In a news release last week, spokespersons for the Texas Historical Commission (THC) said that the fact that Texas courthouses were selected again for this list demonstrates the continued need to generate awareness and resources in the ongoing effort to preserve and restore this unique collection of architectural treasures.
“This recognition sends a strong message that, as the National Trust likes to say, these places are worth saving,” said THC Executive Director Mark Wolfe. “This is another wakeup call, as was the case in 1998, that if action is not taken now, we could possibly lose forever any one or more of these magnificent structures in our foreseeable future, which would be a tragic loss both to the community and to the State of Texas. These courthouses belong to all of us, and they belong to future generations as well. They tell the real stories, often quite literally, as they house the historic records, that are the legacy of the Lone Star State.”
Local leaders talked about the recent announcement during the Second Friday community breakfast event hosted by District Judge Stella Saxon.
“Exciting things have happened for us this week,” Saxon said. “We have been designated as a historic place in danger, which is a good thing for us in terms of funding.”
“What this building is all about, and the building we are restoring, it is not so much about the building itself,” Saxon said. “If you look, generally in these counties, that courthouse is the grandest building in the whole county. It says something about who we are. It also tells us and reminds us of all the people who inhabited that place and what they stood for and tells us what we need to continue striving for as citizens and as public servants who work in the county. It is with real pride that I have spent many years working here and hope to see this through.”
Sue Butler Carter, speaking on behalf of the Karnes County Historical Society, explained that a group of Karnes County residents traveled to Austin to hear the surprise announcement on June 6.
“The national attention brings to focus the fact that the funding has been somewhat cut over the last year or two,” Carter said. “It has gone from about $60 million per year for restorations down to about $20 million. I guess somewhere in all this, the plight of our courthouses have again received a lot of national recognition.”
“Karnes County was one of three selected by the THC to be – as you might say – the ‘poster child’ of a courthouse that still needs additional work,” Carter said. “We are very pleased that we have made as much progress as we have but we will continue to need additional funding from THC, so therefore we hope THC continues to receive their funding from Texas so that we can complete our project.”
“I think it is very exciting,” Carter said, explaining that photos of the Karnes County courthouse were used in the Wednesday press conference in Austin.
According to THC, more than 70 historic county courthouses across the state remain in need of rehabilitation. Fortunately, a greater number have been either partially (21) or fully (62) restored since the landmarks were first placed on the Most Endangered List in 1998. Thanks to continued support and funding from the Texas Legislature, the Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program played a fundamental role in the 83 successful restoration projects that have taken place across the state, bringing increased economic activity and a strong sense of community pride to participating counties.
THC said the establishment of the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program was an unprecedented effort to restore the landmarks for many more years of service, maintaining the integrity and beauty of the original design with upgrades and safety improvements more suited for a modern workplace.
“Since the courthouse program’s inception, nearly $247 million has been awarded to more than 83 counties for the preservation of their county courthouses,” said Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program Director Stan Graves. “Courthouse restorations have generated more than 8,579 jobs throughout Texas, and more than $19 million in local taxes. We’re grateful the Texas Legislature has supported us through challenging economic times, providing a strong foundation on which to build an even stronger program.”
The Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program was established in 1999 by Gov. George W. Bush and the Texas Legislature to restore Texas’ county courthouses to their original splendor and make them safe, functional, and a source of pride for Texas communities. The THC created and administers the program.