Texas architect Alfred Giles is believed have been responsible for the original design of the 1884 Dimmit County Courthouse. Historians attribute fifteen Texas courthouse designs, additions, and remodels to Giles, all completed between 1881 and 1919. The England-born and educated Giles immigrated to the U.S. in 1873, settled in Texas and established his own architecture firm in San Antonio. The Dimmit County courthouse design featured a simple, two-story, square building of Italianate influence, a distinct early 19th century revival style derived from 16th century Italian Renaissance architecture. The Italianate style, as well as the predominating stone construction material used in the Dimmit courthouse, were both signature characteristics of Giles’ work. But Giles was not the architect of record for the courthouse even though, according to county documents, county commissioners selected Giles as architect on November 12, 1883. Instead, lead builder J. G. Breeding ended up with the designation. Initially, three bids were submitted to county commissioners for construction of the Giles design and all were considered beyond budgetary constraints as determined by a group of thirty citizens who petitioned the court to limit courthouse construction costs to less than $15,000. As a result, county commissioners tossed the bids and set the Giles design aside. A representative of J. G. Breeding and Sons, architectural and construction firm from San Antonio, also appeared at the same county commissioners court meeting and presented plans and specifications for another courthouse. The Breeding plans were accepted on the spot. Next up, two new contractors also appeared with bids prepared according to Breeding’s plans and specifications. The winning bid, for the amount of $11,800 came from a Mr. J. Thompson, contractor and, without coincidence, leader of the petitioning citizens brigade. The final cost of the courthouse was $15,490 plus another $400 in settlement money to resolve a lawsuit filed by Giles over the controversy. Although neither set of plans survive, thus making it difficult to determine how much of Giles design ended up in Breeding’s, but Giles’ plans were already on file and accessible at the courthouse before the meeting took place. Breeding’s design, as indicated in the completed courthouse, contained similarities suspiciously like those found in other Italianate courthouses designed by Giles during the 1880s.
But, in the courthouse’s final iteration including its restoration in the 21st century, neither Giles nor Breeding prevailed as architect. In 1926, the county expressed a need for more room, additional offices, and space for record keeping. As a result, the county hired Texas architect Henry T. Phelps to enlarge the existing courthouse significantly at a cost exceeding four times the amount of the original courthouse construction. Texas-born Phelps designed a number of courthouses around the state during the first three decades of the 20th century. His modifications and additions to the Dimmit County courthouse almost doubled the space available to conduct county business and transformed the Italianate design into a more modern Classical Revival aesthetic, made popular as the century turned.
Phelps’ 1926 Classical Revival remake was also chosen for the restoration period. The stone edifice, with an exterior in moderately good condition, retained all of its original 1884 windows. But its deeply projecting stone cornice suffered from structural compromise and, in 1995, an entire thirty-five foot section collapsed from the east wall. The courthouse interior, dramatically altered with partitioned rooms and dropped ceilings, received a significant portion of the restoration efforts with the assistance of Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program funding. But very little courthouse furniture from the 1880s survived with the exception of a 19th century bookcase, designed in the Eastlake style of the period. Like the rest of the courthouse, it received structural reinforcement, a good cleaning, and a bit of polishing before returning to county business.
Dimmit County Courthouse