beloved 1888 (former) Austin County Courthouse in Bellville|
Bellville Historical Society
Austin County has had a total of six courthouses according to the Bellville Times.
Courthouses of Texas by Mavis P. Kelsey, Sr. and Donald H. Dyal list only four.
Both sources agree on the final two - (1888 and 1960) which are the ones discussed
in this article. |
Our article here contains some mention of the old, some
mention of the new, some mention of the fire, and some mention of people's reaction.
But the one subject that outweighs all the others combined is the widespread remembrance
of the former courthouse. Reminders are found all over town.
The "Majestic" Courthouse
1939 photo Courtesy TXDoT
T. Heiner's name on the salvaged cornerstone |
TE photo 11-04
| The 1888
Courthouse designed by Eugene T. Heiner was built for a total cost of $45,000.
Heiner's commission was $955.50. (Architects usually received a percentage of
the total cost.) A prolific designer based in Houston, Heiner had designed scores
of buildings, including many courthouses. Today only Lavaca
County (Hallettsville) and Wharton
County (Wharton) have unaltered Heiner courthouses. |
of Main Street from the railroad tracks. Courthouse in distance. |
courtesy Bellville Library
of Two Time Capsules |
After the 1960 fire, the cornerstone of the 1888
courthouse took several taps from the wrecking ball to dislodge it. Once loosened,
a crowd searched the stone for the articles that had been placed in it when it
was set. Unfortunately most of the contents had been ruined by dampness and rot.
A few Czech language newspapers (printed in Texas) crumbled into dust before they
could read. It also contained a A Bible that was recognizable only by its covers.
The frugality of a previous generation of Bellvillains was shown when only two
coins were found (both dated 1876). There was also Civil War paper script for
50 cents. The town druggist had left a small box of pills and a square-headed
nail from the previous courthouse was also included.
To avoid a similar
disappointment for those who will eventually open the last capsule, special precautions
were taken. The new "capsule" is actually a bronze box which was soldered shut
to repel dampness. But since the public had been invited to contribute things,
a tardy donor caused the box to be pried open to accept the late item.
The present building doesn't have a cornerstone due to the slab-type style of
construction. Instead, the box was hidden behind a corner slab. The 1876 coins
were replaced along with five more coins; a quarter (said to represent the county
judge) and four nickels to represent the county commissioners. Probably inspired
by the old druggist's offering, a Bellville doctor placed a box of Anacin in the
new capsule. A Humble Credit Card was contributed - and not to be outdone, the
local Texaco dealer contributed "a Texas Company" credit card.
Photo Courtesy Bellville Times
The reason for building the new courthouse was a fire of undetermined
origin. About 2:30 a.m. on April 5, 1960, Bellville's night watchman heard breaking
glass. It is thought that the heat from the already-burning fire was shattering
the windows. After phoning for help, he returned to see flames already approaching
the tower. Within five minutes, fire departments from Sealy, New Ulm, Industry
and Rosenburg were responding. (Brenham was not mentioned.) One fireman reported
that he had traveled 42 miles in 28 minutes (which works out to be 90 miles per
hour). Before long the bell crashed through the building's roof and went all the
way to the basement. It was estimated that 450,000 gallons of water were sprayed
onto the building and others on the square that were in danger of being ignited
by cinders. When it was all over, the cracked bell in the basement was under four
feet of water. Casper Balke, a resident of Bleiberville (11 air miles from Bellville)
reported seeing the flames from that distance.
An ugly gutted shell was
left standing and the county now had to face the expense of demolition. The courthouse
pigeons attempted to return to their roosts in the brick eaves. After the ruins
cooled sufficiently, the pigeons did return - until the walls were demolished.
to 60,000 bricks were cleaned and sold. The old bell now sits atop the former
cornerstone in front of the new building. A short length of surviving banister
is housed nearby at the old Austin County jail museum and a few scorched pieces
of furniture survived.
courthouse remembered: Images in paint, wood and china - next