Heritage, Summer 2004 Page: 11
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Left, architectural drawing of Blanco County
Courthouse from the Texas State Library and
Archives. In the Ruffini family photo below,
Ernst is at the bottom right, and Oscar is on the
top row, right. Courtesy of City of San Angelo.
grandeur through the use of receding planes and a straight-sided
Mansard roof. The native materials and massing gave the design
a vernacular feel, which subdued the style's typical detailing and
created a connection between the courthouse and the rural
The Old Blanco County Courthouse, in Blanco, is no longer
used for its original purpose-the county seat moved to Johnson
City four years after the building's construction. Other versions of
the same design are still used as a courthouses, though, in
Concho and Sutton counties. At the Concho County
Courthouse, few changes have been made throughout its lifetime;
Sutton County courthouse recently completed its restoration
through THC's courthouse funding program. The same building
plans were used in at least two other counties: Callahan (razed
1900) and Mills (razed by fire 1912), which, along with Sutton,
were executed by Oscar a few years after Ernst's death. The three
remaining of these five courthouses represent Ernst's public
works. His more elaborate designs, including UT's Old Main
Building, are long gone, and only these more restrained structures
Aesthetic fashions come and go, and with them the buildings
cast in their names. The distilled Second Empire style used for
the long-lived Blanco, Concho, and Sutton county courthouses
shows that simplicity translates to timelessness, which itself
becomes a way of preserving a moment in time. High taste does
not mean lavish adornment, or, conversely, the absolute lack of
decorative elements. Architecture in its highest form, as found by
the Ruffini brothers, is a meditation on proportion, light, shadow,
and texture-a balance of pragmatic and pleasing elements. It is
art fueled by science.
Ernst's career was cut short, but it ended with a balanced artistic
vision. His best work may have been further down the path he
had begun with the Blanco County Courthouse design. Oscar
continued to strive for balance, both in his architectural projects
and in his daily activities. Although the two men led vastly dif
ferent lives-one short, full of young love, children, and
change-the other long, regular, and somewhat solitary-seen
together they may create an equilibrium. The legacy the Ruffini
brothers left is more than bricks and mortar. It is a balance of
opportunity, generosity, simplicity, and grace, all played out in
the facades of their remaining buildings and the communities in
which they stand. *
Linda C. Henderson is a historian with the Texas Historical
Commission in Austin.
HERITAGE g SUMMER 2004
TEXAS COURTHOUSE ARCHITECTS
Wesley Clarke Dodson (1828-1914) was an Alabama
native who came to Texas in 1866, settling in
Galveston and Calvert before moving to Waco in 1876.
During the next 20 years Dodson designed 14 courthouses
in Texas, half of them with partner William
Wallace Dudley. The courthouses in Lampasas (1883),
Parker (1885), Hill (1890), and Hood (1890) counties
reflect similar forms in Second Empire style, with symmetrical,
vertically-emphasized facades, roofs with
dormer windows, and prominent central towers.
Coleman (1884) and Fannin (1889) county courthouses
were originally Dodson designs, though subsequent
alterations make them harder to recognize. Denton
(1896) and Coryell (1897) county courthouses feature
lavish masonry details in the Romanesque Revival style.
Dodson also collaborated with Waco architect Milton
Scott to design the original buildings for Texas
Woman's University in Denton.-Bob Brinkman
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Summer 2004, periodical, Summer 2004; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45373/m1/11/: accessed April 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.