Bids will be awarded next week for future exterior work on Wharton County Courthouse doors, windows, as well as down spouts washing, and painting, all while mindful of the edifice’s historical importance and value with the State of Texas.

The Wharton County Commissioners Court this summer budgeted $50,000 for this work and an additional $50,000 for cleaning the stone on the historic building, which was rededicated by the Texas Historical Commission in 2007 after four years of restoration work.

“It may be more advantageous to power wash first because the work may end up knocking off some of the paint, or may help us discover there is wood that needs replacing,” Judge Phillip Spenrath said. “More than likely the power washing will happen first.”

He said these projects would not begin until 2022.

But, elected officials two months ago unanimously approved to bid the projects out. The funds were transferred to the current Fiscal Year 2021-22 budget, which began Oct. 1.

Before the county can move forward with the physical work, it is required by the THC to obtain a State Antiquities Landmark (SAL) permit and that is in the process of being done, County Maintenance Department Consultant Paul Shannon said. He also has checked with the City of Wharton about permits to move forward.

Bids for this work were opened in County Auditor Barbara Starling’s office Thursday and will be awarded during a regular commissioners court meeting next Monday.

According to the Wharton County Historical Commission, the restoration cost approximately $7 million. The THC made a grant of $4 million to the county to assist in the restoration project.

State protects courthouses

There are 254 counties in Texas. 

According to the University of Houston, many county courthouses were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some counties have chosen to tear down the old structures and build new ones, but not so in Wharton County.

In 2007, Wharton County was one of 39 whose courthouses had been fully restored. There were 125 others on the way to being fully or partially restored.

Houston Public Radio that year reported the Texas Courthouse Preservation Program had been working to restore some of the state’s most historic buildings.

In 1973, the state legislature passed a law that no county could demolish or radically change a courthouse without involving the THC. Since then only a few old courthouses have been lost. 

“A lot of these contractors don’t like to start big jobs during the holiday season,” Shannon said. “It won’t affect holiday (activities) or the parade.”

Anytime one does work on something that is in the THC’s roll, it’s got to be approved through a SAL permit process.

He said the THC has a board that meets four times a year, and they approve the permits.

SALs are designated by the THC and receive legal protection under the Antiquities Code of Texas. According to the THC, the code defines all cultural resources on non-federal public lands in the State of Texas as eligible to be designated as SALs. Historic buildings and other above ground historic resources are listed in the National Register of Historic Places before they can be designated as SALs.

Shannon said if the historic courthouse’s windows were to be glazed, the glass on the wood would have to be cured in some special process. 

The courthouse was constructed in 1889. According to the THC, the restoration phase included the demolition of the 1940s additions that had surrounded the building and resulted in a fully restored exterior complete with replicated pressed metal shingle roof and clock tower.

“Pressure washing can’t be over 400 psi for limestone,” Shannon said. “There are hoops the THC makes you jump through to make sure we don’t damage the building the state gave Wharton County money for.”

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