twelfth centuries. The original Romanesque
period preceded the Gothic
era. Although the Romanesque was exclusively
an European style, its revival
in the late nineteenth century was a
distinctly American phenomenon.
Richardson was impressed by the
simple massing and the mathematical
ordering of surfaces that characterized
the Romanesque churches of Europe.
He and his followers across the country,
including Texas, regarded the solidity
of Romanesque buildings as an
appropriate expression of security in a
nation that still identified itself with
the frontier spirit. Moreover, the
strong sense of control in the distribution
of elements across the surfaces
provided Americans with a feeling of
inherent order for which they were still
striving in their relatively young
Although the Romanesque Revival was
used in the designs of numerous types
of buildings, the most notable examples
are to be found in public buildings
such as jails and courthouses. The
Bosque County Jail was constructed in
Meridian in about 1885 and enlarged
in 1895. Both the original structure
and the annex are Romanesque Revival
in style. As a pure rectangular cube,
the main part of the jail is an ultimate
embodiment of simple massing. The
stones appear to be extraordinarily
substantial, especially for such a small
building. The stones, particularly the
voussoirs of the arches, convey a sense
of tremendous massiveness because of
their huge size and the rough textures
of their surfaces. All openings are geometric,
regularly spaced, and clearly
aligned so that each has a clear relationship
to all of the others.
The simple massing and mathematical
ordering of the surfaces of the Richardsonian
Romanesque Revival were
frequently combined in Texas with the
decorative detailing of the more typical
Victorian styles. The result of this
hybrid combination was an enormous
number of visually delightful buildings,
indeed, some of the most memorable
in Texas. For example, the Ellis
County Courthouse, which was de28
Bosque County Jail, Meridian, (Circa 1885). Typical of many jails of this period, the design was
simple but attractive. The blocks of white limestone in the thick walls were subtly reduced in size in
proportion to the height of the structure. Photo courtesy of Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.
Photographer, Todd Webb.
signed by J. Riely Gordon, was built in
Waxahachie between 1895 and 1897
with both Romanesque Revival and
Victorian Gothic Revival characteristics.
The forms of the courthouse have
the geometric simplicity of the Romanesque,
but their proliferation provides
the intricate complexities of the
Gothic. The windows are arranged in
horizontal and vertical groupings that
establish a strict sense of control. Arcades
appear to unify multiple floor
levels. The Romanesque mathematical
ordering of the fenestration is further
enhanced by the pairing of windows
within or above blind arches. The
courthouse combines Romanesque order
with Gothic variety, Romanesque
simple massing with Gothic picturesqueness.
The result is an architectural
Although the Romanesque Revival and
the other styles that have been characterized
here were popular both in
Texas and elsewhere, there may still be
an aspect about designs such as the
Ellis County Courthouse that is
uniquely Texan. The courthouse might
be regarded as particularly Texan in
spirit because it is more of what it is.
The courthouse is a superlative. It is
also an architectural treasure that
forms part of a heritage that the people
of Texas have good reason to be proud.
Alexander, Drury Blakeley. Texas
Homes of the Nineteenth Century.
Austin and London: University of
Texas Press, 1966.
Barnstone, Howard. The Galveston
That Was. New York: Macmillan
Robinson, Willard B. Texas Public
Buildings of the Nineteenth Century.
Austin and London: University
of Texas Press, 1974.
Michael Yardley is an Architectural
Historian and Assistant Professor of
Architecture at the School of Architecture
and Environmental Design at the
University of Texas in Arlington.
Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Winter 1985. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45443/. Accessed March 15, 2014.