Heritage, Summer 2004 Page: 9
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their peers, as they all competed for projects against each other
and against untrained builders. Some contractors and builders
were quite talented artistically, others outstanding engineers. In
the last half of the 19th century, though, efforts to standardize
training and expectations of designers were increasing.
While Oscar and Frederick Ernst Ruffini traced their roots to
northwestern Italy, their ancestors had immigrated to Germany in
the 1400s. In 1848, their father Ernst Frederick wed Adelheit
Riehme, and the two left Germany with thousands of others during
the revolution of that year. They first traveled to Chicago
before settling in Cleveland, Ohio, by 1850. Their first child,
Frederick Ernst, arrived the following year, and the family grew to
include Clara, Alvin, Camilla, and Oscar, who was born in 1858.
During the Ruffinis' childhood, Cleveland was a busy trade center.
Located at the intersection of major water and railways, the
city experienced a population and building boom between 1850
and 1870, by which time it boasted more than 92,000 residents.
Frederick Ernst, called Ernst, and Oscar witnessed countless
changes in their native Cleveland as the city grew to accommodate
new inhabitants and institutions. Ernst and Oscar chose
building design as a career path, and both had ample opportunity
for training through apprenticeships.
Throughout the United States, the architectural profession was
beginning to take form. Organizations like the American Institute
of Architects (AIA) and the Western Association of Architects
(WAA), which later merged, recruited members from around the
country in an effort to promote architecture as a higher form of
building, a combination of art and science. These professional
groups promoted the formation of the nation's first university
architecture programs, largely based on methods at L'Ecole des
Beaux Arts in Paris. The two young Ruffini brothers entered the
profession before academic training became standard and before
Americans understood what it was to be an architect.
Although licensing standards would not be created for years, by
Ernst's and Oscar's coming of age, American architects had begun
to distinguish themselves in training and taste from ordinary
builders. Also, as Dickey notes, the sophisticated fashions of the late
19th century required more artistic training than previous modes.
Historical revival styles, as well as up-and-coming technologies like
cast iron and structural steel, were in vogue and not as simple as the
Classical Revival designs popular before the Civil War.
By the late 1860s, as the nation recovered from that divisive
conflict, opportunity flourished in the South. In addition to
adjusting to life after the war, Texans were redefining their government,
creating new counties, and entering into the era of the
"The South is the coming country for the young man who
wants to do business that will make money easily and rapidly,"
Ernst wrote to a colleague in an 1885 letter. After working in
Indianapolis, New York, Boston, and Chicago, Ernst moved to
Texas in 1877. He partnered with Jasper Newton Preston that year
to design the Williamson County Courthouse (razed 1910). In
1878, Oscar moved to Texas with another Ruffini brother, Alvin,
Ernst continued building his business while courting his Ohio
sweetheart, Elise "Lizzie" Weitz. He married Weitz in 1880 and
brought her to Austin. Their first child, Clara, was born in 1882;
Elise Erna arrived about 18 months later. By the time of Lizzie's
third pregnancy, though, Ernst had developed a chronic heart
H E R I TAGE / SUMMER 2004
TEXAS COURTHOUSE ARCHITECTS
The recognized dean of Texas courthouse architecture
is J. Riely Gordon (1863-1937). Born in Virginia,
he moved to San Antonio at age 11. After studying
there and in the office of the supervising architect of
the United States in Washington, D.C., he returned
to San Antonio and designed no fewer than 18 courthouses
in a 14-year period; 12 of those still stand.
Gordon's style of choice was Romanesque Revival,
with soaring central towers, arched entryways, and
detailed craftsmanship in the exterior masonry and
interior finishes. He made his first design, with unusual
Moorish influence, for Aransas County at age 26,
but unfortunately it was later demolished. Gordon's
courthouses in Fayette (1891), Bexar (1892), Erath
(1892), Victoria (1892), Gonzales (1894), Hopkins
(1894), Ellis (1896), Wise (1896), Comal (1898), and
Lee (1899) counties remain jewels of elaborate courthouse
design. Gordon's later designs for Harrison
(1900) and McLennan (1901) counties show his
understanding of the Beaux Arts style, featuring classical
elements and rounded domes.-Bob Brinkman
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Summer 2004, periodical, Summer 2004; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45373/m1/9/: accessed May 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.