Some places are just different — there’s a brightness to them, an energy, and they have the power to bring together people of all ages and all walks of life. They’re the lifeblood of our region, and over the year, we’ll be highlighting some of these special places across our service area. We’re calling them Hearts of the Hill Country — because when we’re there, we’re community.
The Old Blanco County Courthouse has graced Blanco’s town square for more than 130 years. It’s watched the town progress from carriages to cars, from candles to light bulbs and from a population of about 450 to more than 1,730 today. Although the building has been the hub of change and the emblem of this community since its construction in 1886, the old courthouse isn’t called that because of its age — it’s “old” for an entirely different reason.
Just four years after its construction, in 1890, an election moved the county seat from Blanco to Johnson City, leaving the Old Blanco County Courthouse vacant. Soon after, the town worked to find a new purpose for the building, and it has been adapting to suit the needs of the town ever since.
When a fire destroyed the local high school, the town temporarily converted the unused courthouse to fill the role.
The Blanco National Bank moved into the courthouse after discovering that the building held vaults. The courthouse later became the Federal Farm Loan Bank.
Blanco’s high school building was condemned unsafe, and the courthouse once again served Blanco students.
The courthouse was converted into a general hospital, one of its most notable roles. The south corridor served as the nursery where more than 1,000 “Courthouse Babies” were born, and as more records become available, that number continues to grow. A tribute to this group hangs in the courthouse’s downstairs hall.
The courthouse became the Blanco Museum of the Early West and was officially named a Texas Historic Landmark.
The preservation process
After 1973, the community stopped using the building, and it fell into disrepair. The courthouse was for sale for several years until a local rancher purchased it in 1986. An admirer of the building’s architecture, he planned to dismantle it piece by piece and move it to his ranch.
That’s when the people of Blanco stepped in. More than 1,200 people signed a petition opposing the new owner’s plan to remove the courthouse from the town square. A select group of petitioners, who would later call themselves the Old Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society (OBCCPS), reminded the community that the building was an important part of Blanco’s cultural heritage. The OBCCPS later bought the building back and worked to ensure that the courthouse would remain in the Blanco town square for perpetuity.
After purchasing the building, the OBCCPS realized that it was in dire need of repairs and renovations, and they began fundraising for its restoration and preservation. The courthouse was rededicated and reopened in May 1998.
“Everything the preservation society does for the old courthouse is for the many generations ahead of us,” OBCCPS Board President James Harris said. “We want future citizens to be able to enjoy this historic building too.”
Heart of Blanco
Today, the courthouse remains the heart of the community, but the heart of the courthouse is the courtroom. It is here where organizations meet to discuss important matters and hold civic events and meetings. It’s also where many wedding ceremonies and receptions have taken place.
The courtroom has even received some celebrity attention: The 2010 movie “True Grit,” starring actor Jeff Bridges, used the courtroom for all of its courthouse scenes. Several TV shows, such as NBC’s “Revolution,” have also staged scenes there.
The OBCCPS also rents out the first floor of the courthouse as office space. All rental fees go toward the maintenance and preservation of the building.
During the spring and summer, the courthouse lawn is also used for community gatherings, such as the Blanco Market Days and Blanco Lavender Festival. Because it is one of the few courthouses in Texas that is privately owned, the building is open to visitors on weekends.
“This is the place where the community comes together as one,” Harris said. “It’s definitely the center of town and the heart of the city.”
Whether you’re looking for an event space or simply passing through Blanco, the Old Blanco County Courthouse is a must-see historic Texas treasure, a gift that keeps on giving to the community. Visit www.historicblanco.org for more information.