Dilapidated and abandoned are two words the Texas Historical Commission didn't want to hear when Texans described their County Courthouses but in some cases, those words were accurate. To address this problem, the Commission convinced the Texas Legislature back in 1999 to fund millions of dollars in matching grants to local communities that would pay for the restoration of these iconic buildings. Sharon Fleming is the Associate Director of this project and she says their challenge was daunting.
"These buildings had so many problems, I don't know where to begin. Many of them were dangerous. The electrical systems were totally out of date and faulty. There were a few fires in the courthouses due to faulty electrical systems. Roof leaks were common place. There were infestations of bats and bees and pigeons in many buildings."
Since the program began, 35 courthouses in all regions of the state have been restored. One in Wharton County, where the dramatic clock tower once again stands guard and measures time. Fleming says there are dozens of success stories like that all across the state.
"Several courthouses, such as Harrison County and Cameron County were unoccupied when our program began. And through our program, they're not only restoring those buildings, but they're putting significant government functions and they're headquartering them back in those buildings."
Sharon Fleming says this program has momentum now and it's fueled by word of mouth.
"The County Judges talk to one another and all the county officials visit with one another, back and forth, at various functions. Of course, the citizens of the counties talk about their own courthouses. We also have a lot of tourists who visit each and every courthouse it's kind of a hobby for some people. There are books being published on the courthouses. There are documentary films being made."
Since its inception, $145 million in grants have been awarded for courthouse restoration in Texas and at least $65 million in matching funds have been raised for this effort. There's more information about this program through a link on our website kuhf.org.