Old Blanco County Courthouse

Trail
Type
Courthouse
Date
1886
Address
300 Main St.
Blanco, TX
Directions
Directions

The town of Pittsburg was established in 1855 across the river from present-day Blanco. In 1858 Blanco County was formed and the new town of Blanco laid out. In 1860 the first courthouse was built on the south side of the square at a cost of $600. That building burned in 1876 with a total loss of all records. Following the fire, the county used a building on the west side of the square for the courthouse. According to some reports it was called the Harrison Building, a two-story frame building located where the old Masonic Building (#8) and old Comparet store (#7) now stand.

When in 1884 it was at last decided to build a new courthouse on the public square, well-known Austin architect Frederick Ernst Ruffini was engaged to design it. Built during 1885-86 by Philip Cage and C. P. Boon of Blanco for $25,970, the building was accepted by the county on January 29, 1886.

However, the creation of Kendall County in 1862 had taken most of the southwestern half of Blanco County, leaving the city of Blanco in the southernmost part of the county, not in the center as required by law. After Johnson City was founded in 1878-79 fourteen miles to the north, a succession of three elections were held (in 1879, 1884, and 1890) to move the county seat there. The first two failed by only a few votes, but on January 21, 1890, the third resulted in the removal of the county seat to Johnson City. The new court-house in Blanco was only used by the county for a scant four years.

When in 1893 the Blanco School building burned, the school year was completed in the Blanco Methodist Church and the court-house. The next year the school took over the entire courthouse, and school was held there until 1901. In 1906 when the Blanco National Bank was formed, the bank purchased the courthouse for $3,200. Sometime later C. E. Crist became the owner of the courthouse. In 1919 the rebuilt school building was pronounced unsafe and school was moved back to the courthouse until 1921.

During all of these many years the building was used for many purposes and office space was sometimes as low as 50¢ a month. It was a school and a bank and was used by lawyers, real estate brokers, doctors, dentists, and justices of the peace. It served as a barbershop, opera house, newspaper office and print shop, town hall, Farmers Union hall, movie theater, library, bakery, the site of traveling shows and the Blanco Fair, and finally a hospital in 1936. Many Blanco children were born in the hospital, which was closed in 1970.

The Blanco Museum of the Early West was opened in it in May 1971; in 1972 the building received a historical marker. After the museum closed, the building was vacant for awhile, then Medora Crist Posey sold it to a Mr. Roberts who operated a bar and restaurant in the building. It was again vacant until John W. O’Boyle purchased it and in June 1986 announced plans to dismantle it and rebuild it as his ranch home.

At that juncture the citizens of Blanco mounted an emergency effort to save the old courthouse, forming the Old Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society to raise the half-million dollars needed to purchase the building. After four and a half years of struggle, the Society finally succeeded, thanks to local contributions, large grants from the Amon Carter and Meadows foundations, a $100,000 loan from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and a generous gift from the owner in the form of forgiving half the original asking price.

The National Trust loan will have to be repaid and restoration costs are estimated at some $650,000, including restoring the original roof and a facelift. Fortunately, an additional $50,000 grant from the Meadows Foundation has made it possible to begin Restoration Phase I as of the publication of this booklet in 1998. So, one hundred and two years after its completion, this work will restore the courthouse to its original likeness as it was in 1886.

The 35-year-old Ruffini, who designed the native limestone, two-story building in a Second-Empire Victorian style, died before the completion of this project, one of two courthouses he designed. The other is in Paint Rock, Concho County, Texas. The Old Blanco County Courthouse is considered one of Ruffini best works and is regarded by some critics as the best example of Second Empire architecture in the state.

The courthouse, built in the center of Courthouse Square, has exterior walls of mortared limestone blocks surmounted by a wood-framed mansard roof. The interior is designed on a cruciform plan. Notable on the first floor are the original vaults, transomed doorways (some with etched glass), and wood corridor wainscoting. The courtroom, which dominates the second floor, still has its original softwood floor, platforms for judge and jury, and beaded-wood vaulted ceiling, which was partially restored in the 1970s. Signatures from schoolkids were discovered on the walls and preserved.

Although the slate mansard roof was removed to allow for major roof repair, it will be fully restored as a part of the project. Actual samples of the slate and the architect’s drawings have been preserved in the Texas State Archives.

According to the survey report for the National Register of Historic Places, “Overall, the courthouse is one of the finest examples of courthouse architecture from the late 19th century in Texas.”

The Old Blanco County Courthouse is a two-story, Second Empire style masonry building in a cruciform plan, built during 1885-86. Its walls are mortared limestone rubble, plastered on the interior. A wood framed mansard roof covers the building.

The first floor has a pair of rectangular offices in each corner leaving the cross space for corridors and stairs. L-shaped wooden stairways lead to the second floor from the ends of the east-west corridor.

The second floor interior is dominated by a large central courtroom with a single office in each corner of the floor, flanking the stairwells. The courtroom retains its original softwood floor, daises for the judge and jury, and a vaulted, beaded-wood ceiling.

The courthouse is significant for its architecture. Frederick Ernst Ruffini, the architect, was active in Central Texas in the late 19th Century. He is credited with designing many important buildings, such as Old Main on the University of Texas campus in Austin and the Millet Opera House.

The courthouse is in the center of the courthouse square and surrounded by lawn on all sides.

The Old Blanco County Courthouse was constructed as the first permanent courthouse for Blanco County and served its purpose for less than 5 years. After the county seat was moved in 1890, the courthouse become privately owned and served a variety of uses, including a school, bank, offices, barber shop, Blanco County News office, opera house, hospital, museum, and barbecue restaurant.

The Blanco National Bank began operating in the courthouse in 1923 and used the tax collector’s vaults. From 1936 to 1970, the courthouse was used as a general hospital. Over a thousand children were born in the hospital, many of whom are Blanco residents.

The building was sold to an area rancher in 1986 with the intention of moving it his ranch. The Old Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society (OBCCPS) was formed, spread awareness, and raised enough money to purchase the courthouse in 1991 and begin restoration. The OBCCPS owns the property, leases office space, and rents the courtroom for events.

The courthouse is one of finest examples of courthouse architecture from the late 19th century in Texas and remains a significant historical and architectural element of Blanco.

A visitor’s center is located on the first floor. Blanco Market Day is hosted on the grounds on the third Saturdays in March through November plus a second Saturday in December.