Rains County, like other small counties, maintains historic courthouse with limited revenue
The last major refurbishment of the 1908 building was completed in 2009.
Building renovations and restorations cannot possibly restore every structure to its “original condition.”
So it is with Rains County officials who are grappling with repair jobs that have popped up on the county courthouse in downtown Emory that was re-dedicated in October 2009 after being refurbished with help from a Texas Historical Commission courthouse restoration grant.
County Judge Linda Wallace said some windows need to be repaired, as they are leaking air into the humid Northeast Texas outdoors.
Wallace said she wasn’t serving as county judge when it was re-dedicated. The county judge then was Joe Ray Daugherty.
The Rains County Courthouse was built in 1908, replacing an earlier structure that burned to the ground in 1903. “All that was left of that earlier building that was destroyed was the vault,” Wallace said, explaining that the vault is in use today as a storage room in the current building.
Wallace added with a chuckle that the county still has the “combination used to lock and unlock the vault,” but said the door doesn’t open and close properly. “Still, I think it’s kind of cool that we have the combination,” she said.
The sometimes-violent Northeast Texas weather has delivered a beating to the courthouse structure over the years, Wallace said. “They didn’t use sheetrock when they built the courthouse originally,” according to Wallace, “and as a result the structure just doesn’t stand the test of time.”
Wallace said the dome paint is peeling away and some of the sealant around the windows is wearing out.
She said the county has been working with the Texas Historical Commission – which granted the county the funds it used to pay for the restoration work – to find some funds to pay for the repairs. Wallace said the state isn’t much help in providing additional money. “They tell us the county has to come up with the funds to pay for the repairs,” she said.
Wallace said the county has just begun its budget-preparation process for the upcoming fiscal year and conceded that finding the money to pay for the work could be a tall order.
Rains County is a bit unusual, in that it is quite a bit smaller geographically than its surrounding counties. It comprises just 259 square miles and is the fourth-smallest county in area in Texas, which contains a total of 254 counties.
The Texas Historical Commission explains the work done on the courthouse with an article posted on its website: “The restoration accomplished the removal of an exterior addition on the north elevation, installation of a new slate roof as well as mental shingles on the dome, the installation of a more appropriate and compliant access ramp …”
Susan Tietz, program coordinator for the state courthouse preservation program, said Rains County went through several grant applications prior to receiving its final restoration grant totaling $1.95 million in 2005. The county got two grants in 2001 totaling more than $300,000, Tietz said, explaining that one was an emergency grant and the other was a planning grant. The county then received a second emergency grant of nearly $204,000 in 2003, Tietz said.
Tietz also noted that Rains County didn’t have to provide any matching local funds for either of the two grants the state awarded.
The county doesn’t have many options it can seek from the state to help with what Tietz called “upkeep and maintenance” on the courthouse. “Our program is created to restore courthouses,” Tietz explained, but added that the state does have programs available to assist counties to “take care of the jobs” once they are completed.
The state assigns “reviewers” to examine state restoration proposals, and it did so with Rains County, according to Tietz. The state also offers “regular workshops” that counties can attend to learn how to take care of the restoration work that is done. “To my knowledge,” she said, “Rains County hasn’t taken part in any of these workshops.”
Meanwhile, Rains County’s government center is up and running in the middle of Emory. Wallace said she will keep pursuing financial opportunities if and when they present themselves.