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Wilson County News February 13, 2013 3,983 views 1 comment
FLORESVILLE -- If a kitchen is the heart a home, courthouses are the heart of Texas communities. This was apparent Jan. 25, as area residents -- young and old, veterans and local officials, business owners, and others -- swarmed the Wilson County Courthouse in downtown Floresville. Gathered around a banner emblazoned “I Love Texas Courthouses,” the crowd, waving valentines made by Stockdale schoolchildren, gathered for a commemorative photo that will be displayed in Austin Wednesday, Feb. 20, during Preservation Day. See “Preservation Texas” for more on this event.
The Wilson County Courthouse was just one of the courthouses visited by representatives from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Texas, and the Texas Historical Commission during an “I Love Texas Courthouses” campaign.
After the “Kodak moment,” groups, led by Wilson County Judge Marvin Quinney, toured the courthouse. For Texas Rep. John Kuempel, this was his first visit inside the historic courthouse, dedicated Feb. 22, 1884.
“Dating from the 1860s to the 1950s, these courthouses are symbols of their county’s wealth, commerce, and geography, and a great source of community pride and identify,” said Jim Lindberg of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. He added that he got chills seeing all the different groups represented at the event.
Once inside the courthouse, Lindberg and Jason Clement of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Anna Hudson of Preservation Texas, and Susan Gammage and Mark Cowan of the Texas Historical Commission gained insight into the strong showing of support by county residents.
The courthouse, once buzzing with activity, is now largely vacant, due to structural foundation problems and cracks that can be seen throughout the building. The visitors marveled at the staircase leading up to the former district courtroom and even the vaults.
Gammage described the Wilson County Courthouse as an extraordinary building, in excellent condition. The structural problems can be fixed, she said, and added that the county has “an excellent chance for scoring very well” when applying for grant assistance for restoration.
If the people gathered thought they heard bells ringing, it wasn’t their imaginations. Led by Quinney, a handful of visitors were able to ring the courthouse bell. Most do not recall the last time it was rung.
Many hope to restore the courthouse to its former glory and bring renewed life to the courthouse square and downtown business area.
“We had such a good time in Floresville,” Gammage said. “I just cannot tell you how much we enjoyed meeting your fantastic community and seeing your gorgeous courthouse.”
Among those present for the occasion were members of the Wilson County Historical Society.
“I was thrilled that so many people turned out to welcome our THC [Texas Historical Commission] officials,” Shirley Grammer said. “This is truly an indication of how much we all love and respect our historic old courthouse.”
According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Texas courthouses are listed on America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places; the courthouses are considered a national treasure. Currently, Wilson County is among the 11 counties pending approval from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program for funds, due to a master plan. Thus far, 83 Texas courthouses have received grants for comprehensive rehabilitations. The money has assisted with critical structural, operational, and safety needs. An additional 75 Texas courthouses also are in need.
The Texas Historical Commission has funding available for courthouse preservation, ranging from 50 to 85 percent of construction costs. During the Jan. 28 Wilson County Commissioners Court meeting, Architect Lyndsay Thorn of San Antonio-based ThornGraves gave preliminary estimates of $2 million for exterior/interior renovations and foundation repairs to the Wilson County Courthouse.
Wilson County is currently preparing a master plan to renovate the 128-year-old courthouse that has been largely empty since September 2011, due to the deterioration of the bricks that form the foundation. A chain-link fence provides a safety barrier.
After the tour, Wilson County Pct. 4 Commissioner Larry Wiley described the courthouse and the Courthouse Annex III -- located at the former Floresville Primary Campus -- which is spread out over three blocks of the downtown area. A restored and functional courthouse would help revitalize downtown Floresville.
For the time being, the fence will remain. Rest assured, efforts are under way to find means to restore this national treasure and make it the heart of Wilson County once again.
Preservation Day will be held Wednesday, Feb. 20, at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, beginning at 8:30 a.m.
Join supporters of historic preservation from across the state and learn about the most endangered places.
Legislative visits will be held from 1:30-4 p.m., with an “I Love Texas Courthouses” presentation at 5 p.m. A Preservation Day Reception will be held at 5:30 p.m. Price for the reception is $20.