Friday, March 29, 2013

Old Blanco County Courthouse

West entrance (faces Highway 281)
This is the Old Blanco County Courthouse located in Blanco, Texas.  It was built in 1885-1886 and was officially put into use on January 29, 1886 as the Blanco County Courthouse; however, four years later the county seat would be moved to nearby Johnson City.  The building's many uses in the following eighty years are described at the Old Blanco County Courthouse website.

North entrance
Frederick Ernst Ruffini was the building's architect.  He advertised himself as a designer of courthouses, jails, and public and commercial buildings. He passed away in November, 1885 while this building was still under construction.  Also under construction at that time was another of his designs, the Old Main Building at the University of Texas.

South and east entrances
Preservation efforts began in 1986 after the building had fallen into disrepair.  When townspeople learned that the building was going to be dismantled and moved to a private location they came together in an effort to stop the move.  They were successful and were able to pass a Historic District ordinance to protect other buildings. 

Click here to see a picture of the building with a "Help Save Me" banner and to read the entire preservation story.  This picture is kind, the building looked far worse in reality!  I remember driving by several times and seeing some fund raising effort going on and thinking, "Go People, Go!" and wishing them success.  Now I'm older and wiser and I would pull over and buy a plate of barbeque or whatever to help out a group like this!  I also remember from the news reports that it was a tough battle.  But they were successful and in May 1998 the Old Blanco County Courthouse was rededicated.

In a future post I'll open one of the doors and explore the inside of the building!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo part 2

As I drove up to the mission I had to stop to make this picture because I had the sudden realization that this was exactly the view that travelers approaching from the south would have seen when the mission was functioning.  I can only imagine what a welcome sight it was to weary travelers who knew that soon they would be safe within the compound walls. Today there is city all around the mission, but it appears isolated from this view.
The grist mill was restored in the 1930's with funding from the National Society of Colonial Dames in Texas.  It was running in this picture; the park ranger had just finished filling the bowl on the floor with ground wheat.
These stones in the plaza represent the foundation of a workshop discovered during restoration work.  In mission times the Indians lived in quarters in the walls around the plaza. Originally there were just dwellings and no walls, but increasing Apache raids necessitated the enclosure of the mission with a solid wall.  Workshops for blacksmithing and weaving and other mission activities were also in the walls.  By the 1930's the walls were non-existent with roads crossing over the plaza. 
When I brought my Girl Scout troop to tour the mission, we ate our picnic lunch in the plaza. I'm not sure if they would let us do that again!  But the girls did not leave any trash behind, they were very mindful of being respectful while on the grounds. 

These arched walls are all that remain of the convento where the Franciscan priests lived.  Benedictine priests from Pennsylvania lived at the mission from 1859 to 1868.  They were brought to the mission as part of a program to revive San Jose.  
They began a restoration project on the convento which was left unfinished. Their renovation added the pointed Gothic arches.
The interior of the chapel recently went under another complete makeover.  The roof had completely collapsed prior to restoration in the 1930's; for many years  prior to that the mass was held in the sacristy with worshipers standing outside.  Today San Jose is an active parish. It is not uncommon to see a wedding or baptism taking place when you visit.  The church itself is owned and maintained by the Catholic Church, thus avoiding conflict of church and state.
As with any old property, the maintenance and renovation process is constant.  Due to work on the chapel I did not take a picture of the Rose Window because of equipment and wall coverings being in the way. I thought I had one from prior visits but I can't find it, so I'll just have to go back!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo (part 1)


Mission San Jose was established in 1720, by the Catholic Church and Spain for the purpose of transforming natives into loyal, productive Spanish citizens in an effort to establish colonies in this part of New Spain.  Mission San Antonio de Valero had been founded in 1718 and three other missions would later be relocated from East Texas.  This group of missions were moderately successful in their mission work.  Mission San Jose was relocated to this location in 1740. 
After secularization was completed in 1824 San Jose would fall into disrepair.  Fortunately, through the work of the San Antonio Conservation Society, federal New Deal agencies, state and local agencies the mission was saved from destruction.  Today the five missions form the San Antonio Missions National Park.

Chapel doorway
Ornate carvings and bright geometric designs painted on the chapel wall earned Mission San Jose the title of "Queen of the Missions".

The door on the right is the stairway to the bell tower.  The wooden steps (barely visible) were hand hewn by Indian workers from single blocks of wood.  The bell tower collapsed in 1928.  The roof  and church dome had collapsed in 1874. The massive wooden doors on the chapel had disappeared and the sagging doorway had been propped up.  The statues and carvings had been destroyed by souvenir hunters who took away chipped off pieces.

The granary
This granary could hold enough grain to feed the mission for a  year.  When restoration efforts began its roof was also missing and cows and bootleggers where its inhabitants. The roof was restored by the WPA.

Interior of the granary
The first time I visited San Jose was in the fall of 1976.  It was a cool, crisp day outside, but when I walked into the granary I immediately felt the warmth of a small fire burning in the fireplace (left side).  I doubt they burn fires in there any more, but it was an amazing experience to feel that warmth from all the way across the room.  The object at the back of the room is a glassed in, narrated diorama that shows the mission as it was in mission times.  I suspect the painting on the roof dates to the WPA project, but have not confirmed that.  Note the distinctive line of where the original wall meets the restored roof.

Side view of granary (entrance is just beyond the first buttress)
(to be continued)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Step Into the Past With Me

I've always been fascinated with old buildings, but I never thought much about it.  I enjoy studying history and learning about the past, so I think this connection with buildings just comes naturally.  As a small child I remember looking at a picture in the newspaper of my father's home town of an old antebellum house that had been cut into two parts be moved.  I remember staring at the picture for a long time.  The next time we visited my grandparents I instisted that we go to see the house after it had been put together (I was probably 7 or 8 years old).  This was the beginning.

So now, I am opening the door into the past.  This blog will be a place to explore and learn about the old buildings and properties that are part of our modern communities.  Behind the door of every old building there's a story waiting to be revealed....

Old Blanco County Courthouse
March 2013