Footprints of Fayette

A Historical Column From The Fayette County 

Historical Commission and Fayette County Judge’s Office

“If Only Walls Could Talk”: Fayette

County’s 2nd Courthouse – Part I

By Charles Hebert

If only walls could talk! Never was a sage expression ever so true as it applies to the second courthouse of Fayette County. Constructed in 1848, it was built of pine harvested from the property of John Rabb, whose saw mill was one of the first in Texas. The two-story structure was in the middle of the square close to the site of the present courthouse and featured a bell tower with a bell purchased at a cost of $100. Monies for the bell were raised through the efforts of the citizens of La Grange. 

The remains of the Texas heroes who were slain along with William Eastland at Hacienda Salado after their surrender at Mier, Mexico were stored in boxes in the courthouse until the bones of the victims of the Dawson Massacre at the Battle of Salado near San Antonio were also recovered. All the remains were then interred in a sandstone tomb on the top of the bluff, now known as Monument Hill, on Sept. 18, 1848. It was also here that Heinrich Kreische purchased 172¼ acres, tomb included, from George Willrich in 1849. Kreische took it upon himself to maintain the tomb at no cost to the state until his untimely death in 1882. 

The old courthouse had begun to show its age, so in 1855, the Commissioners Court decided that a new courthouse was needed.  The old building was sold to James Haynie for the sum of $1,180, disassembled and moved to the corner of South Washington and West Travis streets, where it was reassembled. Haynie, the son of the Rev. John Haynie, was born in Virginia in 1786 and died in Rutersville in 1860. Mrs. John Haynie, the former Elizabeth Brooks, was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1787 and died in Bastrop County in 1862.  James Haynie and William Coffee opened their new mercantile store in the old courthouse building in 1856. Numerous businesses and proprietorships occupied the building in the coming years, including the Citizen Barbershop and bathroom in 1880, the first in La Grange that was operated by a colored barber, Isaac Bell – “new to town.”   

In March 1881, the old courthouse building was renovated, and a new front was added. The Knights of Honor, a fraternal organization, rented the second floor for lodge meetings until March 27, 1884 when, between 4 and 5 a.m. on a cool rainy morning, the ringing of the bell in the third courthouse, built by Kreische, signaled and rallied the citizens to a fire. Local fire companies responded, and a bucket brigade with water that was pumped from one of four cisterns on the courthouse square finally extinguished the fire, but destroyed Isaac Bell’s equipment in the process. Damages totaled $75 with no insurance. The fire was deliberately set.  Re-opening in 1885, Issac Bell’s “tonsorial artist” barbershop was again located in the front of the building, while the back remained vacant. The Ineedalaundry would soon join Bell on the first floor.

Judge Augustin Haidusek purchased the old building on Jan. 1, 1889 and fitted the rear of the ground floor as a printing office, where his Svoboda newspaper was printed; the front of the building was used as the judge’s office. A frequent change of renters occurred over the next few years until February 1903, when Leon Speckels and Lee Mebus rented part of the first floor and opened Speckels and Mebus Standard Bakery. Speckels sold his interest to Arthur Presun in the fall of 1903. A second fire occurred in the pressroom area of the old building on Nov. 20, 1903, when an employee of the bakery tried to get a small amount of gas from a reserve gas tank. The tank was thrown to the sidewalk and the fire was extinguished.

(To Be Continued)