I’m guilty; I’m probably more guilty than anyone I know because I spent years complaining about the folks who allowed what Comanche calls the Victorian Courthouse to be demolished. I must admit that I have also been very guilty about complaining about the look of the present Comanche County Courthouse.
And then, one day I decided to look for the rest of the story…there’s always a “Rest of the Story,” if we will only look, isn’t there? From Lillian Durham’s letter to her sister, Ruby, we know that they began the demolition in October of 1939.
“They are really wrecking the court house-you can’t imagine what all they’ve done since day before yesterday. They couldn’t work Monday as there were so many folks in town but they have surely been working since.
“This morning they lowered the old lady off the top and the whole town turned out to watch. They still haven’t got her out of the building as they lowered her on the inside and still have her in the building. I’m dying to see how she looks-she sure did look pitiful being pulled down as they were rather rough with her.”
Lil’s letter was a fun thing to find, but it also started me down another path. The year was 1939, and the Great Depression was still sitting squarely inside the homes of many Texans. Jobs were still hard to find, and to put it mildly, times were tough for a lot of people.
So what does building a new courthouse have to do with any of that?
First, the old courthouse was torn down with LOCAL labor. Then, the present Comanche County Courthouse was built from NATIVE stone, quarried mostly from the Hugh Lacy farm at Logan’s gap. The courthouse was also built by using LOCAL labor…jobs, jobs, jobs!
For over two years, the men (about 250 in all) worked and received a paycheck. The final cost of the whole project was over $200,000.00, with about $90,000.00 going to labor costs. Can you just imagine what having about $3,500.00 extra dollars floating around town every month in the late 30s and early 40s meant to Comanche and the other towns in the county? According to my sources, that would be like having almost $60,000.00 extra dollars per month today. Couldn’t we use some of that!
And how did Comanche County manage to pay for such a courthouse if tax payers were already struggling?
Of the more than $200,000.00 that the building cost, $166,000.00 came from the WPA. Then, there were things that could be sold from the old courthouse, and, of course, the county passed a bond. It was in the amount of $75,000.00.
I have never counted the rooms in the courthouse; I just know that it is two stories and a basement, but the original paperwork on the building cites Wyatt C. Hedrick of Fort Worth as the architect and makes claims of 41 rooms, a grand structure for the times indeed.
The building was completed in 1941, and the old annex (which had stood between the courthouse and the Fleming Oak on the southwest side) was taken down, making much more room inside the public square.
As I said, it was a big day when the courthouse finally received the dedication it deserved in 1941. It had helped many struggling families regain their footing once again. That is very easy to forget here in the 21st century, but it is a story the people of Comanche can tell proudly and often; that courthouse quite literally saved the bacon for Comanche County!