The magnificent chandelier presents a focal point in the atrium of
the Erath County courthouse. The ceiling above hides the bell tower.
Photo by Taylor Lang
If the folks
in Dublin, Texas, had had their way, the Erath County Courthouse
would be the center of attraction of their city. But the Dr. Pepper
plant there is almost as inviting as the impressive Romanesque
Revival courthouse in Stephenville.
My wolf friend
Dakota and I celebrated our fourth birthday the day we drove through
Erath County. Since she's a big Dr. Pepper fiend and since she gets
cranky if she doesn't get her way, a stop at Old Doc's Soda Shop
in Dublin was a must. It's right next to the oldest Dr. Pepper
bottling company in the world. Dr. Pepper there is made with real
Imperial cane sugar straight from Sugar Land, Texas, instead of
corn syrup or other sweeteners. Zing!
A short drive from Dublin is the county seat in Stephenville.
With a name like that, you figure it's named after someone. In fact,
John M. Stephen bought the land known as Erath County from the heirs
of an Alamo defender, John Blair, Jim Bowie's compatriot. Stephen
donated the land that the first courthouse would stand on and, since
the land was his, he dubbed the city "Stephenville".
The county was
named for George B. Erath, who was a busy fellow. He fought
in the Texas Revolution, including the decisive Battle of San Jacinto.
Because of his surveying capabilities, many folks settled in Central
Texas. When he wasn't busy surveying land or fighting for a cause,
he was busy in politics. In 1845 when Texas became a state, he was
voted into office as Texas senator.
fellow from Erath County was Charlie Bird. When he was young,
he and his siblings went to school only three months out of the
year. That must have been too long because he ran away from home.
Eventually, he wound up at the Matador Ranch in Motley County where
he helped drive 2,000 three-year-old steers through Indian Territory
into Kansas. Once his only pay was a broomtail pony and a worn-out
saddle, and to top it off, he had to sleep in a dugout with a horse,
a rooster, a speckled hen, and her chicks.
1892 Erath County courthouse in Stephenville,
designed by J. Reily Gordon.
Note how the two intermediate bays are brought forward and how they
are topped with triangular pediments.
by Taylor Lang
courthouse is the third courthouse that has been the seat of justice
for Erath County. In 1866, the county's first courthouse,
a wooden structure, went the way of many earlier courthouses. The
blaze could be seen for miles away. When the county decided to build
another structure, they didn't take their chances: they built it
of stone. However, by 1887, that one needed serious help.
At that time, the city of Dublin had the idea of building
the courthouse. It took the county four years to decide what to
do, but the vote in 1891 kept the county seat in Stephenville.
The old block-style courthouse was razed, and plans were made for
the new county courthouse.
cast and wrought iron staircase,
topped with Dakota Wolf, special correspondent.
Bison Bill and Swoops take second billing at the bottom.
by Taylor Lang.
A man with a
flare for design, J. Reily Gordon of San Antonio, competed
with about twenty other architects for the chance to build the edifice.
He had previously designed other structures near the Courthouse
Square, including the 1889 First National Bank. He put in
the winning bid of $65,000, which was $10,000 less than the county
wanted to spend. The cornerstone was laid on December 3, 1891,
and construction soon began.
This three-story tall structure is made of native limestone from
the Leon River and red sandstone from the Pecos River.
This courthouse is different from many other Texas courthouses in
that the tower is in the center as opposed to being off to one side.
Instead of having a corner entrance, Gordon brought the two intermediate
bays forward and topped them with triangular pediments, which he
did later with the Fayette
County and Victoria
Syrian columns support the north entrance arch, and in the central
tower, a Howard clock was installed many years after the courthouse's
East Texas pine was the wood of choice for the interior, while imported
marble covered the floors. Cast and wrought iron were used for the
stairway. One could walk into the atrium and gawk up at the bell
tower many feet up.
In 1988, the courthouse was restored. In this restoration,
the opening in the atrium leading up to the tower was sealed off.
Fortunately, this will be reopened soon through a grant the county
received through the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program.
the balustrade treatment above the doorway.
Kids from the Stephenville library storytime group join Taylor Lang,
Bison Bill, Swoops, and Dakota
in front of the Erath County Courthouse.
by Lou Ann Herda
2001, Copyright Lou
Ann Herda, Ed. D
Thanks to Sharon Fox of the Erath County Chamber of Commerce for getting
together the materials for me and for rounding up the kids from the
library. And thanks to the "soda jerk" at Old Doc's Soda Shop for
filling us in on Dr. Pepper history.
"History of Erath County Courthouse" booklet, by Mr. Robert Scott,
publication date unknown.
References and Additional
Hotel Here > Stephenville