The Embodiment of Human Endeavor by
Guy R. Giersch
down the east side of the square. Stop. View for a few minutes the towers of the
courthouse and you will wonder why they are allowed to remain in their present
unsightly condition. The panes in the windows are broken out; the shutters are
torn off and lie in the debris in the attic, the rain blows in at the openings.
Bats in the belfry? No one can say, but it is known that hundreds of
English sparrows and pigeons find a roosting place in the towers. If Collin County
is not able to build a new Temple of Justice … then we can at least put in some
window-panes and patch up the holes.
On top of all that, the roof leaks,
the floors are warped, and county records are getting soaked.
would think you were reading a recent report but this came from the May 5, 1921
edition of the Weekly Democrat-Gazette. The same could have been said of
conditions prior to the start of restoration and rehabilitation of the Old
Collin County Courthouse.|
1874 Collin County Courthouse as it appeared in 1908|
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/
1874 Collin County Courthouse after the 1927 remodeling|
| In January
1928, County Judge A.M. Wolford gave the editor of the Weekly Democrat-Gazette
a tour of the newly remodeled courthouse. His report dated January 12, 1928 follows:
imposing new Temple of Justice is now steadily nearing completion. It is a decided
improvement over the old structure in appearance since the brickwork has been
finished and the entrances are nearing completion. The massive concrete columns
at the north and south entrances and the smaller ones to the eastern and western
doors will add beauty to the general architectural design of the whole building.
year on February 16, 1928, Reverend J.A. Old, pastor of the First Methodist Church,
told the editor of the Weekly Democrat-Gazette his opinion of the newly
watched with a great deal of interest and appreciation the transformation of the
old courthouse, which had gotten to be a painful to the eye and in very bad repair,
into a thing pleasurable to the eyes, finely arranged and splendidly substantial.
I am convinced that the building is substantial and well arranged, as
if a new building had been erected from the foundation, and in the use of the
old walls many thousands of dollars have been saved.
But the thing that
is most notable to me is the beauty of the building. I stood at the northeast
corner of the square a few days ago and feasted my eyes for a great while on the
view that it offered me. There was nothing to jar or grate on the aesthetic senses.
Every feature being worked out into fineness and fullest harmony. The color scheme,
the proportions and the expressions of substantialness, all harmonize into superb
Justice should be pictured to us as something attractive and
noble by the building that houses it. And this has been admirably achieved in
the new courthouse.
|Reverend Old was aware
of the way architecture embodies the ideals of the builders. It is quite possible
that Reverend Old had a classical education where he learned of Jeffersonian ideals
that made a connection between politics and architecture. While Jefferson was
in France he encountered the Enlightenment philosophers’ admiration for the Roman
Republic and the notion that Roman architecture embodied the philosophy of the
Republic. After Jefferson viewed the Roman temple at Maison Carrée he adopted
the building style into the architectural forms used for the University of Virginia.
The ‘Age of Enlightenment’ promoted the concept that humans have certain inalienable
rights. Our Constitution reflects the philosophies of the Enlightenment. In order
to understand the beauty of the 1927 Collin County Courthouse as compared to that
of the 1876 Collin County Courthouse we must understand the times and the philosophy
that shaped the minds that shaped the architecture. |
1927 remodeled Collin County Courthouse, Neoclassical Revival Style|
courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
Old Collin County Courthouse is a three-story courthouse built in the Neoclassical
Revival Style. Neoclassical Revival architectural movement is based on the use
of Greek and Roman architectural forms. Architects of the times were inspired
by the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, which had a classical theme
as well as the classically inspired architecture of Andrea Palladio who inspired
many of the English and American architects of the 18th and 19th centuries. Neoclassical
architects of the early 20th century designed monumental classical style buildings
using giant pedimented porticoes, columns, and elaborate cornices. It has been
stated that no other style carries so well the elements of dignity, simplicity
and monumental repose essential for public buildings. |
is a rectangular plan built on a basement that serves as a podium for the building.
The band that runs around the building just above the basement windows is called
a water table and actually servers a function of diverting water away from the
foundation of the building. The second noticeable band is called a stringcourse
and it separates the ground floor from the piano noble while the last band on
the building forms the entablature. The windows give an indication of hierarchy
with each set of windows changing on each of the three floors in both size and
treatment of trim.
As you approach the Courthouse you may at first be
confused as to which side is the front. Architectural hierarchy indicates that
either the north or south entrance should be the front since they are the most
heavily detailed of the sides. The east and west sides are scaled down versions
of the north and south facades with the same smaller version of Ionic columns
with a cornice and parapets with an oculus. The oculi are the watchful eyes of
the building and the top parapet the oculi hold clocks, which give us the time
of day but also count down our time as we move through life. The very fact that
you can enter the courthouse from any side indicates the democratic ideal of all
sides are equal.
The north and south facades are dominated by larger
stairs that lead up to coupled, Ionic columns that are suspended on either side
of doors by piers, which join and form a segmental arch above the entrance. The
style is typical of the mannerist architects Palladio and Michelangelo where the
columns seem to carry an imaginary, heavy load that is not there as well as being
suspended above the ground in a manner, which appears to defy gravity. The treatment
is monumental and conveys the very idea of the gravity and weight of the decisions
within the ‘Temple of Justice.’
Entasis is evident in these columns.
Entasis is a slight convex curve specifically used to create an optical illusion
that makes the column appear straight. Entasis creates the illusion of weight
as well. The columns form part of a trabeated system, which supports a simplified
entablature. The entablature is composed of an unornamented cornice, frieze, and
architrave. The scale of the columns and entablature lends itself to the monumentality
of the Old Court House.
The segmental arched pier that supports the
columns uses a masonry technique that simulates rustication, which emphasizes
the joint and creates a sense of a heavy mass to anchor the columns. The cast
stone elements that surround the doors have fasces. They symbolize the power of
life or death that a Roman Magistrate had over the Roman citizen and a correlation
could be made in terms of justice.
1874 Collin County Courthouse, Second Empire style|
Postcard circa 1908, courtesy
1874-76/1927 Collin County Courthouse Cornerstone|
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson,
|It is possible to
argue the beauty of the 1876 Second Empire Courthouse is grander than our Neo-classical
version of the Court House that stands today. However, when we arm ourselves with
the understanding of the use of the Classical idiom used to create the 1927 version
we can then understand the beauty, grace, and monumentality that was incorporated
into the ‘Old Temple of Justice’ as it stands today. Our forefathers used the
classical idiom to capture the very essence of democracy and justice. The same
foresight from times past is being shown today by our Civic Leaders. The decision
to properly restore
the Old Court House and bring back to life a building that has been the center
of life in Collin County for over sixty years is as forward thinking as that of
our forefathers who saw the need to and understood the importance of quality architecture
for the citizens of Collin County.|
Guy R. Giersch|
The Old Collin County Courthouse
is in the process of being restored
and rehabilitated into a community wide multi-use facility. The Courtroom will
have a restored
Wurlitzer Theatrical Organ installed by a group of theatrical organ enthusiasts.
I wrote this article some time past year since many people always say why can’t
we have the 1874 version instead of the ugly 1927 version of the courthouse.
I really enjoy your site. Thanks for all your hard work to keep this site
up and running. - Guy R. Giersch, Historic Preservation Officer City of McKinney,
TX, February 23, 2005