ADOBE WALLS IN A RAILROAD TOWN
Hudspeth County boasts the only courthouse in Texas that’s constructed of adobe -- sun-dried mud bricks reinforced with straw. But if you expect to find a humble structure you’re in for a surprise. This courthouse resembles a Mediterranean palazzo, cloaked in whitewashed stucco and adorned with arched windows and a triangular pediment. Completed in 1922, it’s the jewel of Sierra Blanca, the county seat named for the mountain northwest of town.
Architect Bradford Hardie chose adobe to suit the harsh desert climate of far West Texas, but he designed the courthouse in the elegant Renaissance Revival style. Eighteen-inch-thick walls capture the cool night air and insulate the building during daytime heat. But even the sturdiest buildings fall victim to time and the environment. Blasting to construct Interstate 10 and small earthquakes in the area caused the front façade to pull away from the main structure. With assistance from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program the landmark was restored, and rededicated in 2004. Look up at the roof and you’ll think it’s covered with red clay tiles. Actually, they’re metal shingles, a trompe l’oeil effect as convincing as a desert mirage.
Call it geographic serendipity, but remote Sierra Blanca grew as a ranching and shipping center after the Southern Pacific and Texas and Pacific railroads, competing for a second (Southern) transcontinental line, came within 10 miles of each other in late 1881. Neither would yield the route to the other, but a compromise was reached and railroad magnate Jay Gould drove a silver spike that joined the two lines where the town now stands. Any Wednesday you can explore railroad memorabilia, local history and Native American artifacts at the Railroad Depot Hudspeth County Museum, located in the Southern Pacific Depot built in 1882.