Lavaca County and the county seat of Hallettsville were in great need of a suitable courthouse by the 1890’s. According to a letter from a visitor who had spent time in the existing structure, conditions couldn’t have been worse.
“While the county seems to have everything it needs,” the concerned visitor wrote, “yet there is one thing that the county is in need of very much, it is a new courthouse.” The letter’s author described the existing structure as “…an old-time shanty for a courthouse in which it is very dangerous for anyone to be. It has a clean floor, but in such a miserable condition that anyone walking on it must be very careful lest he should break his toes or might stumble and break his neck…Further, the old structure appears so dilapidated that it is liable to tumble any time.” Fortunately for the county commissioners court, the opportunity to post reviews on the internet for the world to read was still about a hundred years in the future.
But Lavaca County resolved the dilemma within the decade, completing an impressive Romanesque Revival courthouse by the end of the century. The three-story courthouse was designed by Eugene Heiner, a Houston-based architect instrumental in dozens of the state’s public buildings including jails, colleges, commercial structures and additional courthouses, several of them now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. His 1899 Lavaca County courthouse survives as one of Heiner’s most intact original designs and was his final courthouse for the state.
The Lavaca courthouse features Muldoon and Mineral Wells sandstones, Romanesque arches, and a tall central tower with two-story slit windows drawn from the Richardsonian characteristics of the Romanesque style. The tower’s four clock faces are each seven feet in diameter. The steps leading to all the entrances are constructed of red granite. Much of the building’s stone was shipped by rail as boulders then cut to size and fashioned by local stonemasons on site using manually-operated stone saws. Unique interior elements included powder-blue walls, green iron staircases with decorative railings, pressed metal ceilings, and ornate geometric tile floors. Hand-painted landscape scenes decorating the courthouse safes and vaults were common in the late 19th century, and remain striking features today. Artist G. W. Flury created the work, highlighting his scenes with gold and aluminum pin-striping.
The new courthouse was dedicated on Fourth of July in 1899 and the celebrations featured a crowd of over five thousand in attendance, many arriving on excursion trains from nearby towns. Entertainment included a musical competition featuring Hallettsville’s own Silver Comet Band and a parade through town. A report on the completed courthouse, published a few months earlier, offered the following about the new courthouse: “…a palace that is finished from basement to tower…The first floor has the principle offices…and a large beautiful room for the county and Commissioner’s Court….The district courtroom is a gem. The jury rooms connected with it are very convenient and the arrangement is so that two juries can work at the same time and enjoy all the comforts and private conveniences of home life.”
The Lavaca County courthouse, now restored to its original 1899 condition courtesy of a grant from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, celebrated a rededication on September 11, 2010.
Lavaca County Courthouse
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