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Symbol of the Past Ready for Business of the Future

Bandera County Courthouse in 1891

Story by David Norris | Historical photos courtesy of Bandera Frontier Times Museum

It was just about lunchtime when Rebecca Norton found herself once again looking through some old photos at the Frontier Times Museum in Bandera. There’s something about these photos, the look and feel, the faces from a time so long ago, that Norton can never get enough of.

“I love this one,” said Norton as she held a black and white photo of downtown Bandera with a vastly different landscape than the one she knows now. “There are literally farms where downtown would be.”
Over time, most everything in that old picture has changed. Everything except for one building in the background: The Bandera County Courthouse.

Another photo shows a more prominent view of the courthouse. In this picture, it’s surrounded by a few trees and mostly empty fields. A dirt road stretches across the bottom portion of the photo, and a horse with rider can be seen on the right edge.

“This one would have been from the 1890s. You can see there was just nothing around,” said Norton.
Norton is the executive director of the museum, pictured opposite, and knows quite a bit about the long, rich history of the courthouse.

Built in 1890, it has lived through the Panic of 1893, the Great Depression and both world wars. For generations it has stood the test of time and served the citizens of Bandera.

“It’s not just a building. It’s the heart and soul of Bandera,” said Norton.

Norton said it was a much-needed addition to the county, considering it had no courthouse for the first twenty years.

“If the county commissioners needed to meet for court business, they had to meet in residential homes or a local business or church,” said Norton.

In 1877, Norton said the county purchased a two-story limestone building just off Main Street and Highway 16 that overlooked the Medina River. This would serve as the county courthouse for the next two decades, before the current one was built in the center of town. The old courthouse, along with the city’s first jailhouse still stand today as designated Texas Historic Landmarks.

Other buildings have come and gone, but the courthouse, with its locally sourced limestone walls and clock tower, has stood the test of time for well over a century, even if the clock tower never had a working clock.
“I don’t know if the county commissioners ran out of money or they just couldn’t have a real clock up there,” said Norton with a laugh.

In the early years of the courthouse, as was the case with all of Bandera County, communication with the outside world was difficult at best. Norton said because Bandera was so isolated by the hills, no railroad ever came through. Mail and newspapers were just about the only ways of communicating back then.

“Even mail delivery was very difficult. Bandera would only get a mail delivery every three to five days, and it was brought in by horse and buggy,” said Norton.

Bandera didn’t even have electricity until early 1938. According to a newspaper article from the time, Bandera sat in darkness. People used candles and kerosene lamps for light while steam and gasoline engines provided the power to operate machinery.

Bandera County Courthouse in 1920

In 1953, Bandera changed from using a switchboard operator routing calls to using manual dial telephones. Communications in Bandera were progressing, and the town was better off for it.

In 2018, communications at Bandera County Courthouse progressed again into the modern age with the addition of fiber broadband services from Bandera Electric Cooperative. The courthouse was initially set up with at 1 Gigabit service. Fiber Sales Engineer Garrett Mitchell said they wanted to connect other county buildings in the area.

Bandera County has expanded its broadband connection to other county buildings, vastly improving overall communications as a result. Once lit by kerosene lamps, the courthouse is now on the cutting edge of communication technology, a symbol of the past ready for the business of the future.

The courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, ensuring the old building will be around for generations to come.

Bandera County Courthouse 2021 | Photo by David Norris

Posted: 10/1/2021 9:05:56 AM
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