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Blanco County TX
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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

A Bitter Election in
Blanco County

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Government gridlock and political polarization did not begin in the 21st Century. In the 1880s, and for years after, Blanco County was aflame in partisan politics and divided government. Angry citizens were split right down the middle over the location of the courthouse.

On February 12, 1858 the legislature in Austin formed a new Texas county from parts of Comal, Hays, Burnet and Gillespie Counties. The legislation stated that the new county would be called Blanco, after the Blanco River, and that an election would be held to determine the exact location of the county seat.

In those days, before fast travel and modern forms of communication, government officials went to great lengths to insure that the seat of county government was centrally located so all citizens had equal access to it. State law directed that the county seat had to be within 5 miles of the geographic center of the county unless two thirds of the voters voted otherwise. The general rule was that the county seat was not more than a day's ride from anywhere in the county.

In the new county of Blanco, residents selected a beautiful spot on the north bank of the Blanco River as the site for the new county seat. They called the new town Blanco. The site was near the geographic center and met all the requirements of state law.

In 1860 county officials erected a simple courthouse in Blanco. Then in 1885 voters approved the expenditure of $27,000 for a fancy new limestone courthouse that still stands in the middle of the public square.


Former Blanco County courthouse, Blanco Texas, Ruffini 1885
The 1885 Blanco County Courthouse in Blanco
Photo courtesy Texas State Library and Archives

But Blanco County was unable to settle in to the rhythm of everyday life. As new counties formed around it, Blanco County was carved up and pieced back together again at the whim of the legislature in Austin.

In 1862 Blanco County lost a large area of land when the legislature formed Kendall County, but legislators compensated Blanco County by giving it parts of Hays and Burnet Counties. The problem was that once the county borders were permanently established, the town of Blanco, the county seat, was no longer near the geographic center.


Meanwhile, the Johnson brothers, Andrew, Sam and Tom, established a cattle ranching operation to the north of Blanco, in the central part of the county. With a talent for political scheming and backroom bargaining - a talent inherited by Sam's grandson, the one who became president of the United States - the Johnsons and their neighbors established a new town on the banks of the Pedernales River, strategically located near the center of Blanco County. From the beginning Johnson City had one major goal: to wrestle the seat of government from its neighbors, 14 miles to the south.

It took 12 years, some bloodshed and a lot of hard feelings to get it done.

In January 1890 the citizens of Blanco County went to the polls to decide, once and for all, the location of their county seat. The election did not go smoothly. There were rumors of ballot-stuffing. The San Antonio Daily Light reported details of an election-day gunfight between a Blanco supporter and a Johnson City advocate. One man was killed and a deputy sheriff was shot in the leg. Lawmen quickly whisked the shooter away to the jail just ahead of the lynch mob. But in the end the citizens of Blanco County voted, by a margin of 65 votes, to move the county seat from Blanco to Johnson City.

After county officials moved out, the old Blanco County Courthouse became, at one time or another, an office building, a school, a hospital, a town hall, a museum, a theater, a library and a restaurant. For a time the Blanco National Bank used the vaults in the old building once used by county tax collectors.

The current Blanco County Courthouse, in Johnson City not in Blanco, was built in 1916.


1916 Blanco County Courthouse, Johnson City, Texas old photo
Blanco County Courthouse in Johnson City
1939 Photo courtesy TXDoT

That Blanco County is at peace again should give hope to us in these troubled times. Most of the old wounds between Blanco and Johnson City have healed. What's left is friendly rivalry, more or less.


Michael Barr
"Hindsights" July 1, 2017 Column

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Texas Courthouses



Sources:
Texas Local Government Code Chapter 73. Location of County Government.
"State News Condensed," San Antonio Daily Light, January 23, 1890.
"A Fatal Election Row in Blanco County," The Galveston Daily News, January 23, 1890.
The Handbook of Texas, Blanco County.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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