In 1847, Seguin’s first courthouse was located in the center of town on the block north of the city park. When Guadalupe County was organized in March 1846, there was no facility available where representatives could hold government meetings and for some time county business was conducted under the oak trees near the center of town or in private homes.
According to Arwerd Moellering’s research for his thesis on Guadalupe County, the first county business was a Grand Jury meeting in Paris Smith’s home. At that time the county clerk’s office was located in a room in Wilson Randle’s home.
In April 1847, the county representatives drew up a contract with E. M. Cox and William Lancer to design the first court house which was built by Peyton Medlin and Thomas Spain at a cost of $14,000. ($428,750 in 2018).
Most of the court members were from early settlers of the DeWitt colony. Some had served as Texas Rangers, fought in the Texas Revolution and against the Mexican invaders under General Vasquez in March 1842 and General Woll in August 1842. Three members had been in the Mier Expedition, had spent time in Santa Anna’s prison and returned to serve their community again.
Mrs. Weinert’s History of Guadalupe County stated “the minutes of the court proceedings were signed by the first county judge, Michael Erskine, and county commissioner Jeremiah Calvert, then recorded by William Zorn (owner of Sebastopol.) Many of these same men would serve again in the Civil War.
The counties of Texas benefitted from tax refunds from the federal government which enabled Guadalupe County to build a jail and in 1854 to make plans to replace the old court house. Accordingly, in 1856, the old court house building was moved to the northwest corner of River and Court Street by 12 oxen. It was bought by J. R. Johnson and Julius McNealy to be used as a warehouse who in turn sold it to Eric Hey. The old court house was destroyed in the massive block-long fire in 1907 which also destroyed the Krezdorn, Charles Bruns, Adam Seidemann and Louis Fritz buildings for a total loss of $14,250. ( $387,500 in 2018)
On Aug. 26, 1856, the commissioners court contracted Ezra Keyser to build a two story concrete building with dimensions of 64 by 40 feet and a height of 24 feet at a cost of $10,000 ($295,500 in 2018). The courthouse was completed on April 26, 1858.
At that time, Miss Jennie Hollamon, of Seguin, described the second floor as “being built with concrete and walls finished in stucco. The judge’s stand was nicely enclosed in an elevated railing. Outside, the walls were tinted blue, the cupola surrounded by several large gilded balls and it presented quite an imposing appearance.”
An earlier settler, Pleamon Sowell, stated “we saw it on a bright summer day in 1865. We were approaching the town from the east and its beauty burst upon our vision as we topped the hill at the San Geronimo. The cupola glistened white, surmounted by its three golden globes, blazed and shown in the mid-day sun.”
In 1862, in the court record book there appeared the notice: “State of Texas, Guadalupe County, having gone into the military of the United States, I hereby resign the office of Chief Justice of the county, effective Saturday the 5th of March, 1862. Signed: W. P. H. Douglas, Chief Justice.”
In 1874, renovations were made to the courthouse when new plank ceiling was needed in the upstairs rooms and additional stairs were needed on the second floor. A brick vault for the courthouse was added in 1877.
In 1882, Alfred Giles was awarded a contract to provide designs and plans for remodeling and enlarging the courthouse. In May 1883, Steve White was awarded the construction contract for $21,750 and a month later the commissioner’s court increased the funds by an additional $1,700 for brick constructional equipment. J. Miller was appointed to supervise and smaller additional adjustments in the construction eventually brought the total to $30,000. During the reconstruction phase, the court business was conducted in various locations, including the private homes of the Koehler and Graves families.
In August 1883, the commissioners court issued orders for the remodeling and enlargement of the court house. During the remodeling period, the court sessions were held upstairs in the building on northeast corner of Court Street and Austin Street. This building would later become the site of the First National bank. At one time large letters on the front of the second floor showed “First National Bank 1908.” In the 1960s, renovations covered the letters. This building was later used as the county tax office and now stands empty.
The renovated courthouse was quickly occupied by county representatives in March 1884. Johann M. Jahn (married to Anna Klein Bellmer) was contracted to provide furniture for the new offices. This essentially was the third courthouse.
This renovated courthouse served the county courts until 1935 when a new courthouse was designed by L. W. Wirtz and Harold Calhoun of Austin in an art deco style. The Federal Public Works funded the building which was constructed of concrete, steel and sandstone. K.B. Key was the general contractor for constructing the three story building with a large basement at a cost of $300,000 ($ 5.5 million in 2018).
On the north and south entrances, stone carvings of the artist concept of Justice are displayed and Wisdom is displayed over the east and west entrances.
In 1998, the county commissioners bought the old Economy Furniture Building for $1.2 million. The building underwent a $7.9 million dollar renovation with architectural firm Thorn and Graves and the Koehler Company doing the construction work. The first and third floor was occupied by consolidated county and district court functions since 2010.
In 2015, the old courthouse underwent a $5 million renovation and reopened on Nov. 16, 2016. No tax rate hike was required to fund the project because commissioners used county reserve funds. County Judge Kyle Kutscher and the county commissioners have moved their offices from the Justice Center to the third floor of the renovated courthouse. Remaining in the Justice Building is the county clerk’s office, the district clerk, county attorney, County Court-at-Law 1 and 2, 25th District Courts and other court offices.
Thorn Graves served as the renovation project architect, with the Koehler Company as the general contractor. The building required extensive cleaning and repair to the stone walls as well as upgrading the exterior lighting. Inside, the lighting, heating and cooling systems were upgraded. Today the courthouse again conducts the county’s business.
In addition to renovating the building, the exterior landscape has also been changed considerably. A Veteran Service Memorial is located in the northwest corner with brick pavers showing the names of Guadalupe County veterans and their branch of service.
Through the efforts by Sheriff Arnold Zwicke, on the northeast corner of the courthouse grounds is the memorial to members of the Guadalupe County Law Enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty. Four of the six names are of officers who have died as the result of gunfire. The first name on the monument is Henry Holmes Batey, a Cattle Brand Inspector. A few years ago I wrote a Snapshot on Batey and how he had been murdered under an oak tree near the intersection of King and Kingsbury Street in 1877. The location is known as the Batey Oak and is marked with a historical marker.