Here is a compilation of the history of Menard County Texas courthouses. Menard County Texas was created January 22, 1858, which is 163 years ago.
Michel Branamour Menard (1805-1856)
Due to problems, Menard’s citizens didn’t elect its officials until 1871. The first meetings were held in a picket house at the corner of San Saba Street and Ellis Street. A gas station later occupied the site. (Menard County Historical Society, 1982)
The second building used as a courthouse was a limestone commercial building in downtown Menard. It was designed by Patrick Henry “Paddy” Mires and built by B. Strom in 1880. This building housed the Menard County courthouse and jail from 1880-86. The first floor had Paddy’s store in front with the jail at the back. The second floor, accessed only by an outside stairway on the west wall, was the courtroom. The jail was reportedly a dungeon, in the building’s northwest corner, into which prisoners were lowered and from which they could not escape without a ladder. Some members of the Commissioners Court felt that both the building itself and its location were insufficient for the county’s needs. In February 1884, they discussed building a new courthouse and jail and, later that year, sold the second courthouse building to Fritz Luckenbach for $100. Mr. Luckenbach used the building to start his hardware store, and substantial additions were made in the 1930s. The original Mires building was converted and sold as a private residence. (Texas Courthouse Alliance; Menard County Historical Society, 1982)
P. H. “Paddy” Mires building
Recent photo of Mires building
The Commissioners Court ordered on May 13, 1884, that bonds be issued for the construction of a new courthouse and jail, and county residents responded by passing a $20,000 bond issue. The courthouse and jail were designed by architect T. P. Minor. The construction firm, Vickery and Haynes of Kimble County submitted the lowest bid, $12,500, and was awarded the courthouse contract on May 12, 1885. A separate builder Walker Mowath & Co., was used for the jail. A public privy was also erected for $209 by Scruggs & Schuchard.
1886 Menard County Courthouse designed by Oscar Ruffini
The two-story stone courthouse, which featured a prominent central tower, was built on the current courthouse square near the canal. The similarly styled stone jail was at the southern end of the square, near the site of the current courthouse. The second jail, completed in June 1886, was freestanding, two-story limestone cube. It had castled turrets on each corner and crenelations on all four sides. It was designed by Oscar Ruffini.
At that time, the north and south halves of the square were still separate blocks, divided by Canal Street. As shown on the 1921 Sanborn map, the 1885 courthouse and jail both occupied the south block, with the north block reserved as open public space.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Menard, Menard County, Texas, Aug 1921
In the 1920s, Canal Street was closed between Tipton and Gay Streets, and the blocks were combined to form one lot, creating the long narrow square seen today. As shown on the 1930 Sanborn map, Mission Street was also closed between Tipton and Gay Streets, along the southern boundary of the square.
1917 Menard County Home Guard in front of Menard County courthouse
1930 Popular Menard High School yearbook
1898 Menardville photo by N. H. Rose. Looking East with the irrigation ditch on the road to the Courthouse on the left and the Jail to the right and South.
Menardville looking West Courthouse and Jail noted on the photo, shared on Facebook
The facilities were used for forty-five years until 1931, when a new courthouse with a jail on the top floor was completed. Both the 1885 courthouse and jail were razed when the new courthouse was built in 1931. The stones from the old courthouse and jail were used to build the fence around the Pioneer Rest Cemetery in Menard. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided the labor in 1933-34 to lay the stones for the fence, but the arch was added later. (Menard County Historical Society, 1982)
1931 New Menard Courthouse photo by F. L. Wilkinson
Menard County Courthouse Marker
The historical courthouse was build by Withers and Thompson; Porter, E.D. The 1931 courthouse building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is designated a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark and a State Antiquities Landmark.
We are very thankful to County Judge Richard Cordes for working tirelessly and receiving two Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program grants from the Texas Historical Commission and seeing the completed renovations of the courthouse.
Menard County, organized 1871, conducted its first county business in a house built of pickets before financing the construction of a more permanent, two-story limestone building designed by architect P. H. Mires. From 1880 to 1884, the limestone structure’s first floor housed a general store while the second functioned as the county’s courtroom. The building also included a dungeon, located in the northwest corner, which served as the county jail where prisoners were dropped and retrieved via a ladder.
In 1884, the Menard County commissioners court ordered bonds issued to finance a new courthouse and jail, designed by architect T. P. Minor and completed in 1886. This stone, two-story courthouse served the county for over thirty years. By the late 1920s, however, its conditions were deteriorating. According to the local Menard Messenger, the vault space had become inadequate to hold all the county records, bats were prevalent, wind penetrated the courthouse through the windows and cupola, and there were holes in the district courtroom floor.
Despite a citizen-led campaign to preserve the historic courthouse, the structure and a nearby jail were demolished to make room for a more modern courthouse. Many of the buildings’ stones were recycled, however, and used to build the fence around the Pioneer Rest Cemetery with help from labor courtesy of the Works Progress Administration.
The new courthouse, completed in 1932, was designed by Elmer George Withers, principle architect of the Fort Worth-based firm Withers & Thompson. Withers was born in Caddo Peak, Texas, developing a career as architect through apprenticeships and correspondence courses. He was responsible for several other Texas county courthouse designs as well as the Art Deco courthouse he created for Menard County.
Withers’ Menard County courthouse is located along the south end of a long, narrow square in Menard, the county seat established along the San Saba River. The building’s one-story front section steps back to a central, four-story design flanked by two-story wings. The structural clay tile walls are sheathed in multiple shades of brick and decorated with cast stone detailing. A jail was originally located on the top floor and the building includes a basement featuring an individual jail cell used for prisoners too drunk or combative to get up all four flights of stairs. Long after the jail was relocated to another building, a python escaped from a traveling animal handler who was set up on the courthouse square during the Jim Bowie Days Festival. The snake made its home in the basement holding cell for several years before it was removed by several deputies prior to the restoration work in 2000.
Although the general design of the courthouse functions as planned, the architect or builder apparently miscalculated the placement of the judge’s bench, witness stand, and jury box in the District courtroom, an issue addressed both soon after completion and once again when a complete restoration of the courthouse began in 2000. Apparently, the judge’s bench and witness box were placed in an awkward position, preventing the judge and a portion of the jury to see the face of the witness during questioning. Instead, they could only see the back of the witness’s head, creating grounds for “reversible error”, a term used to define circumstances resulting in an unfair trial. Soon after the courthouse was completed, the courtroom layout was modified to correct this oversight. During the restoration process, financed by the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, the decision was made not to return the courtroom layout to its original design, thereby avoiding the possibility of creating a “reversible error”, grounds for a mistrial still on the books today.