The restoration of the Llano County courthouse, completed in June of 2002, required repairs typical of a building that had been around for over one hundred years. Fortunately, Llano county citizens had done their best to preserve the courthouse’s original details with few exceptions, making the restoration process, funded by a 2.8 million dollar grant from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, relatively straightforward for the architectural firm in charge of the project. Obviously, the folks of Llano cared about their courthouse.
“The biggest thing is community pride and spirit,” Carl Shannon, member of the Llano County Historical Commission, reported during the restoration process. “People in Llano and surrounding communities are going the extra mile to make things work for the present, and for the future of our community. People are coming up with old photographs and memorabilia. Due to this project, people are becoming proud of their past and are willing to bring forward items that otherwise may have stayed hidden.”
At over one hundred years old, Llano’s courthouse, designed in the Romanesque Revival style by architect Arthur O. Watson, wears its age well. Its sandstone, marble, brick, and granite exterior still manage to engage the eye and its massive rectangular presence with corner pavilions and clock tower are remarkably well-preserved for a building of 1893.
It is, in fact, the fourth courthouse for Llano. Although documentation is scarce regarding Llano’s early courthouses, we know that two, and possibly the third as well, were destroyed by fire. Court minutes mention several one-story buildings in use for county business during 1880, the year a fire completely destroyed all of the county records. According to local folklore, the fire was a result of an argument on a nearby ranch that ended with the death of the ranch cook. On the night before the accused and witnesses were scheduled to appear in court, a group of wranglers circled the courthouse and set it on fire in order to destroy any record of the pending felony indictments. Fire was a symptom of the predicament Llano found itself in during the 1890s as well, a period of financial strife for the community, when a string of suspicious fires resulted in a denial of fire insurance to the entire town for a number of years.
The present courthouse experienced its own fire damage as well. The original tower had no clock or bell so commissioners replaced it with a new granite clock tower in 1913, purchasing and installing a new clock from the E. Howard Clock Company of Boston along with a bell weighing approximately one thousand pounds. A tower fire in 1932 destroyed the bell, requiring the county to purchase a replacement from the Buckeye Bell Foundry of Cincinnati, Ohio. The clock required winding by hand until the late 1930’s or early 40’s when an electric drive mechanism was installed. Another fire in 1952 caused significant damage to the interior of the building, including the courtroom, but rather than demolish the 1893 structure Llano citizens insisted on rebuilding.
The courthouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977, included in the Llano County Courthouse Historic District in 1989, and designated a Texas Historic Landmark as well as a State Archaeological Landmark, all fitting honors for a structure that continues to serve the county’s citizen into its third century.
Llano County Courthouse