What was old courthouse like?
By Kam Wagert
Friends of the History Center for Aransas County
When Aransas County was formed in 1871, rented quarters were used for a courthouse. In April 1889, the commissioners court placed advertisements in the newspapers of Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio requesting plans and specifications for a courthouse and jail. James Riely Gordon’s design was selected in May 1889. Gordon was born in Virginia in 1863, and moved with his family to San Antonio in 1874.
He was 26 years old when he designed the Aransas County courthouse, his first. It was designed in a Moorish style. The building was 56 x 74 feet with four entrances and two large staircases. In the center of the building was an atrium with a series of Moorish arches on each of the four sides. Gordon designed the first floor with the administrative offices so they opened to one of the verandas. The judges’ chambers and the jury room were on the second floor. The district courtroom was on the east side of the courthouse. A spectators’ gallery, which was 13 feet wide, had wings extending along the north and south walls. The third floor housed the grand jury room, witness room, and storage. Chimneys were built into the dormers. The final cost of the courthouse was $20,000. The jail cost $10,000.
The old courthouse had a cupola on top. During World War II, local residents used the cupola to look for enemy planes. In 1893, the county had erected a spiked wrought iron fence around the building to keep out roaming livestock. A brick foundation was added under the fence. Four sets of iron steps, each opposite an entrance to the building, provided access over the fence. The fence came down in World War II, with the iron going for the war effort.
The courthouse could not survive the modernization movement of the early 1950s. It was torn down in 1955, and replaced with the courthouse we now have. The furnishings were sold at auction, and the walls became riprap to protect the local shoreline.
A jury chair from the old courthouse and a painting of the building by Charlyne Hunt are now housed at the History Center for Aransas County.
The Center is located at 801 E. Cedar, and is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.