Friday, January 17, 2014

Sutton County Courthouse

The Sutton County Courthouse is located in Sonora Texas. This is the only courthouse that Sutton County has had since it selected Sonora as its county seat in 1890. It exemplifies the Second Empire style with its mansard roof, dormer windows, and detailed cornices. As typical with this style of architecture it is based on a square design plan.
The courthouse was designed by Oscar Ruffini.  He and his brother, Frederick Ernst Ruffini, designed many courthouses and public buildings in Texas.  The brothers were from Cleveland, Ohio, but settled in Texas with Oscar in San Angelo and F.E. (or Ernst) in Austin.   F.E. designed many buildings now lost to time, including the Old Main Building on the University of Texas Austin campus.  
The design for the courthouse has an interesting story.  Oscar was the supervising architect for the Tom Green County Courthouse (San Angelo) that was designed by W.W. Larmour.  Oscar sent the plans and a photograph of the project to F.E. who modified them for the Old Blanco County Courthouse that was completed in 1886 and for the courthouses in Callahan and Concho Counties.  Oscar took the plans and used them to design the Sutton and Mills County Courthouses.  I have to note that several references referred to this sharing of the original plan as "borrowing" or "used without permission"!

I was amazed at the similarities between the courthouses when I compared Blanco with Sutton.

The years had taken their toll on the courthouse and a comprehensive restoration was undertaken with help from a grant through the Texas Historical Commission.  Missing roof dormers and roof cresting were recreated from historic photographs; all the windows were restored and interior woods stained to match the original stain.  Restoration Associates has pictures on their web site of the gold and copper leaf wall stenciling that was restored and of one of the Diebold vault doors that was painstakingly restored.  Modern enhancements on the interior of the building to the electrical and plumbing systems were sensitively merged into the design to bring the building up to safety codes and modern standards.  VOH Architects have before and after pictures on their web site and the difference is amazing!  I'm grateful that the commitment was made to save the building and restore it rather than to tear it down and re-build.