Heritage, Summer 2004 Page: 10
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condition, perhaps worsened by his frequent business travels
around the state. Four weeks after their son, Ernst Frederick,
was born, Lizzie died, suffering from the dengue, or bone break
fever. After calling upon his sister Clara to come and care for
the children, Ernst succumbed to his own worsening condition
and died in November 1885. Clara took the children and their
parents' remains back to Ohio; Oscar continued his brother's
Oscar had his own health problems-a lung condition exacerbated
by the Austin climate. After wrapping up his brother's
projects, he relocated to the more agreeable weather of West
Texas, becoming the first professional architect in San Angelo.
There he supervised construction projects and designed many
of San Angelo's early residential and commercial structures.
He also became well known for his modest-and regularlifestyle.
A bachelor until his death at 98, Oscar lived for many
years in a portable wood-frame structure that was a combination
office and bedroom, and which he moved to various building
sites. The small dwelling had no kitchen, because Oscar
never cooked. He was, in fact, known to eat the same meal at
the same cafe at the same hour for much of his life in San
Angelo. Local residents also recognized Oscar for his generosity.
He put several young men and women through college, asking
only that they do the same later in their own lives. Upon
his death in 1957, Oscar left the bulk of his estate to Ernst's
children. They donated his small office and home to Fort
Concho National Historic Landmark, where visitors often
wonder about the tidy little cabin.
During Ernst's seven-year Texas career, he designed 11 courthouses,
more than any other architect in the state at that time.
He traveled back and forth across Texas to secure bids on county
work, which also included five jail projects. Ernst was the more
artistic brother, and he used the Second Empire style for much of
his work, employing Mansard roofs, towers, dormer windows, and
other details for his courthouses and jails. Oscar, the more proficient
draftsperson and engineer, completed four courthouse and
two jail projects on his own, although he recycled Ernst's design
on two of the courthouses. He also supervised construction of the
1885 Tom Green County courthouse in San Angelo.
Both brothers did substantial work outside of county projects.
Ernst's known buildings number more than 40 and include highprofile
buildings such as the C.F Millett Opera House, Hancock
Building (razed), and Saint Mary's Academy (razed), all in
Austin. In addition, he is responsible for the East Texas State
Penitentiary in Rusk and Waco's First Baptist Church, which he
designed with Jasper N. Preston.
Oscar's career spanned approximately 50 years, about seven
times as long as his brother's. During that time, he worked on
close to 100 building projects and invested heavily in commercial
and residential real estate. His architectural works, most now
gone, ranged from homes to churches and simple commercial
A Ruffini Model
Texas was growing rapidly, and the Ruffini brothers succeeded
in keeping up with-perhaps even setting-the pace of development.
Ernst was more artistic and Oscar simpler in taste and
method, but both were able to compete in an increasingly crowded
market for more projects than many of their contemporaries.
Their ability to adapt and reuse designs gave them speed and did
not detract from their client's end products.
This is most apparent in the Old Blanco County Courthouse,
which Ernst designed in 1885. Inspired by the unique details of
the 1885 Tom Green County Courthouse (razed), for which
Oscar had mailed him drawings, Ernst developed an elegant,
simplified Second Empire design. He created depth and
HERITAGE g SUMMER 2004
TEXAS COURTHOUSE ARCHITECTS
Alfred Giles (1853-1920) was born in Hillingdon,
Middlesex, England, apprenticed to an architectural
firm in London, and studied construction at King's
College. Giles immigrated to the United States at
age 20, and two years later settled in San Antonio.
He designed eight courthouses in a four-year period,
and after a break of 20 years designed four more
toward the end of his career. Gillespie (1882) and
Wilson (1884) county courthouses survive from Giles'
earliest work, while Presidio County Courthouse
(1886) in Marfa remains a magnificent gem of
Second Empire architecture. Although the architect
of record was Giles' sometime-partner W.H. Britton,
the design is nearly identical to Giles' since-demolished
courthouse in El Paso. Giles also designed
buildings across San Antonio, from homes in the
King William District to the campus of Incarnate
Word. Giles' later work includes courthouses in
Webb (1909), Kendall (1910), Brooks (1914), and Live
Oak (1919) counties.-Bob Brinkman
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Summer 2004, periodical, Summer 2004; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45373/m1/10/: accessed June 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.