Coryell County celebrates 125th anniversary of courthouse
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Dozens came out to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the historic Coryell County Courthouse at the celebration sponsored by the Coryell County Historical Commission Saturday.
The event began at 10 a.m. with the posting of the colors, on horseback, by Shalaine Clark of the Heart of Texas Cowgirls Professional Rodeo Team and Kylie Rystad of the Gatesville Riding Club Silver Spur Drill Team. The American and Texas pledges were led by Casey Curry, with the National Anthem following performed by Charles Ament. The crowd was then led by Dr. Steve Norris to sing “Texas, Our Texas.” Felicia Inman led the opening prayer.
Danny Corbett, chairman of the Coryell County Historical Commission, welcomed the people gathered on the courthouse lawn to the ceremony before introducing notable county officials.
“It was on July 18, 1898 that construction was completed on this magnificent building, and we’re very happy that you are here to celebrate with us,” Corbett said.
County Judge Roger Miller, dressed in themed attire including a wool jacket and hat, read aloud excerpts from a few historical court records.
He led with an excerpt, dated Feb. 11, 1897, that mentioned how since all of the county’s debts had been paid, the county was in a “healthy financial condition” to build a new courthouse and jail.
An excerpt from July 18, 1898 that affirmed the completion of the building of the courthouse by builder Tom Lovell. The courthouse was designed by W.C. Dodson and built on land donated by early settler R.G. Grant.
“‘I wish to also notice the skill and faithfulness of [Lovell’s] subordinates, Miller, Douglas, Frank, James and others in their several departments of construction and of finishing,’” Miller read. “‘I trust it is not out of place in this connection to say also that in my practice and experience, I have hardly found a court that jointly and individually has shown such care in the selection of plans and specifications and on guarding the interest of the county in all contracts and in their execution and in the diligence it has constantly shown to give your county the best and newest and the most convenient and substantial courthouse to be found in the State for the amount of money expended, and it is your privilege to be assured that you have succeeded in your efforts to do so and have built a monument to your memories which will outlast the natural lives of yourselves and children.’ Those, ladies and gentlemen, are the handwritten words that are entered into the record of the court and have been preserved for posterity.”
Miller added that he liked to think that the county held a similar ceremony 125 years prior to celebrate the building of the courthouse.
“I sincerely appreciate all of you taking the time out to help us enjoy the celebration and recognizing what a monument and what a beautiful courthouse this is and to recognize our successes and the lasting legacy that they give us,” Miller said. “I can only hope and pray that God will give me the foresight, the willingness and the diligence and the insight that He blessed that court with back in 1897.”
Miller added that it took just 17 months for the County Commissioners and County Judge of that time to authorize the construction of a new courthouse and jail.
“For 125 years, this courthouse has served continuously the people of Coryell County and has provided the cornerstone of our judicial system, our records preservation and administrative functions,” Miller said. “In fact, land deeds, cattle registration, trials and hearings, both civil and criminal, are maintained within the walls of this historic building, exactly as they were done over 100 years ago, maybe with a little help of some modernization in technology, but the principle is basically the same.”
Miller shared that he found it ironic that the first new employee of the new courthouse was a janitor, whose job duties included keeping all spittoons in the halls, rotundas, courtrooms and jury rooms washed out every day. He also shared that the grand total cost for the construction of the courthouse, made of limestone and red sandstone blocks, was $79,750.60.
Each entrance of the courthouse features columns in the Roman Corinthian style, and over the east entrance is the builder’s mark of an owl, while statues on the roof represent “Justice.”
“Today we gather to celebrate not only the courthouse, but all those who have faithfully served within her walls to provide those governmental services to the people of Coryell County,” Miller concluded. “She has stood the test of time, served through good times and tough times, evolved and modernized while retaining her historic significance. She is one of only four locations in the county to be entered into the National Registry of Historic Places, and she is also honored to be a Texas Historic Site as well.”
Miller also read aloud a proclamation from Gov. Greg Abbott commemorating the 125th anniversary.
Copperas Cove resident John Gallen attended the celebration on Saturday, and he commented how important it is to celebrate a historic building such as the courthouse.
“They’ve done a great job,” Gallen said. “These buildings when they were built were made to last. It’ll be here way past when we’re gone.”
Members of the Coryell County Historical Commission unveiled several markers dedicating the courthouse as a Texas Historic Site and as a building that has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The courthouse was placed on the Register in 1977 and was recognized as a Texas Historic Landmark in 2012. All of the markers had been restored and moved to the south side of the courthouse just prior to the celebration.
The ceremony was concluded following the playing of bagpipes by Jason Neeley, in homage to the Scotsmen who cut the stone at the quarry north of Gatesville and built the walls of the courthouse. It is reported, according to Corbett, that those Scotsmen would unwind after a day of hard work by playing the bagpipes in the town square.
The celebration featured children’s games and refreshments, including lemonade, water and an assortment of cookies baked by local residents and volunteers. Live music was provided by Bailey and Mike Dickie.
Courthouse tours were provided by Becky Moore, Jennifer Newton and Tiffany Butler.