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Texas | Architecture | Courthouses

LA SALLE COUNTY COURTHOUSE
County Seat - Cotulla, Texas

La Salle County has had four courthouses:
1884, 1897, 1904, and 1931

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TX - La Salle County Courthouse South entrance
La Salle County Courthouse
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, January 2013

The Present La Salle County Courthouse

Date - 1931
Architect - Henry Phelps
Style - Art-Moderne style with Art Deco details

THE COURTHOUSES OF LA SALLE COUNTY

By Terry Jeanson

The first settlements in La Salle County formed on the road from San Antonio to Laredo around the time the county was formed from part of Bexar County in 1858. Fort Ewell had been established by the U.S. Army south of the Nueces River in 1852, but was abandoned in 1854. A small town named Fort Ewell (aka Guajoco) was formed a mile and a half from the fort and when the fort was closed the inhabitants moved there. The settlement of Iuka, eight miles west of present day Cotulla, was established in 1868 as a stage stop and meeting place for cattle buyers. As the population in the area increased in the 1870s, many other ranches were established and La Salle County was officially organized in 1880 with Stuart’s Rancho, near Guajoco, being the first county seat. The railroad established itself in the county in the 1880s and towns like Guajoco and Iuka faded away once settlers started moving to towns along the railroad. A Polish immigrant, Joseph Cotulla, came to the county in 1868 and eventually established a large ranching operation. Cotulla encouraged the International & Great Northern Railroad to build through the town he was developing by donating land to them. By 1882, a depot had been built and town lots were being sold. The postmaster of Iuka, Jesse Laxton (aka Laxson or Laxon) tried to lure the railroad also by establishing the town of La Salle east of Cotulla across the railroad tracks. A jail and temporary courthouse were built there and it became the temporary county seat in 1882. After a special election in 1883, the town of Cotulla, named for its founder, became the county seat and the town of La Salle was disassembled.

La Salle County’s first courthouse, built in 1884, was a pleasant two-story Second Empire style structure made from brick with a soaring, truncated clock tower in the center of the front of the building, corner quoins, roof cresting and broken triangular pediments over the extended entrances on each side. (A picture of this courthouse can be seen at http://www.angelfire.com/ct3/diego/). This courthouse was burned by an arsonist in December of 1896.

A second courthouse was built the following year. It was a square two story (with attic) wood frame structure with a hipped roof and a three-tiered tower extending from one side of the building with a conical turret. (A picture of this courthouse can be found at the Texas Historical Commission’s County Atlas at http://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/shell-county.htm ). This courthouse also fell to arson in 1904 when the third county courthouse was constructed.

The third courthouse was a two-story brick building with a hipped roof made of slate and Romanesque style details. The corners of the building extended slightly forward as did a central clock tower at the front entrance. (A postcard picture of this courthouse can be found at http://www.courthousehistory.com/ ).The third courthouse had many similarities to the courthouse in Frio County designed by San Antonio architect Henry Truman Phelps, who worked on over a dozen courthouses in Texas.

In 1931, the 1904 courthouse was demolished and La Salle County built their fourth and current courthouse on the same grounds as the previous courthouses. Designed in an Art-Moderne style with Art Deco details, it was built with brick and concrete with ceramic and terra cotta ornamentation. It was designed by Henry Truman Phelps and it was the last Texas courthouse he designed before his death in 1944. The four story building (including a rooftop jail that is no longer used) is surrounded with pilasters that are crowned with stylized stone capitals. An ornamented stringcourse surrounds the rooftop and the spandrels are emblazoned with the initials of the county. A gilded terra cotta eagle with spreading wings is perched over each entrance.

After serving the county for almost eighty years, the courthouse underwent an extensive restoration. A majority of the funding for the restoration came from the Texas Historical Commission in the form of a construction grant for $2.25 million in 2008 and a full construction grant for $3.5 million in 2010. The restoration returned the building to its 1931 architectural condition. Electrical, plumbing and phone systems were updated and a new geothermal system was installed to replace the building’s window air conditioning units. The construction and restoration were nearly complete by the end of 2012 and a rededication ceremony was held on January 26, 2013.

-
Terry Jeanson, January 2013
Sources: County history information from The Handbook of Texas Online. Courthouse information from the Texas Historical Commission at http://thc.state.tx.us/ and the Texas Historical Commission’s County Atlas at http://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/shell-desig.htm.

Cotulla TX - Restored La Salle County Courthouse
The newly restored La Salle County courthouse
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, January 2013
TX La Salle County Courthouse vintage photo
La Salle County Courthouse as it appeared in 1939
Notice circles left so that clocks could be inserted later.
Photo courtesy TXDoT
Cotulla TX - Restored La Salle County Courthouse architectural details
Some of the building's ornamental details
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, January 2013
Cotulla TX - Restored La Salle County Courthouse gilded terra cotta eagles
Gilded terra cotta eagles perch over each entrance
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, January 2013
Cotulla TX - La Salle County Courthouse Front Entrance
"Courthouse front entrance detail. Workmen were just finishing painting the doors when I arrived."
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, January 2013
Cotulla TX - Restored La Salle County Courthouse  architectural decorative details
The counties initials can be found on panels around the building.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, January 2013
TX - La Salle County Courthouse restored district courtroom
The restored district courtroom
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, January 2013
TX - La Salle County Courthouse Dedication Plaque
Dedication plaque inside the courthouse
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, January 2013
TX - 1884 La Salle County Courthouse , first
The 1884 (first) La Salle County Courthouse
burned by an arsonist in December, 1896

Photo courtesy THC
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