Shelby County Courthouse

Tidbits of Shelby County History
Center: Home of the Irish Castle, part 2


This week I will finish the history of the Shelby County Courthouse.  The first information I am sharing today will be the specification for the courthouse as copied from Commissioner’s Court Books of minutes in the Clerk’s office.

DIMENSIONS – drawings must be accurately followed …size etc. and when completed delivered in fine condition…all rubbish, surplus and waste material removed. Floors scrubbed and windows washed, etc.

EVCAVATION – Foundation trenches be excavated 4 ft 6 in deep below grade level six inches on each side wider than foundation walls…the trench to be leveled, then filled up one foot six inches with clean sand, in layers of four inches…. each layer to be well rammed down with a hammer, not over five inches square, and five feet long, the sand to be leveled before starting the brick work. After the foundations are in, and before the first story joists are laid, the remainder of the trenches to be filled up and rammed hard. Underneath the privy to be excavated to the bottom of the foundation.

FOUNDATION WALLS --- to be laid with best hard gray brick and in best Rosendale cement, and lime mortar in the following proportion:  One barrel of cement, one quarter barrel of fresh Austin lime, and six barrels of clean sand to the 1000 bricks, the exterior joints struck smooth, to have double rowlock arch under arch under each window and door opening, as shown on plan, headers every fifty course, work to be first class – shoved work. The ground plans to be followed in laying out foundations and not the lines represented on elevation of foundation, the mortar joints one quarter inch thick. Should any holes, old wells, or defects be found when the foundation trenches are dug, the same to be cleaned out and filled with clean sand, and reamed the same number as for foundation walls, - no sham ramming will be allowed.

FOUNDATIN WALLS --- have a table of beveled bricks, said bricks to be 3 inches thick, six inches wide, and nine inches long; to be set on edge, and to project one inch beyond the walls. Corners to the water table moulded nine inches square and 6 inches thick beveled same as above, etc.

DAMPLINE --- of slate asphalt 2 courses below edges of joist… if asphalt is used one course of brick to be laid in same.

WALLS…. EXTERIOR WALLS will start at the 1st floor to be faced with best gray hard brick, backed with hard red and gray brick, side walls to be of thickness as shown on plans; all interior walls to be built of hard red and gray bricks etc.

CHIMNEYS … interior mortar joints to be struck smooth, same as outside chimneys in courtroom. Ten foot from highest floor level, the chimney tops above roof to be laid up with 8 inch walls for exterior and four inch partition between flues carried to top of chimneys, turn trimmer arches under hearths, fireplaces to be lined with best Mitchell fire clay bricks, laid in fire clay mortar, said lining or back and jams to be laid one foot eight inches high, balance of selected red brick. Fireplaces to be 3 feet fronts, one foot six inches deep,

ARCH BRICKS … to be selected hard brick, dimensions of said bricks to suit the radius of arches, relieving arches to be turned over all lintel.
CARPENTER WORK… joists to be crowned in center 3-100 of an inch to the foot, size of joists for main building, given in section No. 5; joist are wings 2x12 for first and second in story; second story joist of wings to bring floor of jury room level with inclined floor of main building at that point in cent of opening where doors enter jury room; ceiling joists 2x8; rafters 2x6; tied in center with a piece 1x6 nailed with five eight penny nails top and bottom from top of rafters to center of ceiling joists.

BRIDGING --- all floors over ten feet, to have two rows of 1 ½ x 2 cross bridging nailed twice at each end with two eight penny nails: less than ten feet, one row

WAINSCOTING....  to be selected yellow pine…. clear of knots, not over 4 inches wide

CEILING…. yellow pine 7/8 inches thick, not over 4 inches wide
FLOORS…. To be laid with 1 ¼ inch yellow pine, nailed with 10 penny nails, dressed and matched clear of loose knots and shakes, planned down etc.

DEAFENING…rough floors are to b laid on 1x2 in strips nailed with 8 penny nails 6 inches apart; strips to be 3 inches from top of joists, rough flooring to be not over 4 inches wide laid so as to be ½ in open; laid loose and space filled in to top of joists with deafening, same to be composed of saw dust and lime in the proportion of one barrel of lime to ten barrels of saw dust worked with mortar.

SHEETING…roof to be sheeted with 1x6 square edge lumber mailed twice on each rafter with 8 penny nails punched in so as not to injure slate, etc.

WINDOWS & DOOR FRAMES …. To be full width of thickness of walls, cased on each side jams made of 17/8-inch stuff, etc.  Ground plan….75 feet 4 inches length; width 46 feet 4 inches; including wings, 77 feet 10 inches width of wings 20 feet; thickness of foundation of side walls 4 feet; thickness of front and rear walls three feet; side and end walls to be battered to 2 feet 6 inches; height of foundation to top of joists 6 feet; foundation of cross walls to average 18 inches with width.

FIRST STORY…. 8 rooms, 8 foot hall running each way, and vestibule at each end; width of first story 43 feet 8 inches; first story walls to be 22 inches thick up to the sill of the second story windows and 15 feet 6 inches high, etc.

SECOND STORY…. 40 x 70 feet in the clear, height to edge of ceiling to east end of courtroom 22 feet; in west end 19 feet; the ceiling to extend up the rafters to a point 7 feet 6 inches higher than the edge of ceiling; the courtroom to have open timber roof; second story walls to be 18 inches thick. On each side of courtroom will be a door leading to jury room, which will be 14 feet 4 inches by 16 feet 6 inches in the clear; second story walls of wings will be 13 inches thick, height in ceiling in jury rooms will be 12 feet 6 inch; height of main building to ridge of roof 55 feet; height to top of cupola 73 feet to top of flagpole 85 feet….  All gables to be 13 inches thick.

The courthouse itself is a two-story Romanesque brick building. The two million-plus bricks were made by J.J.E. Gibson, while the mortar was made from sand toted via oxcart from Louisiana some forty miles away.The architect thought hard about the hot Texas summers, so he shuttered each window. So, while the windows were opened, the courthouse still remained cool. The ceilings are also high, which further helped make the courthouse temperature bearable.

Now that you know the overall size and thickness of the courthouse, we need to discuss the various colors that the courthouse has been painted. From pictures and postcards, I know that the courthouse at one time was painted white. A call to our local historian, Buster Bounds, was made to see if he had dates when the courthouse was painted white. Buster did have a picture with a cannon in front of the courthouse which shows the color of the courthouse as white. I asked him about the cannon as I had never seen a picture of the courthouse with a cannon in front of it. Buster shared that the cannon was given to the county after WWI and the cannon was melted for bullets during WWII. He could not give an exact date of when the courthouse was painted white but by that picture and another picture of the courthouse dated 1939 (courthouse appears white in picture) it was white from at least 1939 until 1966. Buster stated, “It was my understanding that Rex was motivated by the condition of the paint at that time.”  I have found proof that the courthouse was repainted in 1966 the same color of red as the Payne & Payne Hardware store in preparation for the centennial celebration of the establishment of the town of Center.  The Red color was unacceptable with the Texas Historical Architecture plan and was sandblasted to remove the colors. This was made possible with the grant for restoration of the courthouse by TXdot in the 1990’s.  All this to say,a time frame of when the courthouse was painted white is unknown.

Another interesting fact shared by Mr. Bounds was the following:
Lore has it that the state architect commented (in 1990) -- at first glance at our courthouse -- that Mr. Gibson's design referenced the 14 "Stations of the Cross." 

The typical reference is:
Stations of the Cross. The typical stations are small plaques with reliefs or paintings placed around a church nave. Modern minimalist stations can be simple crosses with a numeral in the center. Occasionally the faithful might say the Stations of the Cross without there being any image, such as when the pope leads the stations.
(Stations of the Cross - Wikipedia)

There are typically 14 stations and the faithful can pray to in turn to each one, as in a religious path:

Question: "What are the Stations of the Cross and what can we learn from them?"

Answer: The Stations of the Cross, also known as the Via Dolorosa, is a narration of the final hours in the life of Jesus Christ on earth that continues to provide spiritual conviction for every Christian and application to our lives. The Stations of the Cross serve as a stark reminder of the humble manner in which Jesus was willing to set aside any privilege of deity in order to provide a path to salvation through His sacrifice.

There are several widely accepted versions describing those final hours, one being biblical and the others being more traditional accounts of events in Jesus’ final hours. The traditional form of the Stations of the Cross is as follows:

1. Jesus is condemned to death.
2. Jesus is given His cross.
3. Jesus falls down for the first time.
4. Jesus meets His mother Mary.
5. Simon of Cyrene is forced to carry the cross.
6. Veronica wipes blood off of Jesus’ face.
7. Jesus falls down for the second time.
8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
9. Jesus falls down for the third time.
10. Jesus is stripped of His clothing.
11. Jesus is nailed to the cross – the Crucifixion.
12. Jesus dies on the cross.
13. Jesus’ body is removed from the cross – the Deposition or Lamentation.
14. Jesus’ body is placed in the tomb.

Per Buster Bounds: “Louis Jones was convinced that Gibson had the "stations" in his plan.  He told methat Gibson wanted to build a cathedral when he built our courthouse.  Is it true?  I guess we will never know but it is fun to speculate.” 

Can you look at the building and find 14 "points" in the design?