La GRANGE, Texas — I hate it when people make verbs out of things but I find myself lately doing that a whole bunch.
So, I went daytripping this weekend and ventured into the edge of the Texas Hill Country for a bit.
While hillcountrying (I know), I forgot how the stretch of wide spots in the road along Texas 237 between Round Top and Rutersville has turned into a weekend street fair. People were antiquing all over the place, strolling way too close to the highway and crossing it in odd places to keep looking for whatever old doodads and doohickeys they could probably find at estate sales in Austin or Houston or wherever they live. God bless the poor Fayette County sheriff’s deputy who had to keep stopping traffic anytime someone got the urge to see if the doodads and doohickeys across the highway were older or whatever antiquers do.
The slow crawl killed my time and my drive to venture too far. La Grange was the next stop of any significance. Neat little town of about 5,000 that I passed through tons of times as a kid on the way to San Antonio. It’s really known for Monument Hill, which I’ll point out in a later post.
This time, I pulled into the town square and took a look at the courthouse. Yes, the courthouse. A little known fact about me is that during my junior and senior year in high school, I was flirting heavily with the idea of becoming an architect, much to the chagrin of my art teacher who complained my Art II sketch book had too many buildings in it. I guess I wasn’t doing as many souped up Blazers like my classmates.
In a state like Texas, where historic preservation really has only been a recent concept, many of the recipients of historic tax credits and grants the state has invested in have been county courthouses that didn’t burn down, fall victim to the architectural crimes of “futuristic” replacement in the 1960s or weren’t altered beyond belief by the WPA during the Depression. (For a good example of the latter, take a sedative and Google what the Tyler County courthouse looked like before and after WPA. Not knocking WPA for its timely infusion of wages, but … c’mon. That was kinda egregious, y’all.)
Local governments have used this assistance in hopes of revitalizing their town squares. I’ve always been a skeptic of whether a refreshed and renovated courthouse really jumpstarts economic development in a small town that has so many other forces draining it, but the results have been pretty nice in most cases.
Fayette Co. Courthouse, La Grange (Romanesque revival):
Here are others from different trips in the past.
Matagorda County’s old courthouse is long gone and has been replaced with the equivalent of a concrete sheet cake in the middle of downtow Bay City. The original is captured in a mural in the town square.
Wharton Co. Courthouse, Wharton:
Newton Co. Courthouse, Newton. Newton’s story is interesting and a restoration I got to cover as a reporter. The bell tower caught fire several years ago and collapsed into the building. They scored tax credits to redo the inside to its original splendor and hit their restoration out of the park:
Lastly, the Grimes Co. Courthouse in Anderson. It’s also the original — Italiante design — that was riddled with termites and restored. I passed this courthouse thousands of times on the way to my grandparents’ house. The courthouse sits atop a hill in the center of Anderson that can be seen from the hills approaching town, kind of like a Texas version of El Greco’s View of Toledo.