Piece of Mind: Courthouse Restoration Back On Track

Sep 1, 2020

By John Kanelis

Fannin County got a historical preservation grant to restore its 19th-century courthouse.

The county hit a pothole or two along the way. Work had to stop for a time. Then it resumed.

And then … the coronavirus pandemic struck. It swept into the nation. It helped slam the brakes on work such as what had commenced on the Fannin County Courthouse in downtown Bonham.

Not to be dissuaded or discouraged, County Judge Randy Moore – to whom I referred in a previous blog post as a “pragmatic ideologist” – has led the charge toward getting the courthouse restored to its original condition.

He said the courthouse is on track to be restored, renovated, returned to its original glory. The work “is going along well,” Moore said. “It’s really taking shape. People said it had looked like a hull. Not anymore.”

The Texas Historical Commission had awarded Fannin County a grant totaling $6 million. It has taken about $27 million so far to do the work, Moore said, explaining that the county sought bonds from residents to pay for the rest of the work. “We have the money. The money is in the bank,” Moore said.

Fannin County Clerk Tammy Biggar said she is not sure her office would return to the refurbished courthouse. Moore has backed her up on that guess, suggesting that the clerk’s office is going to stay where it is until the county can find a suitable site to relocate the clerk’s office.

For now, Moore envisions the Commissioners Court, the auditor, the county treasurer, the county court-at-law judge and the purchasing agent taking up room in a courthouse restored to the mint condition it displayed when it opened … in 1888. The county spread those functions hither and yon while the work commenced on the courthouse. For example, county commissioners meet at Bonham City hall, which also houses probate clerks; court-at-law and the county clerk meet at the Family Life Center; the district court meets in the South Annex; the district attorney has offices in the Cable Building; the county auditor, district clerk and the treasurer are working in the old U.S. Agriculture Department building.

Moore, a supreme optimist, noted that his usually buoyant nature was saturated by heavy rainfall this past spring. “We struggled with all that rain” in addition to the coronavirus pandemic, Moore said. “We couldn’t even get into the rock quarry” the county was using to dig out the stone it is using on the courthouse, he said.

“But we found some beautiful stone and it’s a perfect match,” he said, adding that the quarry owner, Mary Paul Yarborough, donated the stone to the county. “We still have to pay to transport the stone from the quarry to the courthouse, but the stone was free,” Moore said. He added that when the county finishes the renovation that it will have some stone left over. “We will have to find something to do with the stone,” Moore said.

One of the final major projects left to do on the courthouse, the judge said, is to install the peak on the building’s roof.

Judge Moore said he eventually intends to invite the media to the courthouse for a tour inside the structure after the bulk of the work is done and prior to the county moving offices back into the historic structure. First things first, though, he said. The county has a lot of “steel work” needing to be completed in the structure, but Moore remains supremely confident – at least for now – in the timetable that he has laid out before him and the rest of county government.

Hey, he wants to show off the work that has been done.

Historic preservation clearly has a friend in Fannin County Judge Randy Moore. My sincere hope is that his belief in that noble effort bears fruit on time … this time!

John Kanelis, former editorial page editor for the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise, is also a former blogger for Panhandle PBS in Amarillo. He is now retired, but still writing. Kanelis can be contacted via Twitter @jkanelis, on Facebook, or his blog, Kanelis' blog for KETR, "Piece of Mind," presents his views, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of KETR, its staff, or its members.

Kanelis lives in Princeton with his wife, Kathy.