Monday, August 31, 2015

Inside the Old Blanco County Courthouse

In one of my first posts I visited the Old Blanco County Courthouse. In June (2015) while enjoying the Lavender Festival I went inside the restored building and made a few pictures.  These really don't do the building justice, but they will give you an idea of how the interior was restored. 

This photograph was one of many historical pictures on display. It probably dates to the early 1900's when the building was home to the Blanco National Bank.   Blanco County only used the building as a courthouse for four years before the county seat was moved to Johnson City; after that time the building was used for a variety of purposes.  It is perhaps remembered best for its use as a hospital where many of Blanco County's citizens were born.
                There are two identical staircases that lead to the second floor. 

An arched door on each side of the building leads into a cross pattern hallway.

The Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society operates the Visitor Center on the first floor and there are tenant offices on the second floor at this time.  I stood on the landing for a moment and wondered about all the souls who travelled through the building at some point in its past.  I also gave a thankful thought to those who labored tirelessly for many years to save this remarkable building so that future generations will understand the history of this place!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Dallas Heritage Village

My last post featured the Dallas Heritage Village and its history.   Each building on the grounds was moved there from a location either in Dallas or North Texas. The visitors guide and information plaques by each one gave me a feel for that building's (or a similar building's) contribution to the history of the area.  Since there are 21 buildings featured on the property I can only feature a few here.  But do visit their web site to read about all of them and the service that the Village provides to the Dallas community.  Just to note, the Village is closed during August so they can do upkeep and other projects.

I had posted about the Renner School on Small Simple Things of Life, so click here to read about it.
I wrote about the Millermore house on the first post.  So, that covers two of the buildings.

As soon as I walked into the Village the depot caught my eye; I'm always drawn to depots and trains.
The first train rolled into Dallas in July 1872 and a year later the Texas & Pacific arrived in town.  Dallas became the first major railroad crossing in the southwest, linked to Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago.  The population of Dallas soared and business boomed!

This depot was built in 1886 and served the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas (MKT or KATY) line. Each railroad used standardized colors and most buildings followed a similar plan with a gabled roof and hipped ends. The depot is painted in the MKT's colors.  Prior to its relocation it had been cut in half and one half was being used for hay storage. All aboard!
The Worth Hotel was built in Carrollton in 1904.  Hotels were vital to the railroads.  Often space was limited and guests not only had to share rooms they often had to share beds!
The Sullivan house was built a few blocks away from the Village in 1885.  Mr. Sullivan was a plumbing and gas fitting contractor and the house featured an indoor bath and gas fixtures. I found it interesting that the picture of the house in its original location showed it to be painted white. Isn't this color scheme much more pleasing?

The Gano house was built in the dog-trot style in 1846 near Grapevine.  This practical plan of joining two rooms with a breezeway offered cross-ventilation.  The dog-trot house was very common in Texas.  In 1852 two rooms were added to the back as well as the loft above making it very roomy.  The house was covered with hand planed siding for extra insulation.
Like most parks of this time City Park had a gazebo (bandstand) similar to this one. 
The Main Street features buildings that would have been typical of Dallas in the late 1800's.  A saloon, a bank, a general store, and a law office comprise this street.  The murky day and small camera kept me from capturing the Dallas skyline just behind the trees, but it was a vivid contrast.
The Blum House, built in 1901, is currently closed.  This poor lady needs another makeover and the Village is currently soliciting funds.  The DHV is a non-profit 503(c) organization and gladly accepts donations and other forms of support.  At this time they do not plan to add any other structures unless they come with their own endowment.  Upkeep is costly!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dallas Heritage Village

In preparing for my recent trip to Dallas I had pulled up a list of dog friendly places.  Almost the first place that jumped off the list at me was the Dallas Heritage Village.  I knew it was perfect for Bentley and me when I began exploring their website and found that this was more than a modern day attraction. It is a living history village of buildings that have been relocated from all over North Texas and assembled here so they can share what life was like 100 years ago with us today.
In 1876 James J. Eakins gave the City of Dallas 10 acres of his land in lieu of paying taxes.  This property became the city's first park and was known simply as City Park.  In 1881 the city acquired 8 more acres from the Browder family; this tract included Browder Springs which had served the city as its first public water supply source.

The Cedars, an elegant residential neighborhood comprised of the fashionable homes of business and mercantile leaders, grew up around the park during the 1880's and 1890's. There are still remnants of this neighborhood surrounding the park today.  This area's close proximity to the railroads made it the ideal place for the construction of factories; workforce housing for the factory workers also appeared in this area.  There was a zoo located here and weekly concerts were held in the bandstand. The park was truly an active part of the community. 

This home is an administrative office of the park.  There were several homes on this side street, each with identical steps leading up the small hill from the street.

I'm always intrigued by steps like these and wonder about the home that they led to once upon a time
After World War II residents began moving to the suburbs.  When Interstate 30 was completed The Cedars was cut off from downtown and fell into decline.  But a group of women looking for a place to relocate a plantation home that was scheduled to be wrecked offered new life to the park. Mary Aldredge and the Founders Garden Club had to store the disassembled house in a warehouse before convincing the city of Dallas to let them put it here in City Park in 1966.  When re-assembled Millermore opened in 1969 it would be the first of 21 buildings that would follow to the park. In 2005 the park was no longer referred to as Old City Park when it was re-named the Dallas Heritage Village.

Millermore was built between 1855 and 1862 by William Brown Miller on Bonnie View Road in Dallas. The house was built facing exactly north, using the North Star as a compass in construction. It was designed to catch the prevailing winds for cross ventilation.  Slave labor was one of the factors that enabled Mr. Miller to carry out his plan to build a grand house.

Stone was quarried from nearby and hauled to the house site where pieces for the foundation, chimney and hearths were cut.  Cedars on the property were cut and pulled to the site by oxen and then hewn into beams.  The construction took seven years due to Mrs. Miller's death in 1856 and the 8 weeks it took for a load of lumber milled in Jefferson, Texas to arrive in Dallas via a commercial freight wagon.

When completed the Greek Revival details evident in the house were only a symmetrical fa├žade, a small portico with slender columns and a wide hallway flanked by square rooms.  A cistern on the back porch was designed to catch rain water which was then used by the ladies to wash their hair and clothes since it was softer than the well water! The balcony and 2-story porch were added in 1912.

In future posts I will feature a few of the other buildings.  Please visit their website, Dallas Heritage Village. And, yes, they were dog friendly.  I couldn't take Bentley inside any of the buildings, but I still appreciated the fact that I could bring him in to enjoy the grounds.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Other projects of Henry T Phelps in Jourdanton, Texas

The last Doorway Into the Past post covered the Atascosa County Courthouse built in 1912 and designed in the Mission Revival style by Henry T Phelps.  He also designed two other structures for Jourdanton that are worthy of note.  Interestingly his firm, Phelps & Dewees & Simmons, designed many, many structures in San Antonio and the surrounding area.  Today that firm is still in business under the name of Garza/Bomberger and Associates and continues to produce remarkable designs.

The jail was completed in 1915 and used as such until 1982 when a new, modern detention facility was opened.  The first floor of the jail served as office space and living quarters for the Sheriff's family from 1919 until 1959.  The second floor had jail cells as well as a gallows room that, thankfully, was never used.  Additional cells were located on the third floor. 

The Texas Historical Commission marker notes that construction cost $20,000.  It describes the building as "having an eclectic blend of architectural elements" with crenelated towers and hood moldings on the windows.
An addition to the building was completed in 1974 with matching brick and similar elements.  Today the building is used as county offices.  The day I visited there was no one around the building and, honestly, it gave me the creeps!  I did not linger any longer than it took to make pictures.  It was a formidable structure and I cannot imagine how any Sherriff would want his family to live with prisoners on the upper floors!
Phelps also is credited with designing a high school gymnasium that was constructed with help from the WPA  It is no longer extant; I'm working to find the exact location of the gym and possibly a picture.  At some time the WPA marker and cornerstone of the gym was preserved in a brick enclosure in front of the Jourdanton ISD school complex.
Finding this was an unexpected thrill as I had no idea that it existed.  I was just trying to find the Texas Historical Commission marker and was overjoyed to find that some dear souls in the community had taken such care to preserve these important pieces of the old gym.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Atascosa County Courthouse

Many years ago, in what now seems like another life, I frequently passed by this courthouse and thought it to be a unique building if not unusual.  And, it is unusual because the Atascosa County Courthouse is the only Mission Revival style courthouse to survive in Texas, per the Texas Historical commission website.  (See the Alamo motif on each tower?)
Built in 1912 it underwent restorations inside and out after a large corbel (bracket) fell from one of the towers.  Pictures of the courthouse during renovation and interior afterwards are seen at Fisher Heck's website. Renovations included masonry and tile roof repairs and intensive interior restorations and upgrades to modernize the buildings electrical and mechanical systems.  The restored courthouse was dedicated on June 14, 2003.

The courthouse sits in the middle of a circle driveway with each side being identical.  Only one side is slightly altered as that is where the entrance to the elevator was created.  I could only imagine an elderly or disabled person struggling up the stairs both inside and out!
Texas politics has always been a hot topic and Atascosa County was no exception.  Atascosa was created out of Bexar County (San Antonio) in 1858.  The first courthouse was a log cabin on land donated by Jose Antonio Navarro. The county seat would move to Pleasanton in 1856 where 3 successive courthouses would be built.  In a special election held in 1910 voters choose to move the courthouse to Jourdanton.  As to be expected there was politics, politics, politics.

Henry T Phelps was hired to design the courthouse; he designed 17 Texas courthouses with 15 of those still in use today.   I think this was his only Mission Revival style courthouse. Other projects in Jourdanton include the Atascosa County Jail (1915) and a now extant high school gymnasium (1938) built with assistance from the WPA.  He designed many buildings and homes in San Antonio, including Alamo Stadium and the Nix Professional Building (hospital).

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Lee County Courthouse

On a recent visit to Giddings, Texas I was pleased to see that the doorway into the Lee County Courthouse was boarded up!  The building has not been condemned and is not to be torn down, it is undergoing a restoration to correct various problems that have appeared since the previous restorations!  This is the kind of boarded up building I like to see!

The Lee County, Texas Courthouse was completed in 1899 as a replacement for the courthouse that had burned two years earlier. The first courthouse had been completed in 1878 in the Second Empire style with a mansard roof and is described as having been an elegant building.  Prior to its construction there had been a heated debate and election to determine that Giddings would be the county seat; after the first courthouse burned there was another unsuccessful push to move the courthouse.

James Riely Gordon was chosen as the architect and after submitting a bid of $32,270 to complete the building Sonnefield, Emmins, and Abright of San Antonio was chosen as contractors.  Gordon was a prominent 19th century architect who designed many buildings in Texas, but is best known for his courthouse designs.  Most of the courthouses are extant and continue to serve as the seat of county government. Interestingly, he had no formal training as an architect!
Gordon used his version of what was referred to as a Richardsonian Romanesque style as it reflects the style attributed to architect Henry H. Richardson. The historical marker states that the courthouse was designed along the same lines as the New York State Capitol and several buildings at Harvard University.  Its simplicity and lack of ornamentation distinguishes it from earlier courthouses designed by Gordon.  The Lee County Courthouse is almost identical with the Comal County Courthouse designed a year earlier by Gordon.

The courthouse was built on the large lot one block south of the business district of Giddings where the original courthouse was located.  The contractor paid convicts $1 a day to remove the burnt bricks from the burned out courthouse.   Today the courthouse sits serenely in the middle of the park like block; its visibility in this tranquil setting seems to add to its grace and beauty.

I was unable to make out anything on the original cornerstone; details are more evident in a digital photograph.  Construction began in 1898 and the building was completed and received by the Board of Commissioners in June 1899. 

The building has had only minor alterations, thus retaining its original details. Even so, as with most old buildings the courthouse has faced serious problems that threatened its integrity.  As indicated on the cornerstone there was a restoration in 1982; however, basement flooding was threatening the building's structure.  A grant from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation program in 2004 funded below grade water proofing, repaired exterior masonry, restored the windows, and replaced mechanical and electrical systems.  In 2010 an emergency grant had addressed stabilizing the foundation and another emergency grant in 2014 provided funds to repair masonry, doors and interior finishes that had been affected by the structural movement of the foundation.

The three story building rests on a raised limestone base.  Limestone also is used in the arches, foliated capitals and for the wide band that forms the first and third floor window lintels. The second floor windows have only a single stone lintel.  Blue granite used in the steps and polished columns provides a contrast to the red brick and white limestone.
Limestone is such a common building material in Texas that I have honestly never really given it any thought.  Not until I looked at these pictures and realized that it is an architectural element in its own way. I never realized how much detail the limestone blocks have and how that adds to the design of the building.  The workers that cut and laid these pieces were true craftsmen. 

And, yes I'm anxious to go back to see the courthouse when the boards are removed.  I'm watching the Texas Historical Commission website to see if they will have a re-dedication that's at a time when I can attend.   

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Battle of the Alamo hasn't ended

Before I move onto the next post, I feel that I would be remiss if I did not continue just a bit with the last post.  While it focused on what is known today as Alamo Hall I thought it would be appropriate to briefly mention the actual Alamo and Alamo grounds and the current battle going on there today. 

Alamo chapel doors
The Alamo is always associated with the battle to the death that took place in March 1936, but its history began long before that and has continued right up to the current day.  Originally founded as Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1718 near the San Pedro Springs it would move a year later and then again in 1722 to its present day site. 
A concrete version of the acequia that brought water to the Mission from the San Antonio River
The history of the Alamo and the surrounding grounds is much too complex to even briefly summarize here and there are plenty of good sources to consult regarding the many events that these walls have witnessed.  The Battle of the Alamo was to the death, but in subsequent years there have been many locally earth shaking battles over these walls and the surrounding grounds. Preservation has been at the heart of each battle, but now it is the question of who will manage the Alamo complex in the future that is stirring the waters. 

East entrance of Alamo Gift Shop
The State of Texas took control from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas who had saved it from destruction in 1903. Now the Texas General Land Office is conducting a national search for a new management company to run the Alamo.  Personal opinion:  that strikes absolute terror in my heart! What concerns me is if an outside management company will truly understand what they are managing.  The chapel has serious structural issues that must be addressed and the debate is raging about the entire area known as Alamo Plaza and its preservation, just to name a few of the issues a management company will immediately face.  The property is not just something that a management company can manage.

If you would like to read more I'm attaching a link to an article in the San Antonio Express News published on Sunday, March 16, 2015 and an editorial published on Thursday, March 18, 2015 if you want to read further. 

A new era is dawning at the Alamo
Yes to an Alamo amendment