Last week, the 100-year-old Mason County courthouse burned down. Mason, Texas, is about two hours northwest of Austin.
For Mason County Judge Jerry Bearden, Monday was one of the saddest days of his life. He returned to the site of the historic structure, built in 1909, where he’s worked for the past 18 years. Much of it is in ashes, consumed by the fire.
Bearden told Texas Standard that the courthouse was due to undergo renovations beginning in May. The county government had moved out of the courthouse and into a building across the street in advance of the updates.
“Right before Christmas, we moved everything out of the courthouse pretty well, except for historic furnishings; had all our records moved out,” Bearden said. “So we didn’t lose anything inside the building except the old interior, and all our historic furnishings.”
The courthouse was constructed in the classical revival style, using local sandstone.
“It features a center dome and clock tower, gable front porticoes with two-story Doric columns, and rusticated stonework with contrasting stone lintels,” according to the Texas Historical Commission’s description.
Bearden says he was able to locate two desks from the courthouse’s first floor.
“Everything on the second floor has been destroyed,” he said. “There’s nothing left.”
That includes the clock tower and its 140-year-old clock. Bearden hopes the bell that was also in the tower can be found and restored.
Before the fire, Mason County had qualified for a $4.1 million grant from the Texas Historical Commission that was going to pay for courthouse renovations. The building was also insured for about $3.2 million. But now, those funds likely won’t be enough to rebuild the entire structure.
“My rough estimates, just looking at it, is it’s gonna be around $12 million to restore the building,” he said.
Bearden says an individual who was angry about a court case he was involved in is believed to have started the fire. He is currently in jail in McLennan County.
“When it caught that old 111-year-old wood on fire, there it went, straight up,” Bearden said.
Bearden says the courthouse will be rebuilt. He says it’s important to give people in the community “pride, character and strength.” He says the community is supportive of rebuilding efforts.
“We’re gonna be like the mythical bird, phoenix. We’re gonna rise from the ashes,” he said.