Last fall I had the pleasure of presenting my courthouse project to attendees at the annual Texas Society of Architects convention in Dallas. Afterwards, Bills Echols, AIA, Project Manager for Tarrant County's Facility Management office, invited me to visit the Tarrant County courthouse for a behind the scenes tour. On Friday, April 8, 2016 I took Bill up on his offer. What a tour I had! Bill introduced me to his colleague, Tracy Pelle, AIA, Assistant Director of Construction Services, and away the three of us went. First up was a top to bottom tour of the recently completed Tarrant County Civil Courts Building, by HOK/HKS architects.
This elegant court building is directly east of the historic 1895 Tarrant County courthouse. The new Civil Courts Building replaced a previous building that occupied the land adjacent to the west facade of the 1895 courthouse.
This building is now gone and the land on the west side of the courthouse is once again open, allowing views of the west facade of the historic courthouse. Hooray for progress!
By the way, the new Civil Courts Building offers wonderful views of the east facade of the historic courthouse.
Following the tour of the Civil Courts Building, Bill and I entered the attic of the 1895 courthouse and began a vertical journey up and into the courthouse clock tower. This area was rehabilitated in 2012 and offers incredible views of the building structure, including the iron framing that supports the courthouse roofs.
The tour began with some stairs, followed by some "not for the weak at heart" ladders that are the only access to the upper reaches of the tower. We eventually came upon the 1895 bell, cast by the Seth Thomas Clock Company, that rings each hour.
The bell ringer is linked by a steel cable to an elaborate mechanical clock mechanism one level above, that also controls the large clock faces on each side of the courthouse tower. Here's a view of the gears that turn the clock shafts.
We were almost 200 feet above the street, so of course I had to take a look outside of the west side of the building.
Finally, no tour of the Tarrant County courthouse would be complete without seeing the model of the building constructed entirely of matchsticks!
On Saturday, April 9, I drove to Waco, seat of McLennan County. I was there for a Sons of the Republic of Texas banquet that evening, but I took the opportunity to send some time along the banks of the Brazos River, where I encountered throngs of well-dressed teenagers and their families, posing for pictures before a high school prom.
I also noted that Lady Justice, high atop the county courthouse, is still missing her left arm. I guess new arms don't grow overnight...
Sunday morning I began my drive back to Houston, stopping along the way at Marlin, seat of Falls County. The county courthouse is still difficult to see and photograph through the surrounding trees, but the roses were in bloom on the courthouse square.
After photographing the Falls County courthouse for the second time, I ventured a few blocks away and came upon the former Hilton Hotel (1929-30) in downtown Marlin. I learned that this was the 8th hotel opened by Conrad Hilton, who began his career in Texas. Alas, the building is vacant and not in very good shape.
Across the railroad tracks is a building and historic marker is the explanation for such a grand hotel in what is a rather small Texas town: hot mineral springs. Like the town of Mineral Wells in Palo Pinto County, these springs were the basis for a resort community that thrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Texas, attracting visitors from all over the country. Those days are history now, but the buildings still survive, ghosts of a time long gone.
My spa treatment completed, I continued on to Franklin, seat of Robertson County, to view the recently restored historic courthouse. Check out my Robertson County webpage for the "before" photographs. Here is the "after" view of the restored 1881 courthouse.
I returned home Sunday afternoon, full of renewed enthusiasm for the endless variety of Texas cultural history available for the courthouse tourists. My next courthouse trail road trip is scheduled for May 5 through 10. I'm flying to Amarillo for 5 days of travel around the top of Texas: the 15 counties north of Interstate Highway 40. With these counties I will complete my initial circuit of the 254 Texas counties! Fortunately, this weekend's trip proved there will be no shortage of new courthouse material for me to explore and photograph during the coming years...
Leonard G. Lane, Jr., AIA
- Chronological Order (of my visits)
- County List (alphabetical)
- County Seat List (alphabetical)
- Texas Courthouse Blog
- James Riely Gordon, Architect
- Eugene T. Heiner, Architect
- Henry T. Phelps, Architect
- Alfred Giles, Architect
- Corneil G. Curtis, Architect
- Wesley Clark Dodson, Architect
- Lang & Witchell Architects
- Voelcker & Dixon, Architects
- Wyatt C. Hedrick, Architect
- David S. Castle, Architect
- Page Brothers, Architects
- James Edward Flanders, Architect
- Pierce, Norris, Pace & Associates, Architects & Engineers