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    Texas | Architecture | Courthouses

    GONZALES COUNTY COURTHOUSE
    County Seat - Gonzales, Texas

    by Swoops

    Book Hotel Here > Gonzales Hotels

    It's a good thing that General Sam Houston wasn't blazing through Gonzales in 1894 because torching their Romanesque Revival courthouse would have been one difficult decision to make.

    Bison Bill's and my first look at this limestone and red brick structure came several years ago when Mr. and Mrs. Herda discovered that Shiner did, in fact, have only one stoplight that was worth the wait. Since Gonzales figured so much into Texas history and because it was only eighteen miles west of Shiner, going there was a must.

    So before you could say, "Come and take it!," we were at the city that will forever be remembered as where the Texans fired the first shots upon Santa Anna's men.

    TX -  Gonzales County courthouse today

    The 1894 Gonzales County Courthouse
    Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, November 2006

    This courthouse is a beauty. It has arches and turrets and balconies and columns, just about anything a bird would want. Unlike many courthouses built during this time, the clock tower and roof have not been removed or replaced, and the façade has not been stuccoed.

    There is a discrepancy as to what kind of material was used in the arches above the windows, the railings, and the base of the building. One source says it is of limestone quarried from nearby. Another says it is of pre-cast concrete blocks. Since my degree was in flappery and not in geology, either one looks pretty good to this eagle-eye reporter.

    It is understood that J. Riely Gordon is the architect, although Otto Kroeger of San Antonio is instead listed as contractor. At the time, county officials considered Gordon a "rich city architect." However, his papers at the University of Texas, Austin, prove that he was the one who designed this courthouse.

    TX - Gonzales County Courthouse 1939 old photo

    Gonzales County Courthouse as it appeared in 1939
    Photo courtesy TXDoT

    Inside the courthouse on the first floor are three paintings by artist Carl Reuter, an 1870s German emigrant. One portrays downtown Gonzales in 1876 when cows were driven instead of cars. Thorton Chisolm himself used to drive his cows through Gonzales on his way to market in Missouri.

    In another, the artist depicts the 1836 siege of the Alamo where thirty-two men from Gonzales were the only men who answered the plea of Colonel Travis. All defenders perished at the Alamo. Sam Houston's order to retreat and the burning of Gonzales began what is known as the Runaway Scrape.

    A third painting shows a 1925 view of the town as seen from somewhere near the Old Jail next to the courthouse.

    TX - Gonzales County Courthouse  district courtroom

    Gonzales County Courthouse District Courtroom
    Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, December 2004

    TX - Gonzales County Courthouse Staircase Looking Up
    Courthouse Staircase Looking Up
    TE photo, 2002
    TX - Gonzales County Courthouse  & Jail

    Gonzales County Courthouse and Jail
    1950s Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/

    Speaking of the Old Jail, architect Eugene T. Heiner, who also designed other grand Texas courthouses, designed this jail to "hold 150 to 200 prisoners in case of a riot." It had a room specifically for "lunatics" which was later used for women and children. Now, I'm not making any comparisons, but if you tell this story to women and children now, you probably will incite a riot.

    TX - Gonzales County Courthouse  old photo

    Gonzales County Courthouse
    Old photo courtesy THC

    Gonzales has had four courthouses since the county was created in 1837. The third one, built in 1857, had a cistern in the middle of the courthouse that could hold over three hundred barrels of water. It obviously didn't hold enough because on December 3, 1893, the courthouse burned down. The cistern didn't reappear until 1975 when a front-end loader disappeared under the ground.

    TX - 1857 Gonzales County courthouse

    Model of the 1857 Gonzales County courthouse on display at the Gonzales Memorial Museum.
    Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, October 2007

    TX 1857 Gonzales Count Courthouse Steeple

    Steeple from the 1857 courthouse
    Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, October 2007

    TX 1857 Gonzales Count Courthouse Steeple

    Placard at the base of the steeple
    Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, October 2007

    Gonzales Tx - Gonzales County Courthouse Tower

    Courthouse Clock Tower
    Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, February 2009

    The Legend of the Courthouse Clock
    On March 18, 1921, while awaiting his death, convicted killer Albert Howard cursed the clock forever... more

    TX -  Gonzales County courthouse SW entrance

    Gonzales County Courthouse SW entrance
    Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, November 2006

    TX -  Gonzales County courthouse capital
    TX -  Gonzales County courthouse  capital

    "The courthouse has three faces on the capital of one of the brick columns at the northwest corner entrance. The younger-looking face is the same face in both of these pictures."
    Photos courtesy Terry Jeanson, September 2007

    TX -  Gonzales County courthouse 1940s postcard

    Gonzales County Courthouse
    1940s Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/

    The Old Jail is now a museum, but the courthouse, recently restored, is as good as ever. General Houston would be proud to see how the town that he burned in 1836 has become the vital community it is today.

    Copyright Lou Ann Herda, Ed. D
    June 2001

    References:
    Gonzales County Jail Museum leaflet (pub. date unknown)
    History of the Gonzales County Courthouses handout (pub. date unknown)
    The History of Gonzales County, Texas, by the Gonzales County Historical Commission, 1986 Oil Paintings Hanging in the Gonzales County Courthouse, First Floor handout, by Genevieve B. Vollentine (pub. date unknown)
    References and Additional Reading
    Thanks to the Gonzales Chamber of Commerce for putting the materials together for me.

    Book Hotel Here > Gonzales Hotels

    More About Gonzales County Courthouse, & Related Subjects:

  • Gonzales County Courthouse
    From the original April 23, 1896, issue of The Gonzales Inquirer
  • The Legend of the Courthouse Clock
    On March 18, 1921, while awaiting his death, convicted killer Albert Howard cursed the clock forever... more
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