July 31, 2013: the date that I began the redo process. On that day, I had make the quick “jog” down to Bosque and Somervell Counties, seats of Meridian and Glen Rose respectively. It wasn’t a long trip, but an important one. These were the first two courthouses I ever revisited. The idea of rephotographing was new in my head. It would take me until June 12, 2014, nearly a year later, to go back to all of the first twenty on my list. Bosque County makes #10 and Somervell County makes #11.
In October of 2013, en route to the Houston area where I snagged Freestone, Montgomery, Walker, Grimes, Washington, Austin, Fort Bend, and Bastrop Counties for the first time, I made my second revisit stop in Corsicana, seat of Navarro County (#7). All three redos at this point (Bosque, Somervell, and Navarro) were all originally obtained on January 3, 2011. On that day, I had also been to Ellis, Hill, and Limestone Counties.
Flash forward to May 4, 2014, a day when I first visited Robertson County, Texas (#145) and revisited Waller, Brazos, and Falls Counties. Brazos and Falls Counties mark (#4) and (#3) on my list. I got them early on in the project on a day when we made a road trip to a town near Houston in order to pick up a dog from a breeder. On that day, I had also been to McLennan County where the seat is Waco, but at that time the courthouse was under restoration.
So after finally getting back to the Tarrant County Courthouse in downtown Fort Worth (#2) on May 24, 2014, I was left with only four courthouses of the original twenty to return to: #5, #6, #8, and #9. In other words: McLennan, Ellis, Hill, and Limestone Counties.
We set off at noon from Fort Worth (where I was enrolled in a summer class that ended at 12:00) and stopped only for a quick lunch. We weren’t concerned about time, just eager to get started. As we drove from west Fort Worth towards to Waxahachie, sparse rain drops fell on the roof of the car. For a few minutes it would rain, and for a few minutes it would stop, just to start again a few minutes later. In all the times I have gone “courthousing,” rain has been an interesting factor. If I can time my arrival at a town just right, I can make the most out of courthouse pictures. Usually, my photos during a storm are terrible, but after a storm, the colors of the courthouse sparkle due to the fresh rain.
Upon entering the “Gingerbread City,” called so for its immense collection of Victorian-styled homes, the rain was gone. Luckily, I’d able to photograph the courthouse with a relatively clear sky. It had been over three years since I last visited the Waxahachie square. Whether or not things have greatly changed, I can’t say. I hardly remember my first visit. It was one of my earliest stops in the courthouse project. One thing I did remember, though, was the striking beauty of the Ellis County courthouse. Its tower appeared quickly over a row of roofs as we entered the square via Main Street.
On the square, the courthouse is even more impressive. It’s a dominating nine-story building designed by the master of master architects, Mr. J. Riely Gordon. Constructed in 1895 in the Richardsonian Romanesque Style, this is arguably Gordon’s best known Texas courthouse (out of 16). Many people refer to it as “the most beautiful courthouse in the entire state.”
It’s very easy to see why. Like it is for many people, the Ellis County courthouse is one of my favorites. As we prepared to leave Waxahachie, the rain picked up again and began pelting down with extreme force. It was as if someone had just let a giant bucket loose upstairs. We left the square and moved on towards the Interstate. Passing through downtown, we encountered row after row of Victorian homes. It seemed like every other one had a historical marker on its front porch.
Hillsboro was next, a quick trip down I-35 E. Hillsboro lies just to the southwest of the junction of both I-35 W and E. Here, the Interstates merge and head south towards Austin, San Antonio, and Laredo beyond. That being said, Hillsboro is a popular spot for travelers to pass through headed to or from the DFW area. On road trips to San Antonio and Austin I’ve passed through here many times, and every time I have been fondly greeted by the looming tower of the Hill County courthouse. It’s visible for several miles to the west of the Interstate.
There was period in the nineties, though that this historic 1890 building was not visible for miles. Tragedy struck Hill County on the night of January 1, 1993 when an electrical fire claimed the building, toppling the massive tower as terrified onlookers watched. It took fifteen fire departments, from Hill County alone, and a few others from surrounding counties to battle the flames. At dawn, after the fire had ended, only the charred exterior of the second and first floors remained, a shell of what the courthouse used to be.
The Hill County residents’ pride in their building was strong enough to keep it alive. Instead of electing to demolish the structure in favor of something new, they worked for four years to restore the building. Hill County’s most famous native son, Willie Nelson, even held two concerts on the Hillsboro square in order to help raise funds for the complete restoration. In 1997, four years after the fire, W.C. Dodson’s vision for the Hill County courthouse finally stood again
While at the courthouse, my curiosity was peaked when in one of the stairwells, I came across this, seemingly a “bridge to nowhere.”
I stepped on to it to take a look out the window. Lucky enough, I ran into Betty, a courthouse worker who said she “would do me one better.” Betty walked across the “bridge” to the window and opened it, revealing an entrance to the courthouse balcony. Neat! Betty let me take pictures outside on the balcony as well as in the courthouse library (which she took us to next) on the sole condition I didn’t get her in any of them. Good enough for me.
On the balcony she showed me a great collection of carvings people had done throughout the years. People had signed their names along the columns and walls, usually signing the date as well. She and I found one that dated back to 1916, when the courthouse was only twenty-six years old.
Thanking Betty, we left the courthouse and headed out of downtown, back to the east towards I-35. Nearly sixty miles to the southeast was our next stop, on the opposite side of the Interstate. Groesbeck, seat of Limestone County has a large 1924 building that occupies its downtown. Not on a “square,” the building is instead a block to the southeast of the “main stretch” along Navasota Street. I remembered that my original photo taken here was at the northwest entrance rather than the northeast entrance (the main one). In Groesbeck, I made sure to right this wrong and also added a series of Limestone County pictures to my collection.
Not my favorite courthouse, but then again, it’s got Ellis County to compete with two counties north. And it far outshines its counterpart in Falls County, one county to the southwest. The interior is very large and spacious, reminding me somewhat of a train station. It’s also vaguely similar to the interior of the Hutchinson County courthouse in Stinnett, Texas I’d seen exactly two weeks before.
Also in Groesbeck (or actually just north of the city limits) is the re-creation of Fort Parker, the site of the Indian abduction of Cynthia Ann Parker. Her story is a famous one in Texas. As a young girl, she was taken from this spot, and as a grown woman she was “reclaimed” by the Texas Rangers at another spot, approximately three hundred miles to the northwest. She lived with the Indians most of her life, giving birth to three children with an Indian chief, Pete Nocona. Her most famous child was her oldest son, the future Chief Quanah Parker. I was curious about seeing this site. In our “Adobe Walls fashion”, we took off on the backroads to find ourselves the site of the abduction. The original fort is long gone, but a recreation has been built that charges admission. Too bad it was passed closing time when we arrived. Here’s a picture, though, of the outside.
We had one more stop to make after we left the fort: Waco. The seat of McLennan County is some forty miles west of Groesbeck and the time now was about 5:20. I didn’t think the sun would set on us, but we needed to get moving anyway. We stopped only once along the way in the small city of Mart at a gas station.
After Mart, Waco crept up on us quickly, and we navigated the right roads to get us to downtown. On the bridge crossing the Brazos, we could easily see the massive dome of the courthouse peek out among a collection of other downtown buildings. This courthouse is one of the most impressive in the state, in my opinion.
We arrived far past closing time, so we didn’t get to see the interior. However, the exterior sure made up for it. When I first came to this courthouse on December 29, 2010, it was under restoration. Scaffolding completely masked the dome and some other parts of the building.
This is a partial photo I have from that December day in 2010. This courthouse trip was one of my most shameful back then. I didn’t even get the dome in the shot and the picture itself it badly tilted. But you can get the idea…
We left Waco and headed northwest for home, passing into Bosque County. We had dinner in Clifton before continuing on to Granbury. I even got to drive from Clifton to Glen Rose, giving up the wheel for the last twenty minutes or so.
This trip was very practical. I was able to visit all four courthouses I needed to finish off the top twenty. Chronologically, I’d like to top off the top thirty next. That means I’ll soon be setting my sights on another “batch” of redos: courthouses in Denton, Gainesville, Sherman, Bonham, Paris, and McKinney. Stay tuned…