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Gonzales County Courthouse

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery
The following article is from the original April 23, 1896, issue of The Gonzales Inquirer. I worked for that newspaper, located in Gonzales, Texas, from 1997-2002. The story was located on the front page of the old paper and it was crumbling away as time and the elements had taken their toll. I was able to read most of it, however, and have typed it out in its entirety. You will see in one of the paragraphs that I have noted where words are missing. This is due to a one inch hole in the page where the type was no longer there.

Every effort was made to copy this information just as it was written, including spelling and punctuation. You will observe that words which we normally capitalize, the writer of this article did not. Every effort has been made to reproduce this piece in its original form. — Murray Montgomery
TX - Gonzales County Courthouse, square with Soldiers
Soldiers on parade with Gonzales County Courthouse in background
Vintage photo courtesy Gonzales County Archives.
The Gonzales Inquirer - April 23, 1896 -
Gonzales County Temple of Justice, A Beautiful and Imposing Building, Costing About $70,000 - Work Commenced On The Building in June, 1893.]

In the present courthouse Gonzales county has a building that has not only gained notoriety in Gonzales county, but nearly all South Texas, growing out of the friction in letting the contract.

It is not the purport of this article to criticize, but to praise the new building, for it is a thing of beauty, and will to some be a joy forever. It is also the Inquirer's desire to give its readers an adequate idea of the building and construction, who are unable to examine and see it personally.

It is the fourth courthouse in the history of Gonzales. The first one, in the early days of the Republic of Texas, was made of clapboards, so the Inquirer understands, and was typical of the then rude development. It had but one or two windows, and a stick chimney, such as you now sometimes see in the country made of sticks and daubed with clay.

The building was also used for school purposes, preaching, Masonic temple and general entertainment hall. It stood near where the present Methodist parsonage now stands, and was noted in its day for the experiences incident to the times and trials of the day.

On one occasion, it is said, that the Masonic lodge was initiating a candidate, some prying character was in a neighboring Senabean patch eavesdropping, when he slipped up to the rude building and peering through the cracks, thought he saw some diabolical deed being perpetrated and ran away to give the warning.

Going to a well known citizen, white with terror, he told him that he saw them kill a man and were carrying him off in a blanket to hide his body. The citizen realized that the man was laboring under some optical illusion, and also that he had been eavesdropping at a Masonic meeting, asked him if he was sure he saw what he claimed and would swear to it.

The citizen then informed the man of the enormity of his crime, stating that no man had ever been known to have eavesdropped a lodge or divulged its secrets and lived, and if he thought he was not mistaken and had thus told on himself the best thing he could do was to leave the county as fast as horses feet could carry him. The fellow, thoroughly terrorized, was seen going through the streets of Seguin the next day in a long lope, and he has never been heard of since.

At another time two spurred knights of the times, known as "Goat" Jones and "Pony" Hall, came to town and getting too much Guadalupe water, wanted to signalize themselves in true Don Quixote style, and losing their raw hide lariats, lassoed the chimney of the courthouse and disappeared in a cloud of dust.

The little old wooden building, as well as the two-story brick which followed, and the recent courthouse which was erected in 1853 and destroyed by fire on the 18th of December, 1893, were rich with interesting incidents peculiar to the times and frontier days.
TX - Gonzales County Courthouse 1939 old photo

Gonzales County Courthouse as it appeared in 1939
Photo courtesy TXDoT

One can hardly realize that the now stately, beautiful and costly edifice that adorns courthouse square came out of the ashes of the other humble abodes of law and justice, and only the few mementos deposited in the corner stone will tell of the days gone by.

The contract for the present building was let in April 1894 to Mr. Otto P. Kroeger, of San Antonio, who built the Bexar county courthouse and a score of others throughout the state. He is a young man, and has an exceptional record as an architect and builder, for he has, perhaps, built more and finer courthouses in the state than any other one architect, and he yet a young man.
TX - Gonzales County Courthouse  cornerstone
Courthouse Cornerstone
TE photo, 2002
More Texas Cornerstones
On the 23rd day of April, 1895, the corner stone was laid without public demonstration, other than a small crowd gathered to witness the incident, and the commissionerís court. Quite a lot of souvenirs were deposited in the copper box and covered with the stone for some future generation to ponder over and handle.

The design of the building is of the Spanish-Venetian type and thus emphasizes the historical relations of our quaint and heroic town. In arrangement it is novel and cozy. It is different from most public buildings as it is almost devoid of the usual long, misleading and space consuming halls.
TX - Gonzales County Courthouse  old photo

Another view of the Gonzales County Courthouse
Old photo courtesy THC

The entrances are from each corner, the steps leading to balconies and when one enters the arcade he has each office on the ground floor under his eye. The second and third floors are arranged likewise—all offices facing the arcade.

The building has a center tower surrounded by an arcade. The tower serves the quadruple purpose of light shaft, air shaft, main stair shaft and base of the main tower, the apex 100 feet from the ground. The building is strictly fire-proof according to the best means known to modern science, the only wood used in the building being door, window-frames, etc.

TX - Gonzales County Courthouse  basement
Courthouse Basement
TE photo, 2002

The building comprises three floors and a basement. The brick used for the inner walls and foundation were made on the river about three miles from town, known as the Southwestern White Brick, noted for strength and durability. About one million of these brick were used. The outer lining of wall is of red hydraulic pressed brick, taking ninety-two thousand in the construction of the building.

The rock trimming is of gray sand stone from Warrensburg, Mo., the columns and steps of polished granite from Llano [Texas]. The roof is of slate with copper guttering and terra cotta cornice work. In making the excavation for the foundation and basement, it was found that the soil varied in density sometimes equal to 90 per cent in ten feet. To overcome this and add to the tensile strength of the foundation, Ransom's patented twisted iron was placed in the cement and the usual tensile strength given to the foundation.

The building is 91 by 103 feet, and from ground to apex of tower 100 feet. As one enters the building from the step balconies the arcade is entered and a forest of arches is presented to view supporting the stairway shaft. A double stairway leads from the first to the third floor, and the base of the tower. The tower is reached by a winding stairway.

TX - Gonzales County Courthouse  Newel
Courthouse Newel
TE photo, 2002
TX - Gonzales County Courthouse  Staircase
Courthouse Staircase
TE photo, 2002
TX - Gonzales County Courthouse  Staircase looking up
TE photo, 2002
TX - Gonzales County Courthouse Spiral Staircase
Spiral Staircase
TE photo, 2002
On the first floor is located the county court room, county clerk's room, collector's office, record room and county judge's office. Each office also has a private office and necessary vaults. In the record room are tier upon tier of metal shelving for filing books, and in the county court room metal cases and boxes for filing papers.

The county court room will be one of the prettiest rooms in the building when furnished. The walls are of immaculate white with marble tiled floor, and exquisite grained wainscoting. The walls of all the rooms, arcade, arches, ceiling, etc., are finished in Aerna cement plaster of snow purity and of a hardness that almost defies destruction by usage.

On the second floor is located the district court room, district clerk's office, surveyor's office, male and female witness rooms, county and district attorney's office, vaults and private offices. The district court room while large and finely finished has been crowded by a ladies and general gallery.

Back of the judge's facade a stairway leads from the court room up and over the court room [words missing] ... third floor where there are two [words missing] ... rooms. On the third floor are [words missing] ... petit jury rooms and the grand jury room.
TX - Gonzales County Courthouse Clerk's door
District Clerk Door
TE photo, 2002
TX - Gonzales County Courthouse floor
Courthouse Floor
TE photo, 2002

The rooms are yet nude, but suitable furniture has been under contract and will soon be in place, and doubtless will add much to the attractiveness of the rooms. Every room in the building is a corner room with plenty of light and ventilation and convenient balconies.

In fact it is admirable arranged in every particular, but some say, with some reasonableness that some of the rooms are too small, and especially the district court room. However it is an admirable building in most respects and one that the county can well take pride in.

Furniture is the only thing now required to make the building complete and habitable. The Inquirer understands that the court will improve the square and fence it with an iron fence.

It should be done by all means, as it will add much to the effect of the building, and a $70,000 courthouse should not be set in a weed patch surrounded with pig pens and stables.

© Murray Montgomery
June 18, 2012 column
More Lone Star Diary
See Gonzales County Courthouse by Lou Ann Herda
Gonzales, Texas | Texas Courthouses |

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TX - Gonzales County Courthouse Doorlatch
TE photo, 2002
TX - Gonzales County Courthouse Window Lock
Window Lock
TE photo, 2002
TX - Gonzales County Courthouse Window
Courthouse Window
TE photo, 2002
TX - Gonzales County Courthouse Window with flag
Flag on Courthouse Window
TE photo, 2002
TX - Gonzales County Courthouse capital
Courthouse Capital
TE photo, 2002
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