Photo by John Troesser, 2002
1897 LaVaca County Courthouse detail
Photo by John Troesser, 2001
Sublime and Seclusion in southeast Central Texas is the county seat
of Lavaca County, Hallettsville.
If you're from Pennsylvania, you might think you've returned because
the courthouse here looks a lot like the Allegheny
County courthouse in Pittsburgh. Famous architect Henry Hobson
Richardson built that particular courthouse.
LaVaca County Courthouse today
by John Troesser, 2002
Now, to prove
my architectural capabilities, I'm going to let Bison Bill explain
the description of the courthouse.
"The one hundred seventy-feet tall Lavaca County courthouse is made
of brown sandstone and grey stone shipped in by rail
as huge boulders from Mill County. These stones were measured
and cut on site by local farmers and other laborers.
"It has a hipped roof and heavy towers with pyramidal roofs which
look a whole lot like those pyramids in Egypt (not the city in Texas).
The windows are tall and narrow and have what are called lintels,
which I thought always tasted best with a bit of curry powder and
cayenne pepper, except these lintels are made of stone. You won't
find me eating them.
"There are some incredible Romanesque arches all around the
courthouse. And the clock tower can be seen from miles away,
especially if you're Swoops. That tower has windows that are two-stories
tall, as tall as our house, and that tower is why this courthouse
looks so much like the one in Pittsburgh.
Heiner was the designer of this, his final courthouse, since
he died shortly thereafter at age 42."
That was fairly painless.
two-story Lavaca County courthouse tower,
containing the seven foot Seth Thomas clock.
Photo by John Troesser
While we were
there, we went inside the courtroom. Bison Bill commented on its
pressed tin ceiling and the curly pine wainscoting. I found out
that the first case here was on June 5, 1899, after Chas. McMurry
shot Chas. Ledbetter right out on the courthouse square. Killed
him dead. Back then, the old jury room was located on the third
floor where the jury slept, ate, and relieved themselves in their
"handsomely equipped bathrooms."*
This particular courthouse wasn't always the seat of
justice for Lavaca County. In fact, from 1846 to 1852, the seat
changed several times between Petersburg
Initially, court was held in a log house in Petersburg. That didn't
last long, so from 1847 until 1851, court was held in Josiah
Dowling's house. I guess that way Mrs. Dowling had plenty of
help around the house.
A courthouse was built in 1851, using all the money in the county
treasury. This was all fine and good (enough) until 1852 when it
came time to select the permanent county seat. That was when Hallettsville
got into the mess.
The Hallett settlement was initially in Colorado County. A road
was built between Columbus
to Hidesville, the name given to this settlement because
of the buffalo hide used as the cabin door. (I think Bison Bill
just fainted.) This settlement had its own post office, and Mrs.
Hallett ran a store out of her house. Then the settlement became
part of La Baca County, a new county created in 1842.
Hidesville became Hallettsville.
In 1897, it was time for another courthouse. The old building
was demolished, and the new Heiner courthouse was slowly
erected. The crowning jewel, the seven feet tall Seth Thomas clock
in the tower, complete with arches, was put in one year late. The
courthouse was well furnished, including every room having its own
hat rack and spittoon.
In 1913, some folks who had a little too much time on their
hands figured out that Hallettsville
had thirteen letters in its name, had a population of 1300, had
13 newspapers, and to balance things out, had an equal amount of
churches and saloons, at thirteen each. Ripley's Believe It Or
Not cleverly called it the "13" city. I always heard
that "thirteen" was an unlucky number. But with a city that's known
for its kolaches and two Texas halls of fame, it's far from unlucky.
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I enjoyed the
story on the Lavaca County courthouse! Just an additional note to
its history: When the movie version of "The Best Little Whorehouse
in Texas" was filmed in south Texas, the production company used the
Lavaca County courthouse as a 'stand-in' for the Fayette County courthouse
(seems the folks in La Grange were still a bit miffed about the Chicken
Ranch being shut down and they didn't want the added publicity about
it!). Much of the movie was filmed in Hallettsville, Victoria and
surrounding areas. The movie starred Burt Reynolds, Dolly Parton,
Dom Deluise and Jim Nabors. Again, I enjoy your weekly newsletter
very much and forward it on to all my friends both in and out of the
great state of Texas! - R. C. Hurst - August 02, 2001
2001, Copyright Lou
Ann Herda, Ed. D
The Lavaca County Seats and Their Courthouses, p. 7.
Many thanks to Pat Carr, executive director of the Hallettsville Chamber
of Commerce, for assembling materials, and to Brenda Lincke-Fisseler,
town librarian, for assembling kids.
2001 Texas State Travel Guide (Texas Department of Transportation)
The Lavaca County Courthouse leaflet (publication date and author
Lavaca County Seats and Their Courthouses, 1897-1997, by Paul C. Boethel
References and Additional Reading
Your Hotel Here & Save