Live Oak County Historical Commission
Live Oak County Historical Commission

Live Oak County Courthouse (1919-2020)-    Registered Texas Historic Landmark(RTHL)

Live Oak County Courthouse: George West Texas became the county seat of Live Oak County in 1919. Previous to that, Oakville, had been the county seat. Construction began on this courthouse in 1919 and was completed in 1919. 

THANK YOU!

 

Judge Jim Huff, and the Live Oak County Commissioners' Court: Richard Lee, Donna Koplin, Willie James, Emilio Garza, and citizens of Live Oak County for the long and arduous effort put forth to restore and maintain the Live Oak County Courthouse true to its heritage. This seems to be the only courthouse in the state to independently complete this courthouse accomplishment without a grant from the state. Everyone is pleased with the outcome inspite of delays caused by COVID-19. 

 

Marker Chair, Richard Hudson,​ wishes also to thank Mary Margaret Campbell for her excellent research and summary history of Live Oak County. That history will soon be included as a feature article on this website. Regrettably while in the process of preparing application for this marker award, the THC - short staffed, changed application format by reducing application narratives to ten pages including documentation instead of the 20+ allowed previously. Thank you, Mary Margaret, for your fine work in helping with this application. Thanks also to Judge Jim Huff and Ross Harris for their work in critiquing and source recommendations.

Live Oak County Judge: Honorable Jim Huff

Live Oak County Historical Commission Chair: Ross Harris

Marker Chair: Richard Hudson

Chair Assistant: Janis Hudson

GWHTC Sponsor: Live Oak County Commissioners' Court

Researcher: Mary Margaret Campbell

Date Unveiled: To be announced

Contact: rehudson@liveoakchc.org

 

 

Live Oak County Courthouse

Registered Texas Historic Landmark Narrative

 

Context

In Mexican Texas, Live Oak County was part of San Patricio Colony settled primarily with Irish settlers brought by empresarios John McMullen and James McGloin.[1] The colony became a county in 1836 by order of the Texas Republic. It remained so after Texas became a state in the United States in 1845. San Patricio lost territory south of the Nueces River to newly established Nueces County in 1846.[2]

As San Patricio was further reduced in 1848 to create more counties. The population grew in later Live Oak region. Trips to San Patricio’s county seat for northern settlers were long, inconvenient, and dangerous.[3] Fort Merrill in 1850 was the first place of law and safety drawing more homesteaders to the region.[4]

Need for closer government increased in San Patricio’s north. Twenty-seven men living north of the Nueces gathered under a live oak tree at Gussettville, wrote a charter, and petitioned the Texas Legislature for a new county. On February 2, 1856, the new county was established by the Legislature.[5]

Texas Legislature appointed eight petitioners to organize the county. They met under the “Charter Oak” on the Nueces River within a stone’s throw of Norwick Gussett’s store in Gussettville. They chose the name, Live Oak County, then elected officers to serve until the regular election in August.[6]

Thomas Wilson deeded 640 acres for a county seat and courthouse. On September 8, 1856, the county court, again under the Charter Oak, accepted Wilson’s donation and named the county seat “Oakville.”[7] Recorded on January 3, 1857.[8]

County clerk business was in Thomas Bartlett’s home. County court met at John Thomas James’. Tom Wilson completed the first Live Oak County Courthouse.[9]

In 1879, John Thompson received a contract to rebuild the courthouse with Joseph Sanderson Campbell awarded contract to supervise. Later, county officials issued bonds and awarded S. J. Noyes the contract for a separate jail building.[10]

Overview

Live Oak’s population continued growing. Land speculators and cattlemen like George Washington West (1885-1926), an astute businessman moved in. In 1880 he bought 60,000 Live Oak County acres and 50,000 cattle from Dillard Rucker Fant.[11] West amassed 200,000 acres in Live Oak and neighboring McMullen Counties.[12] Sometime in the 1880’s, West commissioned Alfred Giles, noted San Antonio architect, to design his ranch house with all the latest conveniences.[13]

In 1902, West retired to San Antonio. By 1912, he  decided to build an eponymous town near the center of his massive Live Oak County ranch and move the county seat there. Fifty-six blocks of lots comprised the town plait with one block for a proposed Live Oak County Courthouse.[14]

May 1912, West paid $100,000 cash and gave free right-of-way to the San Antonio, Uvalde and Gulf Railroad. The railroad’s route bypassed Oakville 6 to 7 miles, and depots were built in Three Rivers and George West.[15] Decline set in for Oakville, compounded by not being centrally located in the county.[16]

The town of George West is centrally located for more convenient access by county citizens.[17] Former County Judge William A. Hill (1899-1912) petitioned the Court for an election to determine whether the county seat remained in Oakville or moved elsewhere. The Court ordered an election on Saturday, December 13, 1913.[18]

Prior to the election, George W. West offered $45,000 and a city block of choice to Commissioners’ Court to build a courthouse and jail “in … George West”.[19] The results were Oakville-164, a location called “Live Oak”–152, and George West -85.[20] “Live Oak” has since been known as Mikeska for the family who owned the property.[21]

George West did not win in 1913, but he did not give up. He platted his new town; built a school, water works, electric plant, and hotel. A block near the town center was set for a courthouse.[22] After filing the plat; he sold town lots. Outside of town, he sold acreage to farmers and built roads and bridges. Sales were brisk. The railroad brought homesteaders and speculators daily.[23]

When Texas General Land Office put George West near the county’s geographic center, a new election was held January 18, 1919 between Oakville and George West. West increased his courthouse and jail donation to $75,000.[24] Results: George West-312, Oakville-113.[25]

County Judge T. H. Miller signed the order moving the county seat to George West on January 20, 1919.[26] That day, George W. West deeded Block 18 in George West for the erection of a new Live Oak County Courthouse and jail.[27] The following day the Court began moving county records, furniture, fixtures, and offices from to locations in George West including the school house and hotel.[28] Judge Miller advertised for architects to submit designs and plans.[29]

The Court submitted four different architectural firms to San Antonio Loan & Trust Co. for endorsement.[30] Alfred Giles Company secured the only required endorsement. This removed West’s influence in the decision. Giles submitted his architectural proposition “for the sum of five percent on total cost” to pay on final acceptance by March 11, 1919. The Court accepted.[31]

On April 15, 1919, the Court decided for the jail to be on top of the courthouse.[32] Next, commissioners voted a maximum of $65,000 above $75,000 donated by George W. West.[33] On April 21, the Court accepted Alfred Giles plans.[34] These are not in the minutes, and “ … papers [plans] and records of the architectural practice from 1892 to the 1920s were … lost in about 1942 when vandals and vermin invaded the San Antonio garage in which they were stored.”[35]

Friday, January 30, 1920, Giles Company ran a full-page advertisement in the San Antonio Evening News. Besides the Live Oak County Courthouse, it featured four additional courthouses. Regarding Live Oak County’s Classical Revival Courthouse, it stated, “The Courthouse now under construction at George West … will be entirely fireproof and in every respect a model courthouse. The county jail is located in the third story. The building is of reinforced concrete, faced with brick and stone [type of stone not specified here] and will cost $175,000 ….”[36]

Giles’ interior materials were amended to cut costs. Walls and ceilings were finished in Muresco Wall Finish with no cornices. The Court Room floor was rift sawed pine, all others No. 1 best pine. Windows used double strength glass.[37]

Born in Middlesex, England to landed gentry, Alfred Giles (1853-1920) “received a proper and privileged Victorian upbringing.” After finishing Proprietary School, Giles  apprenticed as an architect and attended night classes at King’s College, University of London, “where the only course relevant to architecture then offered was the arts of construction.” Then he worked in an architectural firm.[38] In his twenties, Giles came to Texas. He became San Antonio’s leading architect. “Citizens … looked to the urbane Englishman to design structures that would be the reflection of their business acumen and civic pride, buildings that were not only beautiful but functional and appropriate”.[39]

“Without exception, his clients were altruistic businessmen, building proudly and for the long term”.[40] Further, “Giles was the architect of choice for Texans who were builders of other towns and cities: Charles Armand Schreiner of Kerrville; … ; Asher Richardson of Asherton …”.[41]

Giles’s work reflected styles derived from architectural classics with new combinations. His own architectural expressions superseded trends. Giles “adapted and combined stylistic elements with restraint, sobriety, and simplicity” producing unpretentious domestic residences and showy mansions, county courthouses, and commercial and institutional structures all over Texas.[42]

Giles was a dedicated husband and father. He married Annie Laurie James, daughter of English born John James, Surveyor of Bexar County. They developed a thirteen-thousand-acre ranch near Comfort, named Hillington, like his home in England. They raised eight children there.[43]

Largely a winner in architectural competitions, Giles designed a dozen county courthouses; six survive today. Falfurrias’ Courthouse is architecturally similar to Live Oak’s.[44] In The Architectural Legacy of Alfred Giles: Selected Restoration, Mary Carolyn Hollers George asserts Giles built 135 buildings in Texas and twenty-four in Mexico, thirty-four continuously maintained.[45] Giles passed away Friday, August 13, 1920, a few months before completion of the Live Oak County Courthouse.[46]

Brashear and William J. Springall representing Alfred Giles Company, asked the court for an extension. The petition for extension cited “unavoidable delays, such as strikes, lockouts, delays in material, inclement weather, or any delay that is not traceable to fault or carelessness on our part.” The Court agreed. completion date to be September 1, 1920.[47]

The courthouse was finally completed in October. On October 22, 1920, George West gave the courthouse land to the county. He withheld $10,000 from $75,000 for furniture.[48] October 23, 1920, the court accepted the Courthouse and ordered payment to Brashear Construction Company, Alfred Giles Company, and for furniture and lighting.[49] The furniture purchased for the Courtroom is still in the Live Oak County Courtroom today.[50]

The Classical Revival Courthouse, in the center of the 300 block of Houston Street and facing north, is a three-story dark and brownish-red brick and stone detailed in stately white. It has a raised basement with exterior white belt coursed beneath the first floor and around the building. Front, back, and side porches display massive white unfluted Corinthian columns that extend from the porches to the bottom of the third floor white belt course anchoring the entablature. Six columns are on the front with four columns on the other three entrances. Ornate Corinthian capitals above the smooth pure white columns impart grandeur as they support a simple but dignified and powerful entablature.[51] These welcome those who enter for daily and special occasions from all four directions. The four hallways meet in the center of the courthouse, and a stairwell near the west entrance leads to the second and third floors. An elevator serves the public for alternative access as well as loading for business deliveries.

The entablature extends from the top of the second floor and includes a full belt course surrounding the third floor. Its white architrave is punctuated above an exposed band of the dark brick façade. Then a white frieze of dentil work is crowned with an unassuming cornice. Another white band tops the rest of the third floor brick façade and discreetly hides the flat roof. Tall symmetrical windows grace all four sides of the building. On the third floor is additional office, storage space, and the jail with gallows that reportedly were never used.[52]

November 9, 1920, the Court ordered officers of Live Oak County “to move into their respective offices in the new Courthouse and Jail … for doing all business and for the holding of all courts and…doing all business for the county …”. This was the last action taken by the Live Oak County Commissioners’ Court in leased space.[53]

The first Live Oak County Commissioners’ Minutes for Court conducted in the new Courthouse were December 2, 1920.  They paid road work on Road District 4 and county employees.[54]

The full block square of Live Oak County Courthouse has a maintained yard of grass, shrubs and plants. Sidewalks and street parking surround the building keeping it accessible from all directions. On court days and during long booms, parking spaces stay full around the courthouse and on all opposite sides of the streets.[55] The Live Oak County Courthouse has served as a center for cultural and social events since the first one in Oakville hosted weddings and the first Live Oak County Fair.[56] Weddings, Christmas lighting events, the county’s centennial and sesquicentennial, thirty years of StoryFest, and more events revolve around the courthouse since.

Two exterior buildings complement the courthouse. An attached addition at the rear brought jail facilities up to date at the time of its building but is scheduled for demolition in the master plan because a new Justice building containing a jail has been built on separate property.[57]

The first additional structure on the courthouse grounds was placed there in 1927. A four sided glass enclosure with corners made of brick matching the courthouse hosts the legendary likeness to George West’s favorite Longhorn steer, Geronimo. His nephew, Albert West, had the steer preserved and townspeople paid for the enclosure. The last enclosure with current technology, followed the architecture of the first, and provides historic panels of explanation. A reproduced Geronimo with original horns is a true doppelganger. Multiple organizations shared the vision, development, and fund raising. Hundreds of people attended the unveiling on May 1, 2016.[58]

Geronimo remains a legend representing Live Oak County people, cowboys, and longhorns that saved Texas and the nation after the Civil War. The American Bicentennial Committee sent his likeness to Russia in 1976. J. Frank Dobie, noted Live Oak County author and Edna Ferber, Pulitzer Prize winning writer, immortalized Geronimo. Tourists and locals stop every day to muse Geronimo’s form, history, and promise as he stands always looking to the future.[59]

An annex for additional tax and other office use was built adjacent but not attached to the west of the courthouse in 1956. Since the courthouse’s exact brick color could not be found, the nearest match was used. Architect, Wyatt C. Hedrick, worked with contractor, Bill Beasley.[60]

The entrances to the Courthouse and some inside sections were remodeled between 1988 and 1992, with McCord & Lorenz as architects and two contractors, Harbor Construction (1988-1991) and Ewing Construction Co., Inc. (1992).[61]

With the completion of a new justice center and jail east of the city limits of George West, the 1962 jail attached to the Courthouse is scheduled for removal. This will bring the Live Oak County Courthouse back to its original configuration.[62]

Significance:

Live Oak County Courthouse not only represents the people of Live Oak County, it is a center of pride and joy for all times, even for times of grief where one finds consolation and closure.

A partnership was secured between George W. West and the people of Live Oak County when they agreed to move their county seat to West’s namesake town in 1919. Together they produced a Live Oak County Courthouse which has already lasted a century and maintained will last for centuries more. Alfred Giles, Texas architect, blended Classical Revival Style with understated grandeur, wisdom, strength, and function just like the people themselves. It is one of only six lasting Alfred Giles’ courthouses of twelve built in Texas.

The current Commissioner’s Court, upgrades the century old Courthouse with ever-changing technological advancement. They restored the exterior including period windows. The interior is maintained with immaculate beauty and purpose.

The century old Live Oak County Courthouse remains the center of business and law. Elected and appointed Courthouse personnel represent the county in state and national affairs. People of Live Oak County know to expect justice on civil and criminal issues. County births, adoptions, matrimonies, divorces, service, and deaths as well as probate issues to deeds for purchase and sale of real property recorded in the courthouse. County budget and emergency preparedness in times of military and other crises are carefully planned and carried out from the Courthouse.

Since 1920, the Courthouse in George West anchored local economic, cattle, oil, gas, and uranium booms and busts actively engaging in educational, financial, and cultural roles. Social and cultural events bring hundreds and thousands from near and far away.

“The Live Oak County Courthouse is a lasting landmark that serves Live Oak County twenty-four/seven 365 days every year. Our forefathers would be proud. Live Oak County’s posterity is forever in their debt and committed to its Courthouse legacy.”[63]

Endnotes

 

[1] Hébert, Rachel Bluntzer. The Forgotten Colony: San Patricio de Hibernia. Burnet: Eakin Press. 1981. Appendix A. 429-433. Lindholm et. al., 6.

[2] Handbook of Texas Online, Guthrie. "SAN PATRICIO COUNTY”, accessed July 6, 2019.

[3] Lindholm, Thelma Pugh. The History of the People of Live Oak County, Texas. Live Oak County Historical Commission. George West: Self-published. 1982. 10; Sparkman, Ervin L. The People’s History of Live Oak County Texas. Mesquite: Ide House. 1981. 21.

[4] Sparkman, 4-5; Lindholm et. al.; Lindholm, 9; Hudson, Richard and Janis. Images of America: Live Oak County. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. 2013. 20.

[5] Lindholm. 10; Handbook of Texas Online. Leffler. “LIVE OAK COUNTY”, accessed July 8, 2019.

[6] Lindholm, 11; Lindholm et. al.; Sparkman, 21-22; Olson, Mary Frances Goynes. Texas Roots. Greenville, S.C.: Southern Historical Press. 1999. 24.

[7] Wilson, Thomas. Live Oak County Record Book A, p. 14; Pugh Family Collection, A1993-003.0042. South Archives, James C. Jernigan Library, Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Live Oak County Deed Record Book A, p.14. 

[8] Ibid.

[9] Pugh. TAMUK file A1993-003.0040; Olson. 25.

[10] Ibid; Olson. 19.

[11] Shackelford, Bruce. The Wests of Texas. Denton: Texas State Historical Association. 2015. 84.

[12] Sparkman. 101.

[13] Ibid. 88. 

[14] Ibid. 120-122; Nueces Valley Townsite Co., Live Oak County Deed Record Book X, p. 13; Thornton Hamilton, Live Oak County Deed Record Book X, p. 313.

[15] Live Oak County Deed Record Book Y. p. 310.

[16] Shackelford. 120; LOC Deed Record. Ibid.; Lindholm, 46.

[17] Live Oak County Commissioner’s Court Minutes Book 4, p.553.

[18] LOCCC Minutes Book 4, p. 570.

[19] LOC Deed Record Book T, p.288.

[20] LOCCC Minutes; Lindholm et. al. 8; Sparkman.   

[21] Lindholm et. al.

[22] LOC Deed Record Book U, p.620; Shackelford, 121.

[23] Lindholm. 46, 83-84.

[24] LOC Deed Record Book Y, pp. 633-638.

[25] LOC Election Record Book 1, p. 199. 

[26] LOCCC Minutes Book 5, p. 433.

[27] LOC Deed Record Book 2, p. 167.

[28] LOCCC Minutes Book 4, p. 434; Lindholm. A1993-003.0042.

[29] LOCCC Minutes Book 5, p. 435.

[30] Ibid. 439.

[31] Ibid. 430-440.

[32] Ibid. 442.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid. 444.

[35] George, Mary Carolyn Hollers. The Architectural Legacy of Alfred Giles: Selected Restorations. San Antonio: Trinity University Press. 2006. 7.

[36] www.newspapers.com. The Seminole Sentinel, The Houston Post, The San Antonio Evening News. accessed 3/22/2018.

[37] LOCCC Minutes. Ibid. p. 473.

[38] George. 1.

[39] Ibid. 3.

[40] Ibid. 9.

[41] Ibid. 11.

[42]  Handbook of Texas Online, Mary Carolyn Hollers George, "GILES, ALFRED," accessed Oct. 8, 2019

[43]  University of the Incarnate Word Online, Frank W. Jennings, “Alfred Giles, an Englishman in San Antonio”. Journal of the Life and Culture of San Antonio, accessed October 2, 2019.

[44] Giles, Alfred. “Organizational Banquet Keynote Address.” Society of San Antonio Architects. Menger Hotel. August 6, 1908.

[45] George. xvi.

[46] www.newspaper.com. San Antonio Express. Accessed 3/22/2018; Handbook, GILES. Accessed October 6, 2019.

[47] LOCCC Minutes. 529-530.

[48] Sparkman, 39.

[49] LOCCC Minutes.

[50] LOC Judge Jim Huff. Interview with Richard Hudson, August 15, 2019.

[51] Photos accompany narrative.

[52] Hudson, Arcadia. 23.

[53] LOCCC Minutes. 563.

[54] Ibid. 567.

[55] Huff. Ibid.

[56] Hudson. Arcadia. 13. Huff. Ibid

[57] Huff. Ibid.

[58] Campbell, Mary M. “George West’s Geronimo: Legendary Longhorn”. Presented to Texas State Historical Association Meeting, Houston, TX, March 2, 2017 and Texas Folklore Society Meeting, Tyler, TX, April 23, 2017.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Courthouse Plaque.

[61] Courthouse Plaque.

[62] LOC Judge Jim Huff. Interview with Mary Margaret Campbell. September 14, 2018.

[63] Huff. Interview. Ibid.

 

Note: Researchers depend on the work of county historian Thelma Pugh Lindholm, who conducted extensive research in original county records in Live Oak County Courthouse before a flood in the 1960s destroyed many of the earliest county records. On July 11, 2019, County Clerk Ida Lopez and Deputy Clerk Sherri Stewart searched their office and the basement, where the majority of the records are stored, for records pertaining to the formation of the county and early commissioners’ court minutes and confirmed such records no longer exist. Fortunately, deed records and election record books do exist, along with index to Minutes. 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Primary Sources:

Live Oak County Courthouse Deed Record Books

Live Oak County Courthouse Minutes Record Books

Live Oak County Courthouse Plaque

Live Oak County Election Record Books

Interviews with Judge Jim Huff by Mary Margaret Campbell and Richard Hudson

Secondary Sources:

Archives:

Pugh Family Collection, A1993-003.0042. South Archives, James C. Jernigan Library, Texas A&M University-Kingsville. Includes transcribed Live Oak County Deed Record Book A.

Books, Articles, and Speech Transcripts:

Campbell, Mary M. “George West’s Geronimo: Legendary Longhorn”. Presented to Texas State Historical Association Meeting, Houston, TX, March 2, 2017 and Texas Folklore Society Meeting, Tyler, TX, April 23, 2017.

George, Mary Carolyn Hollers. The Architectural Legacy of Alfred Giles: Selected Restorations. San Antonio: Trinity University Press. 2006.

Giles, Alfred. “Organizational Banquet Keynote Address.” Society of San Antonio Architects. Menger Hotel. August 6, 1908

Hébert, Rachel Bluntzer. The Forgotten Colony: San Patricio de Hibernia. Burnet: Eakin Press. 1981.

Hudson, Richard and Janis. Images of America: Live Oak County. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. 2013.

Lindholm, Thelma Pugh. The History of the People of Live Oak County, Texas. Live Oak County Historical Commission. George West: Self-published. 1982.

Lindholm, Thelma Pugh. “The History of Oakville, Live Oak County, Texas”. Master’s Thesis. Kingsville: Texas A&M University at Kingsville. 1950.

Olson, Mary Frances Goynes. Texas Roots. Greenville, S.C.: Southern Historical Press. 1999.

Osborne, Jeff. “George West Storyfest rides off into the Sunset,” The Progress, May 16, 2019.

Shackelford, Bruce. The Wests of Texas. Denton: Texas State Historical Association. 2015.

Online Information:

Handbook of Texas Online. www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online.

Live Oak County Historical Commission website. www.liveoakchc.org and .com

Newspapers.com. www.newspapers.com.

University of the Incarnate Word Online. www.uiw.edu/sanantonio.

Live Oak County Courthouse

The Honorable Jim Huff, County Judge for Live Oak County, welcomes you to the Live Oak County Historical Commission (LOCHC) Website. The Live Oak County Historical Commission is an arm of the Live Oak County Commissioners' Court; appointees are selected at the beginning of odd numbered years and serve two year terms. Judge Huff and the Live Oak County Commissioners support and approve actions of the LOCHC in coordination with the Texas Historical Commission (THC).

 

Live Oak County Commissioners:

Precinct 1: Richard Lee

Precinct 2: Donna Kopplin Mills

Precinct 3: Willie James

Precinct 4: Emilio Garza

The Commissioner's Court is committed to the preservation of our county's history. Judge Huff and your local commissioner welcome suggestions.

The Honorable Jim Huff, Live Oak County Judge.

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