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Ellis County Courthouse

Waxahachie's Courthouse Grotesques
or
The Star-crossed Romance of Harry and Mabel

The Legend from Three Sources

Photo by Sam Fenstermacher

Ellis County Courthouse gargyles, Waxahachie, Texas

"Three 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.

There 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



Editor's Note:

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.

Sources identified beneath each version



"The 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 and speculation.

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 in Dallas.

The carvings were probably made in Dallas at the Beilharz yard and shop and shipped to Waxahachie in their finished condition, ready to mount.

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.

Waxahachie History

Waxahachie:
Where Cotton Reigned King


by Kelly McMichael Stott
Photographs Courtesy of
The Ellis County Historical Museum
Arcadia Publishing's
The Making of America Series.
December 2002



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