Ol’ Sheriff Glass’ version of questioning up in Hansford County was nothing like this guy’s.
After informing him we’d spoken to the security guard inside, he was quick to his radio to back up the story. When he’d heard what he wanted to hear rom the other end, he shamefully ushered us on and returned to the Police Department Building. I’m sure he felt bad for antagonizing a harmless project like mine, but down in Laredo, one can probably never be too careful. Still, I could have done without the harassment.
Leaving this scene behind, we went a few blocks south towards the border to check out the Streets of Laredo.
Next up was Zapata County, another long drive to the south. In area, Webb County is the largest county in South Texas, meaning there is a lot of ground to cover to get out of it. The town of Zapata is nearly another hour down Highway 83 to the south.
It’s funny. One of my favorite courthouses of the trip, and definitely one of the nicest, was the youngest one. That’s not how it usually goes. The Zapata County courthouse was built in 2006.
There’s no doubt about the modernness of this building, but for the first time in a long time, I use the word “modern” in a good way. This is good news for courthouses. As history progresses, and other courthouses are built, we may be able to enjoy more historic-looking buildings. This, and the large Galveston County Courts Building I saw back in June, seem to be paying tribute to the old style of courthouses. They aren’t hard to look at like the modern courthouses constructed from the 1950s to 1980s.
After Zapata, we followed the course of the Rio Grande continually south until it bends to turn east, towards the Gulf of Mexico. Near this point is the town of Roma, situated on a small bluff above the border that offers nice views of the Mexican state, Tamaulipas, beyond.
We were now in Starr County, named for James Harper Starr, a Secretary of the Treasury for the Republic of Texas. East of Roma is the county seat, namely Rio Grande City. You can understand why it’s named how it is.
It was our night’s stop. But before checking in to the Holiday Inn Express in town, we went down to the courthouse.
These red steps are nearly blinding to look at in this photo, and ever more so in person. They’re the more interesting feature in this otherwise plain and lifeless building. I didn’t stay long here. I didn’t want to. Our next stop was to the local HEB.
While here, I learned of the passing of comedian Robin Williams. Although it was all over the news the past afternoon, I’d been “out of the loop” until I checked the Internet minutes after leaving the Starr County courthouse. I’ve always enjoyed Williams’ humor and it was a shock and disappointment to learn about his death. What a sad ending to the day.
We checked into the hotel next, and then went out for dinner. We came back, and went to bed not long after. There was another long day ahead.