to Demolish a Texas Courthouse in 14 Days
Bryan, Texas, 1954
Hires an Iowan to Raze their 1892 Building
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1892 Brazos County Courthouse
Postcard courtesy texasoldphotos.com
back in 1954, before "urban renewal" entered the American vocabulary,
county commissioners of Brazos County decided that they needed a new
courthouse. The one they were using was sixty-two years old and was
looking every month of it. Besides, it had always been considered
a little "fussy" to some Brazos Countians. All that rough-cut stone
was distracting and the tower was downright... Victorian. Tower-less
buildings of smooth concrete and glass bricks were going up all across
the country. Why should Brazos County be stuck with this old eyesore?
- Postcard courtesy texasoldphotos.com
Right - 1939 photo courtesy TXDoT
in most courthouse replacements - the new building was to occupy the
same space as the former. In mid-August, 1954, shortly before demolition
was to begin in earnest, the Bryan Daily Eagle interviewed the man
who was to supervise the work. The story was right there on page one
- right alongside the articles "Studebaker Workers Vote to Take Pay
Cut," "Japan Has Risen from Ruins, But Near Broke" and "Controversial
Anti-Red Bill Goes to House."
The story ran under the headline "Wrecking Boss Likes His Work." Ted
Hall, was a beefy Iowan that had turned in his bid to demolish the
courthouse without even looking at the building. He agreed to complete
the job within fourteen working days which surprised everybody involved.
Because of the sheer volume of the building, it was a Herculean feat
- if the deadline could be met. The contract (no monetary figure was
given) may have been awarded to Hall just to see if it could be done.
Hall, who had torn down buildings in 14 states (presumably with permission)
said that he had already razed over 300 buildings this size or larger.
He set up his trailer on the north side of the square and with his
crew of six started dismantling. When interviewer Ray McGehee asked
about equipment, Hall asked "What equipment?" He explained that it
was cheaper to hire a local bulldozer by the day and extra local laborers.
At the peak of destruction, Hall had 30 workers pounding, prying,
pushing and pummeling the old courthouse into gravel.
Neither Hall nor his interviewer had much to say about the doomed
building. Not even a single "they-don't-build-'em-like-that-anymore"
remark. A few days into the operation reporter McGehee said "thus
far in his Bryan operation Hall has had only minimal accidents - cut
hands and mashed feet." None of the aforementioned appendages belonged
to Mr. Hall who kept a safe distance from falling debris. Hall spent
his day answering requests for salvaged lumber and flooring. Although
he, himself was safe from injury, he pointed out that "Deep-sea diving
is the only business that carries a higher insurance rate than demolition."
Seth Thomas Clock
Reporter McGehee did seem to get a little sentimental when speaking
of the old courthouse clock. "Old and tired, the clock gave up and
stopped several years ago. [But it] had gained a place in the hearts
of Bryan people with its time-telling chimes that could be heard day
and night..." But if this was true sentiment, he snapped out of it
with his next line: "so it is fitting that this old masterpiece should
be the first to come down." The Seth Thomas clock was "unceremoniously"
thrown off the top of the building into a twisted mass of junk.
The timbers supporting the tower were found to be 6 x 14 inch heartwood
(although the tree species wasn't mentioned). This massive wood frame
slowed them a bit but McGehee reported that "after five official working
days the wreckers have rendered the building a broken twisted hulk."
The clippings of the courthouse's death and removal ended abruptly.
The paper went on to other, more pressing subjects. Nothing is known
of the clock's final resting place or if the building stone was sold
in cut form or simply used for fill. It seems that once the walls
were pulled down there was nothing to interest the public until construction
began on the new courthouse. But the casual, cold-hearted smashing
of the clock was noted by the National Association of Watch and Clock
Collectors Bulletin in their February 1988 edition.
The 1892 Brazos County courthouse cornerstone on the courthouse
Photo by John Troesser, 9-01
cornerstone is now on display in front of the main entrance of the
new courthouse, and the bell on display in the new courhouse lobby.
Photo courtesy Nesbitt Memorial Library, Columbus, Texas
Heiner, the building's architect, had died only a few years after
the building's completion so he was spared witnessing the undignified
end to his design.
mosaic "made from tile from the demolished 1892 courthouse in
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, March 2005
mosaic of the old courthouse, composed of tiles
from the Heiner building and arranged by a former Brazos County Judge
is on display in the current courthouse.
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Brazos Courthouse Mosaic
I was at the Brazos county courthouse recently and took a picture
of the mosaic made by one of the judges. It was made from tile from
the demolished 1892 courthouse in 1965.
The courthouse bell from the 1892 courthouse is also displayed in
the lobby. - Terry Jeanson, San Antonio, TX, March 22,