Shelby County Courthouse, Center, Texas USA

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February 29th 2020
Published: February 29th 2020
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I made a noon departure from Nacogdoches Loop 224, and turned East on Texas Hwy 7 to Center, Texas. About seven miles out I made a stop at the Scenic Viewpoint. I had bad luck when my defective Nikon latch opened and I lost my batteries. At the Scenic Viewpoint I used my late December, 2018 pics for this blog showing the full moon and the night view.

At Martinsview, Texas I made a stop at the Post Office and found my spare pack of camera batteries. Then it was only a mile East to Attoyac Bayou at the East end of Nacogdoches County. I entered the tip of San Augustine County for one mile into Shelby County. About seven miles East I made a brief stop at the picnic area on the South side of the highway. Then about another seven miles East I entered the City of Center, Texas. I had a long nice visit to the Center downtown Square to tour the 1885 brick Courthouse and Jail Museums.

I started at the jail, that is a museum run by the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce (936-598-3682). On the first floor of the jail I had a
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Scenic Viewpoint December 2018 pic
nice visit with their historians. They had a great collection of free handouts that would make the Nacogdoches Visitors Center historians envious. First I had a guided tour of the jail first floor (that was made for the jailers). They had many artifacts and collectibles there including their two newspapers both dated July 20, 1977.

We walked upstairs where I toured the second floor that had one large cell, and a small cell; both are offices now. The small jail cell had the original steel hinges remaining that could not be defeated by a small sledge hammer.

Then an historian walked me over to the Shelby County Courthouse to meet the courthouse historian for a guided tour of the Courthouse Museum.

My tour started at the center of the first floor of the 1885 Courthouse to see a 1885 gold coin embedded in the floor. (If my macro mode worked on my Nikon, I could have zoomed in for the detail of the gold coin.) That bottom floor served for county business and offices. Now they have meeting rooms and many authentic artifacts. My favorite was a pic of JJ Gibson: architect, brick maker, and master Mason
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Scenic Viewpoint dec 2018 pic
who built the Courthouse. (Renovation completed in 2000.)

The second floor is where they held court trials. In the back were two stairwells; one for Anglos and one for African Americans. There was bench seating in the middle with the jury chairs on the front left. The judge sat behind his desk in the front with a room for him behind. Also the judge had a secret trap-door there for his escape from the courthouse if needed. The deputies had a line of sight to the judge's private excape door from the courthouse. If necessary they would provide cover fire to help the judge excape from danger.

The back between the stairwells was a balcony where the armed deputies stayed. (That balcony must have been removed in the 2000 renovation.) Long ago, when the windows were open they sometimes had bird problems. Once long ago a bird disturbed the trial; and a deputy used his scattergun to shoot that bird in the courthouse while court was in session!

This was the first courthouse in Texas with inside restrooms with fire places. The courthouse has twelve noticeable chimneys to vent the many fireplaces.

I did a nice
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Scenic Viewpoint dec 2018 pic
walk-a-round of the courthouse and then the jail. Before leaving I saw the outside of the 1945 white Heritage Library in the downtown square; ending my City of Center visit.

The history of Shelby County is interesting, unusual, controversial, mostly good; but had their own local "Civil War".

The first settlement was in the 1820s (now in Shelby County) and was called Nashville by settlers from Nashville, Tennessee. In 1837 Nashville was changed to Shelbyville after Kentucky Governor Issac Shelby. Also in 1837 Shelbyville became the County Seat of Shelby County; one of the original thirteen counties in the Republic of Texas.

In 1839 the Moderator-Regulator war erupted in Shelby County (over a land dispute) that spilled over to several neighboring Texas counties (and into Louisiana) where over forty people were killed (and barn and house burnings, cattle rustling and lawlessness conditions). In 1844 Sam Houston sent an army (of 500 soldiers) of the Republic of Texas to end that war, and arranged a cease fire and truce ending that war.

There was a very small settlement of White Cottage, that became Center (about eight miles West of Shelbyville) in 1848, when the Post Office was
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Scenic Viewpoint dec 2018 pic
established. In 1866 Center became the County Seat of Shelby County, causing much conflict between the people of Center and Shelbyville.

In 1882 a fire destroyed the first wooden Shelby County Courthouse in Center. After a few years of construction they had a nice two story brick courthouse in 1885 that stands today as a museum. About the same time a small twin brick building next-door was built as the county jail. That jail remains as a museum, with the Chamber of Commerce.

JJ Gibson was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland in 1849; then migrated to Shelby County, Texas. Gibson was a brick maker, architect, and a master Mason, with his own brick factory in Shelby County. In 1883 his bid ($26,725 USD) to build a new Shelby County Courthouse was accepted. Gibson designed the courthouse to look like an Irish castle. Note: JJ Gibson never was paid for the construction of the courthouse.

Construction of the courthouse was done through 1884 into 1885. During an extremely cold winter, Gibson requested a halt for the construction so the bricks and mortar would seat properly; but was ordered to keep working, and the construction continued through that
Martinsville Post OfficeMartinsville Post OfficeMartinsville Post Office

last of Nacogdoches County
winter. Cuz of that bad decision, a large crack in the wall of the courthouse developed. Gibson spent $2700 USD of his money to repair the damage and make the courthouse sound. Note: Gibson was never reimbursed for his repairs to the courthouse.

In early 1886 the Shelby County Courthouse was open for business.

References: Wikipedia,, JJ Gibson Historic Marker, City of Center web-page

Additional photos below
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Shelby CountyShelby County
Shelby County

(rest of pics are Shelby County)
Picnic AreaPicnic Area
Picnic Area

redbud flowers
Shelby County Poultry FestivalShelby County Poultry Festival
Shelby County Poultry Festival

(not me in chicken suit)

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