CANYON, TX (KFDA) - Randall County judges have come and gone over many years, but none of them had the "vision" of the man who now holds the job, according to the former publisher of the Canyon News, Brad Tooley.
Accordingly, County Judge Ernie Houdashell deserves a huge amount of credit for helping restore the exterior of the 1909 County Courthouse structure that sits in the middle of the Canyon Square, said Tooley.
A Texas Historical Commission marker on the side of the old structure offers a brief summary of its origins, how it was the site of the first school in Randall County; and how cowboys would hold dances on its tin roof.
The current structure was opened on the eve of the opening of West Texas State University, the inscription tells us.
The old structure has gone through a lot during its more than a century on the square.
It once housed the county government in the middle of the town that serves as the Randall Count seat. But the courthouse has been vacant for decades and the county has moved its governmental operations elsewhere.
Still, Tooley – who sold his newspaper in 2006 and now runs a media company in south Amarillo – sees a potential for future use of the old structure.
He purchased the Canyon News in 1984 and threw himself immediately into the affairs of the community his newspaper covered.
Tooley recalled how Canyon became one of the first cities in Texas to join the Main Street program designed to revitalize downtown business and entertainment districts. He then recalled a visit about 13 years ago from Anita Perry, wife of then-Gov. Rick Perry and a graduate of West Texas State.
"These weren't her exact words," Tooley said, "but Anita Perry was in the square and she declared 'We're going to save the courthouse.' That was a game-changer. It's been a long process ever since."
Tooley ticked off the names of several county judges: Charlie Purcell, Mac McMennamy, Ted Wood and Houdashell. "They're all fine men and they all had the county's best interests at heart," Tooley said. "But Ernie had the vision the others lacked."
Tooley also gives a lot of credit for saving the courthouse from demolition to Harold Root, a longtime Canyon resident who's been active in the county's historical preservation program. "Harold was born to do that job," Tooley said. "He did a lot of study on how to apply adaptive re-use of the building. Harold Root is a major reason the building is still standing. He had the right talking points and they all came from his heart."
The county was officially organized in 1889 and Canyon City became its county seat. The first courthouse contract was awarded in September 1889 to Joe T. Service, who bid $8,200 to build it.
Growth in the county forced officials to think about a new courthouse. Construction began on the 1909 Courthouse in 1907.
The county long ago moved out of the courthouse. It relocated many of its functions to what once was the Justice Building across the street. The Commissioners Court would meet in one of two annex structures on either side of the 1909 building. "We called the North and South annexes the 'ugly sisters,'" said Tooley, noting that the county removed them years ago when plans began taking shape to renovate the exterior of the building.
Although its exterior is restored, what, then, is the future of the old structure, the exterior of which was completed after the state gave the county two grants and after the county asked voters for permission to spend local public money to finish the job? Tooley is unsure. "Maybe some high-powered lawyers can find a use for it," he said.
The City of Canyon considered moving into the building, but backed off when the cost of renovating the inside of the 1909 structure proved to be prohibitive.
"There still may be a demand for the building," Tooley said.
For now, the exterior of the building has been dolled up. The grounds surrounding the structure are well-manicured.
And the restored clock tower atop the structure keeps perfect time.