Today there are few in Kerr County who would recognize Lee Wallace’s name, though at one time, Judge Wallace was one of the most influential people in our community.
Recently, the Hearne family shared some Lee Wallace items with me, including some photos and a 1937 draft of a collection of stories written by Wallace about Kerr County and its characters. These stories have been fascinating to read, and I hope to share a few
of them with you here later.
Beyond these stories and photographs, Wallace left behind a monument most of us would recognize, even though his connection to it has been forgotten: Wallace was county judge here when the front part of our current courthouse was built, back in 1926.
Our current brick courthouse replaced a lovely stone building constructed 40 years earlier, in 1886, which was designed by Alfred Giles.
It’s been reported here the 1886 courthouse was replaced because it burned down. That is not accurate. The 1886 courthouse was in use until the 1926 courthouse was completed, and in the spring of 1927, the county offices moved from one building to the other.
The voters approved a bond issue to build the new 1926 courthouse in December 1925, in the amount of $110,000.
The former 1886 courthouse had several problems. First, it was argued, the old building was too crowded.
“County officers long ago outgrew the present quarters,” the Kerrville Mountain Sun reported in early November 1925. “The building is overcrowded all the way
through, especially the offices of sheriff, county and district clerk, and county judge, the latter official being compelled to store part of his school supplies out in the hallway.”
In those days, the county judge also was the chief officer of the public school system.
“In addition to being crowded,” the article continues, “the present courthouse is unsafe. For several years, the walls of the building have been cracking and spreading, this of course gradually, but nevertheless steadily, and the time is not far distant when the walls of the structure are going to collapse. In fact, engineers who have been keeping a close check on the condition of the building have already considered condemning it for public use.”
Merrill Doyle, in his little memoir published in 1975, mentions the old 1886 courthouse, and some of its residents: bats. “...the tower room … had been taken over by a colony of bats. Their occupancy had left an unforgettable air about the place and it was said that on a still, damp night, the aroma could be scented a half-mile away.”
The original court order calling for the bond election included this wording: “Kerr County, Texas, is in need of a new Court House and Jail, and that the safety and permanency of the records of said County, and the safety of its citizens, requires a new and adequately constructed Court House (with fire-proof vaults). …”
Perhaps the emphasis on “fire-proof vaults” in the order led some to believe the old courthouse had burned down.
The bond issue passed handily, with 590 votes for and 363 votes against.
The 1926 Kerr County courthouse was designed by Adams & Adams, architects with offices in San Antonio, a firm that designed several other buildings in our community.
I’m thankful to the Hearne family for sharing so many historically significant items by and about Lee Wallace with me. The short vignettes Judge Wallace wrote provide a new look at Kerr County as it was in the early 20th century, and I look forward to sharing them with you here.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who appreciates the generosity of so many people who share historic items with him.