Area 3 Report: Restoring the Karnes County courthouses

The Texas Historic Commission has paid out $270 million in grants since 1999 in order to fully restore 67 courthouses around the state.

CORPUS CHRISTI (KIII NEWS) - The Texas Historic Commission has paid out $270 million in grants since 1999 in order to fully restore 67 courthouses around the state.

One of those projects included the renovation of the Bee County Courthouse.

Another historic courthouse being renovated is just to the north of Beeville in Karnes County. The State has helped to pay for that structure to be completely revamped and now it looks much like it did on the day it was dedicated back in 1894!

Americans in 1894 were captivated with the Little Sure Shot of the Wild West, Annie Oakley. The public was also in awe of gentleman Jim Corbett, the heavyweight champion of the world after taking the title from the Great John L. Sullivan. That same year, a brand new courthouse was opened in Karnes City and it was certainly turning heads.

That courthouse is now in the final phase of a restoration project that has cost well over $10 million.

San Antonio Architect Lewis Fisher is in charge of the courthouse makeover -- one that is designed to turn the clock back and have the historic building looking like it did when it first opened. It's last renovation was done in a 1920 restoration project.

"They changed it from Victorian to a Mediterranean style with a red tile roof, and they plastered the outside and really began changing it into what they considered a modern building at that time," Fisher said.

People like Sue Carter wanted to restore the courthouse to its original design. She was the president of the Karnes County Historical Society and was able to get some six grants from the State to help fund the work. The remodel of the interior is supposed to be finished early next year. The outside of the courthouse is finished and even has a new clocktower installed, which looks just like the original.

"I think they would be proud that we felt their work was important enough to put our efforts toward preserving," Carter said.

The 1894 Karnes County Courthouse is not the only courthouse still standing in the county. There's one over in Helena and it was also built before 1900.

The second Karnes County Courthouse was build in 1973 and is still standing. It has undergone restoration work over the years and more needs to be done. It now serves as a museum and centerpiece of a historical site which now includes homes and relics from the town's past, like an iron jail cell that was apparently well used because after the civil war, Helena was teeming with rustlers, gunfighters and outlaws.

"It's part of the history of Texas," said Mae Zaunbrecher, president of the Karnes County Historical Society.

Zaunbrecher said once the county seat moved from Helena to Karnes City in 1894, the building was used as a school house. Then it was abandoned and began to fall apart until restoration efforts saved it for future generations.

Now you can head inside and take a look at the place and imagine what it was like to be there in the days of the old west. You can also check out all the old photographs from back in the days when Helena was known as the toughest town on earth.

Now the city is known as a ghost town, but its history is still alive thanks to the preservation efforts of the people of Karnes County -- a county that takes its history seriously and has not one but two historic courthouse to prove it.

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