Renovated Cass County Courthouse to welcome residents Saturday
By Brenda Brown firstname.lastname@example.org
Feb. 16, 2012 at 10 p.m.
LINDEN - The results of almost $5 million in renovations will be unveiled Saturday afternoon during the rededication of the historical Cass County Courthouse on the square in Linden.
Built in 1860-61, the oldest Texas courthouse in continuous operation has undergone several incarnations. A $4.1 million grant from the Texas Historical Commission and more than $700,000 raised through the nonprofit Cass County Conservancy allowed the courthouse to be restored to its 1934 appearance.
L.M. Jester of Atlanta, president of the conservancy, said this week he hopes everyone will come out for Saturday's ceremony, set to begin at 1 p.m. Afterward, tours will be conducted throughout the building until 4 p.m.
Jester praised the people involved in the project, which has been several years in the making.
"There were a lot of people involved in getting this done - from county officials to the general public to the Texas Historical Commission's courthouse restoration program, which was started in 1999," Jester said.
"And this project, to date, hasn't cost Cass County taxpayers one dime."
The conservancy formed specifically to raise the matching funds required to receive the grant. A total of $726,000 was raised, all by residents and businesses.
Though Linden native and musician Don Henley was a major contributor, Jester said there were many who gave what they could, while others gave of their time and effort.
"A lot of people may have only given $10, but I know many of them are on fixed incomes, and that was a lot for them to give," Jester said.
Even with all of the changes - primarily due to two tornadoes and one major fire - portions of the original antebellum courthouse can still be seen today on the first floor of the building.
The upper story was completely gutted by a 1933 fire, believed to have begun in the judge's chambers near the district courtroom.
Jester noted the courthouse was not in the best shape when commissioners decided to apply for the grant - plus, it had outgrown itself, so to speak, and more space was needed for county functions. In response, the county built the Cass County Law Enforcement and Justice Center Building on Texas 8, which will continue to house many of the county's offices.
The THC grant submitted by commissioners provides that the county clerk and records will return to the historical courthouse, as will some court-at-law and district court sessions. Though the building's appearance will be circa 1934, its interior will include state-of-the-art technology to accommodate the county clerk's office on the first floor and the district courtroom on the second floor.
Susan Gammage from the historical commission said all of the grant applications are scored on several criteria, including that the renovated courthouses continue to be used as courthouses.
"We do not require the court offices in the building, but we definitely require that court be held in the building," Gammage said.
She said much of the grant money was spent to accommodate the county clerk's office with special data and telephone lines, electrical outlets and security cameras.
In the district courtroom, Gammage said a considerable amount of money was spent to accommodate the district judge's bench with a steel bullet-proof shield and bullet-proof film on the windows behind the bench.
"The state has spent a lot of money accommodating very specific functions for the spaces in the building," Gammage said.
The work on the courthouse was originally scheduled to be completed by March 2011, and then by August, but delays were unavoidable because of a variety of reasons, all having to do with the surprises that come with renovations, especially regarding buildings as old as the Cass County Courthouse.
Jester said he's proud of the county's accomplishment because "our courthouse belongs to everyone in Cass County.
"Lots of forefathers and relatives spent a lot of money and time to care for our courthouse through the years, and we did the same when it came time for us to make sure we passed it on to the future generations," Jester said.