Bandera County operated in a sparse and resourceful era after initial appropriation from Bexar County in 1856, requiring the establishment of a county government at a time when Texas’ independence from Mexico was a mere twenty years old. Resources, scarce and undeveloped, required distribution through equitable sharing, an interaction at the core of civility that Bandera County citizens illustrated with proficiency. The need for an official courthouse, first comprised of rented rooms, led to the procurement of a two-story, limestone general store knows as Schmidtke and Hay, constructed on a high bank above the Medina River. The store-turned-courthouse also accommodated the local Masonic Fraternity on the second floor, the Literary Club every Saturday night in the courtroom, and the United Friends of Temperance on Fridays.
County magnanimity continued after the construction of a new courthouse as well, completed in 1891. A group called the Royal Neighbors was permitted to use the courtroom when not in session. Other non-county offices paid a dollar a month to rent space except for Attorney J. A. James who paid a dollar and a half. The local Baptists used the courtroom temporarily to conduct their children’s Sunday School and the local Red Cross chapter was granted use of an upstairs room. The District Courtroom served as dance floor for community celebrations, concert hall for musical performances, schoolroom for the Public Free School, and meeting hall for public affairs.
But the somber pall of county business eventually dampened the vigor of accord in 1901 as county commissioners terminated all extraneous courtroom activity. A first attempt to do so appeared to have been ignored, requiring county commissioners in 1907 to clarify the prohibition of “dancing, making and serving ice cream and other refreshments detrimental to the courthouse floors” by recording it in their minutes of August 15. Finally, an official, definitive edict was issued in 1921 banning all dancing in the courthouse.
In retrospect, it was probably a good idea. The hundred-plus year old courthouse, a three-story Italian Renaissance Revival structure built of lumber and locally quarried white limestone and featuring a cupola, was plagued with roof leaks. Although designed by the reputable San Antonio architect Benjamin Franklin Trester, Jr. and completed by his trusted partner and foreman A. B. Frankel after Trester’s untimely death from pneumonia, no less than sixteen entries can be found in the Commissioners Court records indicating a need for roof repair over the course of the 20th century. By the time Bandera County citizenry applied for and received funding from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program for emergency structural repairs to the courthouse in the first decade of the 21st century, the structural integrity of the entire building had been so compromised that one more night of lively boot scooting may have brought the entire courtroom ceiling down.
A remarkable feat of engineering ensued, involving the transfer of the structure’s entire weight from its over-stressed wood trusses to a network of new steel trusses. After the new structural system was in place (hidden from view to avoid altering the original appearance of the courthouse), the building’s cupola was surrounded in scaffolding, allowing a close examination of the condition of the metal roofing and decorative cupola elements. Before the structural repairs, inspectors were only able to observe the cupola conditions with binoculars. Most of the existing damage resulted from a wood boring beetle infestation, requiring all damaged sections replaced. Four painted clock faces, one on each side of the cupola tower and depicting 7:45 as in the courthouse’s original design, were repainted to reflect ten minutes past ten o’clock, the ideal time for a mid-morning break and an appropriate evening hour to prepare for sleep, perhaps discouraging any future thoughts of late-night dancing on the courtroom floor.
Bandera County Courthouse