Endangered Texas Treasures—Texas Courthousesby Representative Ted Poe
Posted on 2013-02-14
in the house of representatives
Thursday, February 14, 2013
Mr. POE of Texas. Mr. Speaker, no matter where I go, I always meet
someone who wants to share a memory about my former life as a criminal
court judge in the Harris County courtrooms. Most times, people
reminisce about some of the creative punishments that I handed down or
about the time they served jury duty in my courtroom. But, sometimes
the conversation turned to the courthouse itself, or as I call it, the
Palace of Perjury.
I presided over more than 25,000 criminal cases in the Palace of Perjury for 22 years. My particular courtroom was massive. Paneled in a dark wood, it gave off an ominous, serious mood. As it should--some of the worst and most horrid crimes were tried within its walls.
That courthouse--now the Juvenile Courthouse in Harris County--was just one of 235 courthouses in Texas. Each is a symbol of our state's rich history and a symbol of our promise to follow the law and pursue justice. Courthouse construction began in Texas after it won independence from Mexico in 1836. Counties were formed and courthouse construction began in each. Because the counties were booming and populations were increasing, many courthouses served multiple purposes: schools, churches, dancehalls and meeting places, not just a place to settle legal issues. Courthouses became the heart of the town--or the ``square'' of the town. Here Main Street businesses grew, and communities were shaped. Trials, elections, marriages, parades and festivals are forever linked to our historic courthouses.
At times as a judge, I traveled to other counties to try cases. Along the way, I began to photograph Texas' historic courthouses. I was drawn to their impressive and varied architecture. Built with bricks, stone, and stained glass, some have clock towers; others have domes. Each is unique. I like the Renaissance Revival style of the Anderson County Courthouse and the Romanesque Revival style of Fayette County Courthouse in La Grange. Some like the Newton County Courthouse known for its Second Empire style, while others like the La Salle County Courthouse known for its Moderne-style structure.
Along the way, I learned that other Texas officials shared my love and admiration for our State treasures. In 1993, my friend and then- Governor George W. Bush, together with the Texas Historical Commission, established the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, a plan that provided $200 million in matching grants to communities working to repair and restore these structures. By the end of 2012, 63 Texas counties have received full funding for their construction project. That includes the Harris County Courthouse--``the Jewel of the South.'' Built in 1910, restoration on the courthouse was available through funding from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program and was completed last year. There's a lot of history in our great State, and it's our responsibility to preserve this rich heritage for future generations.
In 1998 and again in 2012, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named all historic courthouses in Texas to its annual list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Some of those historic courts are located in rural counties with limited funds, but are in need of insurmountable repairs. Unfortunately, some are on the brink of abandonment or demolition. Budgets are tight all around, but I think these treasures are worth saving.
This spring break and summer, as you pack up the family and head across our great state, get off the interstates and drive downtown to any Main Street. There you can share a little Texas history with your kids and grandkids. On each Main Street is a Texas treasure. And that's just the way it is.