Texas courthouses helped establish a unique identity for each of the state’s counties, and 234 of the state’s 244 county-owned historic courthouses are still in active government use. Unfortunately, many – including some of the oldest and most architecturally distinguished – have fallen into disrepair due to inadequate funding and maintenance. In 1998, the National Trust named Texas courthouses to its list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The following year, the Texas legislature and Governor George W. Bush created the Texas Historic Courthouse Program. Administered by the Texas Historical Commission, this program has provided $247 million in matching grants to fully restore 62 historic courthouses and partially assist 21 more. While these results are impressive, more than 72 courthouses remain to be restored, including the Karnes County Courthouse. Continued state funding for the Texas Historic Courthouse Program is needed to assist preservation efforts across the state.
With this year’s legislative session now complete, we are looking ahead to the 2015 session and the opportunities for additional funding to restore historic county courthouses across the state.
Texas’ historic courthouses include some of the finest works of public architecture in Texas – and the nation. Constructed over a 100-year-period from the 1850s to the 1950s, these buildings come in almost every style, from Romanesque to Art Deco. Some 139 Texas courthouses are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
- Work with the Texas Historical Commission and Preservation Texas to raise awareness and secure funding for matching grants for local courthouse rehabilitation projects.
- Work with local residents and preservation partners to save and restore endangered courthouses across the state.
Ways To Help
Written by Jim Lindberg, Project Manager
It is 23 down and 232 more to go! That's how many Texas county courthouses National Trust staff will have to visit to join the elite club of folks who have visited every courthouse in the state. Along with my colleagues Beth Wiedower and Jason Clement, I got started on this quest as part of our "I Love Texas Courthouses" campaign during the month of February. Though we saw only a small fraction of the state's amazing collection of historic courthouses, it was a great way to learn about how important these public buildings are to Texas communities.
Our February tour included stops at many courthouses that have been completely restored with help from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, which is managed by the Texas Historical Commission. The physical benefits of this grant program are immediately apparent: roofs replaced, towers rebuilt, windows restored, courtrooms returned to grandeur. But it was from talking to some of the 2,200 people who joined us at our tour stops that we learned how the benefits of courthouse restoration go well beyond bricks and mortar.
In Goldthwaite, the county seat of Mills County, the mayor told us how the restoration of the 1913 courthouse has helped revitalize more than a dozen Main Street businesses across the street. In Atascosa County, the county judge noted the tourism benefits of restoring her county's rare 1912 Prairie-Style landmark, with weekly visitors stopping in from around the state – and beyond. In Lampasas County, where the 1883 courthouse was carefully restored, a local volunteer paused when I asked her about her work on the project. "Other than raising my family," she said, "that was the most important experience of my entire life."
Life changing and community changing restoration projects like these have been completed in 83 of the 254 counties across Texas. But many other counties have not had the opportunity to benefit from the state grant program. One of those courthouses awaiting grant funding is in San Saba County, a rural area in the hill country northwest of Austin. The county judge there is a great advocate for the restoration of his county's 1911 courthouse. "In San Saba County, we are old fashioned," he said. "We see the courthouse as the heart of our county. And just as with our physical bodies, when the heart is healthy, so is our society."
There are at least another 70 counties across the state just like San Saba, with restoration plans and matching funds ready to go, lined up and waiting for the opportunity to apply for grants from the state Courthouse Preservation Program. These are the places – and people – that we have in mind as we work with our statewide partner Preservation Texas to make the case to the Texas state legislature to continue funding for the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program.
Our advocacy campaign is coming down to the wire this month. We need everyone -- especially our Texas members and those who took part in the February celebrations – to reach out to their state representatives to urge full funding for a program that is bringing these great old buildings – and the communities around them – back to good health.
If you love architecture, you'll want to visit some of the historic courthouses in Texas! Built over a 100-year period, these 254 majestic courthouses have been constructed in almost every architectural style ranging from Romanesque to Art Deco. For more information, visit http://www.texascourthouses.com/index.html.
Written by Jim Lindberg, Project Manager
The National Trust has designated February as "I Love Texas Courthouses Month." Along with our Texas preservation partners, we're focusing attention on the state's amazing collection of historic courthouses and the need for continued work to help restore them. The I Love Texas Courthouses Campaign got underway recently with site visits, community photo opportunities and celebrations at 13 courthouses in south central Texas. The affection we're seeing for these classic historic buildings is pretty amazing. In Floresville, Texas, more than 150 people came out to show how much they wanted to restore their beautiful 1884 Wilson County Courthouse (see photo). In San Antonio, a flash mob performed a dance routine in front of the Bexar County Courthouse in San Antonio, where a major restoration project funded by the Texas Historic Courthouse Restoration Program is underway. Our next stop will be downtown Houston, where on President's Day we'll be celebrating the restoration of the Harris County Courthouse. From there it is on to Wharton, Colorado, Lavaca and Fayette counties for more community photos and tours.
Courthouse lovers from across the state (and around the world!) are participating in this campaign. A special campaign website, www.ilovetexascourthouses.org, has been set up to gather and share photographs and quotes about Texas courthouses. Visitors to the website are encouraged to sign a Love Letter to Texas Courthouses as well, expressing their affection for these great landmarks and the need to keep them standing as centers of civic life and symbols of community pride.
If you love Texas, courthouses or great architecture, go online today and sign the Love Letter. We've got nearly 1,000 signatures already and we're hoping for another 1,000 by next Wednesday.
Written by Jim Lindberg, Project Manager
I’m Jim Lindberg, the National Trust's project manager for Texas courthouses. Part of my role as project manager will be to share news on our progress to save the historic courthouses of Texas. I’ll be providing frequent updates as we work with the Texas Historical Commission, Preservation Texas, and local partners to support efforts to preserve and rehabilitate the state’s amazing collection of county courthouses.
Last month I was in Austin to participate in a press conference where we announced that Texas courthouses were included on the National Trust’s list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. This was the second time that we’ve put Texas courthouses on the list; the first was back in 1998. Much has been accomplished since that first listing, with some 83 courthouses receiving grants from a state fund managed by the Texas Historical Commission.
But at least 75 more courthouses still need help, including three that were represented at the press conference by local officials and advocates who had driven the better part of a day to be there. In talking with each of these groups afterward, I learned more about the challenges they face – from crumbling foundations to unsafe wiring. I also heard their passion for history and vision for what a restored courthouse would mean to their community. It was inspiring to meet these dedicated volunteers.
With help from our partners at the Texas Historical Commission, we’ve received excellent coverage in the media since the announcement, each article highlighting the importance of courthouses across Texas, and the progress of efforts to preserve them:
- Texas County Courthouses Land on Endangered List
- Texas Courthouses Again Among Most Endangered Sites
- Texas Program Races to Save Historic Courthouses
- In East Texas, Many County Courthouses Being Rehabbed
Anna R. on January 17, 2014
I am also proud to call Texas my 2nd home. It is full of rich history and I will be sad to see these courthouses go if they can't be saved.
Wayne Wendel on May 25, 2013
I began photographing TX courthouses two years ago driving from Houston on day trips. 121 so far. I've met other people who do the same thing but most miss the interiors. Courthouse interiors are as impressive as the exteriors. Most are open and allow photographs. I recently visited central Texas and found the McCulloch County courthouse interior beautifully retored.
Leonard G Lane on June 20, 2012
I appreciate the efforts of the NTHP to highlight the ongoing work to restore and preserve historic Texas courthouses. I am personally visiting and photographing all 254 Texas county courthouses and documenting my journey on a website: www.254texascourthouses.net So far I've visited 153 counties. "Only" 101 to go! The funding provided by the state through the Texas Historical Commission grants to counties has been critical to the successful restoration of many historic courthouses in Texas. However, as I've seen in my on travels, there are many more courthouses that require substantial work. NTHP's program sheds a welcome light on this issue, especially in times of serious buget cutting at the state and county level.
Jason Clement on June 06, 2012
Simply put, Texas' historic courthouses make me proud to call the Lone Star State home. Every time I venture back to visit family (I relocated to "the North" some time ago), one of my favorite pastimes is to take an exit for a small town I’ve never explored. Inevitably, I find great barbeque, a quaint Main Street, and a towering courthouse that barely fits in my camera frame. That, in my opinion, is perfection