JEFFERSON — A downtown Jefferson landmark is getting a top-to-bottom overhaul after a couple of decades of Marion County residents working to raise money and secure grants to cover its $5.4 million in renovation and restoration costs.
Hammers are soon to swing at the historical Marion County Courthouse at 102 W. Austin St., after the county commissioners put up $1 million in county money, along with a $4.7 million grant awarded last spring from the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program.
“We have been trying for this grant for almost 20 years,” Marion County Judge Leward LaFleur said. “Others long before me began working on this, and the county commissioners managed to save and set aside $1 million for matching renovation costs throughout the past 20 years so we could get the grant.”
LaFleur and former Marion County Judge Lex Jones both traveled to Round 10 of the Texas Historical Commission’s grant testimonials, and the two men pleaded again for the county to receive the money to restore its 1913 courthouse.
“The total renovation costs are $5.7 million,” LaFleur said. “The bid we awarded was for $5.4 million, because we wanted to have that cushion for anything that might come up. There’s no way the county would have been able to raise that kind of money on its own, so we really needed this grant to renovate our beautiful courthouse.”
The full interior and exterior renovation and restoration will provide an updated, historically and accurately restored courthouse. Once it begins, the project is set to take about 520 days to complete, and LaFleur said the county plans a ribbon-cutting event so that community members may view the work.
Contracts were awarded to Komatsu Architecture in Fort Worth as the architect and Joe R. Jones Construction in Weatherford as the construction company. The project will be strictly overseen by the Texas Historical Commission to preserve historical accuracy as the renovation and restoration proceeds.
“Ninety percent of this project is restoration,” LaFleur said. “It’s going to be restored according to historical record — the best historical record that we can gather.
“There’s not a lot of pictures of what the courthouse used to look like. I think the Jefferson Historical Museum might have a couple, but that’s it,” he said. “We have been having to look at our sister courthouse in Roberts County, in the Panhandle to try to determine what our courthouse looked like back then.”
The Roberts County Courthouse is almost completely identical to the almost 37,500-square-foot, three-story Marion County Courthouse building, as both were designed by architect Elmer G. Withers.
“Really the only major difference between the two is that the Roberts County Courthouse has all its interior doors constructed at right angles throughout the building,” he said.
Most of the original features throughout the courthouse that will be restored to look as they did when brand new include the granite flooring and the granite walls on the second floor, the judge’s bench in the courtroom on the top floor, a spiral staircase in the first floor “dungeon” that historically served as the records storage room, the seven original safes throughout the building and the ceiling molding in the judge’s courtroom.
Inside the judge’s chambers is a lockbox attached to the front of the judge’s bench that LaFleur said no key has been found to fit.
“I can’t wait to see what’s inside there and what else we might find as we get into the renovation and restoration,’ he said.
The courthouse employees moved out of the courthouse in July 2018 after news of the grant. Once the courthouse is reopened, the almost 16 county employees, including LaFleur, the county clerk, district attorney, county treasurer, constable and district clerk’s offices will be housed there.
The most recent work done on the courthouse was in 2009, when an emergency grant from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program allowed the county to replace all of the windows in the building.
The project, though it is set to be a large one, because the 106-year-old courthouse has never undergone a full renovation, will be something the county residents can be proud of, LaFleur said.
“This is a beautiful courthouse, and the Roberts County Courthouse looks beautiful now after its renovation,” he said. “All of the paint colors will be restored to historical accuracy, which was actually a kind of mint green.”
LaFleur said he would like to see the contractors use local subcontractors for the project as much as possible, but most of the project’s historical aspect requires specific products restored in a specific way, which might require subcontractors from across the U.S.
“We had 28 different companies show up to our prebidding, and they were from all across the country,” LaFleur said. “A lot of this restoration requires a certain kind of person and a certain kind of company. It takes a lot of specialty work.”
LaFleur said he’s grateful to the Historical Commission for granting the money for the restoration and renovation.
“I’m just blessed to be a part of the back end of this process,” he said. “Our next step is the preconstruction meeting with Komatsu, myself, Joe R. Jones Construction and our Texas Historical Commission representative.
“After that, we will hopefully get the notice to proceed from the commission itself, and then we will start swinging hammers.”
The Courthouse Preservation Program awarded matching grants totaling more than $19 million to 15 counties to aid in preservation of their historic courthouses, including four grants for full historic restorations.
Many of Texas’ more than 240 historic courthouses are in disrepair because of insufficient funding for building care and maintenance, the Texas Historical Commission said in a written statement. There are 74 participants in the Courthouse Preservation Program whose needs for additional money have not yet been met.