Kendall County and the county seat of Boerne evolved in much the same way as its 1870 courthouse – by changing and expanding according to the needs of its citizens. The stone courthouse, initially constructed as a single story rectangle measuring fifty feet long and thirty-two feet deep, with walls eighteen inches thick, first served the county for fifteen years before a period of county growth required some modifications.
While Kendall, carved out of neighboring counties in 1862 and selecting its county seat by a majority of 67 votes the same year, followed a somewhat routine path to development, Boerne had a more auspicious beginning, serving as site of a social experiment in communal living near the banks of Cibolo Creek. Called “Tusculum” after the ancient Roman city favored by wealthy Romans during the final century BC, the site provided a home for several members of an earlier, but failed, community nearby known as Bettina. One of several communities established by the German immigrant movement known as the Adelsverein, the short-lived commune of Bettina was established in the late 1840’s by an organization of forty professionals and craftsmen known as the Society of Forty and first formed at Darmstadt, Germany. The utopian endeavor lasted less than a year, however, and its failure dispersed the group, including five members who attempted to repeat the experiment with Tusculum. Although it failed as well, some of the members remained, establishing a more conventional (and successful) social experiment name after the German poet and historian Ludwig Boerne.
By 1885, Boerne and Kendall County had outgrown its courthouse, requiring a change to accommodate its rising population. The commissioners court authorized the addition of a second story on the simple stone structure, complete with a gallery, while maintaining the original building’s rectangular form. By 1909, additional modifications were needed. But this time, rather than hiring little-known designers, Kendall County selected one of the most high-profile architects practicing in Texas at the turn of the century - Alfred Giles.
Giles’ addition to the courthouse reflected the Romanesque Revival movement, a stylistic trend made popular by Giles and his contemporaries throughout the period. The Kendall County courthouse addition features the semi-circular arches familiar in similar Romanesque designs, its main entrance is flanked by octagonal wings, and quarry-faced ashier stonework is accented with cut-stone horizontal banding. A contrast between the structure’s rough and smooth textures in its stonework also reflects the difference between the earlier parts of the building and Giles addition.
The completion date of Giles’ design was also selected at the target date for the courthouse’s restoration, with funding from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, during the first decade of the 21st century. After a careful demolition of non-historic changes made after 1909, the courthouse details were restored or replicated according to their original design, including those in the impressive district courtroom. This included the replication of the rare painted floor, covered in a geometric pattern of yellow and gray squares. The courtroom’s wooden moldings, finials, and bead-board ceiling were also returned to their original character – an unusual, two-tone shellac finish, a feature perhaps as unique as the region’s eclectic beginnings.
Kendall County Courthouse