Courthouse Grotesques or The
Legend from Three Sources
The Star-crossed Romance of Harry
Photos by Sam Fenstermacher
While J. Reily Gordon often incorporated small
ornamental faces on some of his buildings, none was as populated (or infested)
with faces as the Ellis County
Courthouse in Waxahachie.
As the faces started appearing they caught
the attention of the sidewalk superintendents and before long the entire town
was speculating on their meaning - or trying to identify individuals.
Since no one was willing to come forward and explain the carvings, speculation
turned to legend. A few names are repeated in most accounts - nationalities of
the stone carvers vary. All agree she was the landlady's daughter.
identified beneath each version
building's beauty and symmetry is stunning from afar, but it is the intricate
sculptures that grace the courthouse's exterior that have attracted the most attention
A series of intricately carves stone faces grace each
of the four porch capitals, ranging from the sublime to the grotesque. Legend
has it that German itinerant stone carver Harry Herley fell in love with the local
girl Mabel Frame, whose grandmother operated the boarding house where he resided
while sculpting all the courthouse's exterior ornamentation. Herley loved Mabel
Frame dearly, the myth proclaims, but she did not return his love. The beautiful
likenesses of Mabel portrayed on the stone porticoes soon turned into demons.
Time and the dwindling love affair are portrayed as one walks around the courthouse.
While a lovely legend, there is no factual basis for the story. Harry
Herley is credited with being the master carver for the Waxahachie project, but
more than likely, he carved only a portion of the portraits and supervised several
other carvers, all of whom worked for Theodore Beilharz, a master stone carver
The carvings were probably made in Dallas at the Beilharz
yard and shop and shipped to Waxahachie in their finished condition, ready to
No connection between Herley and Frame can be documented and soon
after the carvings were finished, Herley married a woman named Minnie Hodges.
Despite the lack of evidence, the legend regarding the courthouse portraits survives
and adds an extra element of romance and intrigue to an already significant architectural
landmark." - Kelly McMichael Stott - Waxahachie: Where Cotton Reigned King,
Arcadia Publishing, 2002.
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Where Cotton Reigned King
by Kelly McMichael Stott
The Ellis County Historical Museum
The Making of America Series.
artisians were brought from Italy to hand carve the stonework. One of the sculptors
became so infatuated with his landlady's daughter that he carved her face into
one of the blocks in the arch of the east entrance of the courthouse. The story
says that the young woman spurned the sculptor's attention and he became so angry
that he carved other faces that grew progressively more ugly. |
are other likenesses carved into the building's stone decorations - some so ugly
that residents claim they are townspeople of the 1890s that the young Italian
artisans came to dislike." - From Texas Auto Trails: The Northeast by Myra
Hargrave McIlvain UT Press, 1984
"The contractor brought in three
stone carvers from Italy to carve the decorations. The decorations include one
very appealing female face and an assortment of male and female faces in varying
degrees of ugliness. The story is that one of the stone carvers fell for his landlady's
daughter. He supposedly carved the pretty face as a likeness of her when he thought
she might find something interesting in him. She never did, and the story is he
carved the ugly faces to express his general dissatisfaction with the town and
its people after the landlady's daughter married someone else." - Ray Miller's
Eyes of Texas Travel Guide - 1978
Composition photo © Sam Fenstermacher
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