This was our eighty-seventh Courthouse in Texas to visit. That means we are at 34.3% of our goal with 65.7% left to go.
Comal County was founded in 1846 with New Braunfels as its county seat, which was founded a year earlier by German immigrants. The first county court was held on August 7, 1846 in the home of Conrad Seabaugh, the first county clerk of Comal County. His house was on the northeast corner of the main plaza. District court was held at the German First Protestant Church, but the church council evicted them by April of 1847. Still searching for a permanent place to hold court and not having any money to buy land or build a courthouse, county officials resorted to buying two small buildings for $600 from Theodor Sterzing which were located on S. Seguin St. between the Elks Lodge and the home of Dr. Friedrich Frueholz. The records were moved to these buildings on August 1, 1850.
With financial help from the state legislature, the building of Comal County’s first real courthouse began in 1857 on the southeast corner of the main plaza. Requests made to build the courthouse in the center of the main plaza were rejected. The courthouse, designed by William C. A. Thielepape of San Antonio and built by Ferdinand Simon of New Braunfels, was a two-story rectangular building with a flat roof built with local limestone. It had corner quoins, segmented arches over the windows and a rectangular parapet on one side. Completed in 1859 at a cost of around $9,000, the building was officially dedicated on April 30, 1860. In 1878, a county jail was built to the rear of the courthouse. Designed by Texas courthouse architect F.E. Ruffini, the building mimicked two other jails that Ruffini designed for Collin and Robertson counties, both of which are still standing. The 1878 jail in New Braunfels stood until 1958.
By 1897, it was thought by many that the 1860 courthouse was becoming too dilapidated and that a new courthouse was needed. Once again requests were made to build the courthouse in the center of the main plaza and once again they were rejected. Instead, land was purchased on the northwest corner of the plaza where a hotel by Samuel Millett was located. San Antonio architect James Riely Gordon, who had already designed several courthouses in Texas, was an early favorite to design the courthouse, but county judge Adolph Giesecke and the commissioners court decided to advertise for competing designs from architects around the state. Gordon’s design was ultimately chosen, against the objections of the county judge and August Schulze, Jr., one of the county commissioners, who refused to have their names put on the cornerstone. (Robert Bodemann was elected county judge in November of 1898 and his name was put on the cornerstone.)
The courthouse was built with local limestone with red granite steps and the Gordon trademark of red granite columns at the arched corner entrances and second story balconies over the south and west side entrances. The third story balconies have a stone balustrade. Rising from the center of the building is a square tower with tall, open archways that is tapered towards the top. The hipped, metal roofs have decorative dormers rising from each side. The district courtroom, with curving walls on the north and east sides, was originally two stories with balcony seating and receding arches in a bay behind the judge’s bench. Completed in December of 1898 at a cost of $36,600, the new courthouse was officially dedicated on January 22, 1899.
In 1930-31, a three story jail and additional office space was added to the north side of the courthouse using the same local limestone. The original north side entrance was closed off and the district courtroom was cut in half with the upper balcony area being transformed into office space. In 1951-52, an addition was made to the county clerk and district offices, closing off the original east side entrance. The Nowotny building on the west side of the courthouse (formerly the Lenzen Hotel, built in 1901,) was sold to the county in 1963 and turned into a temporary annex. Further renovations to the district courtroom and the addition of an elevator and air conditioning took place at the courthouse in 1966. In 1974, the annex was renovated. In 1976, the county installed bells in the courthouse tower which were donated by Walter Faust, Jr. In 1985, the courthouse annex was demolished for the construction of the current red brick annex which was completed in 1986 and dedicated in 1987. The courthouse was renovated again at this time.
After many years of remodels and additions and the deterioration of antiquated plumbing, electrical, heating and air conditioning systems, the time came to restore the courthouse. Denied funding in 2008, in 2010, Comal County received a $3.4 million grant from the Texas Historical Commission’s Courthouse Preservation Program towards a complete restoration of the courthouse to its 1898 condition. The 1931 and 1952 additions were demolished, reopening the original north and east side entrances. The interior, including the two story courtroom, was restored to its original color scheme and configuration, but with all the modern conveniences needed for today’s courthouses. The total cost of the restoration totaled $8.6 million. A rededication for the courthouse was held on January 22, 2013, exactly 114 years after the building’s original dedication.