Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

 

Georgetown Fire House and Old City Hall
Historical Marker
Georgetown, Williamson County Texas

circa 1892


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Georgetown Texas - Old Fire Station
as of 2010
Main at 9th street

 


Fire Station and Old City Hall

as of 2010

 

 

 

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GPS Coordinates
North 30.63590 - West -97.677100
UTM 14 R - Easting: 626775 -  Northing: 3389998

 

 

Historical Marker Text:
Designed by C.I. Belford and constructed in 1892 by C.W. Schell, this building originally housed the mayor's office, city council chambers, city jail, fire department, and the Georgetown Water Co. Over the years, it also has served as a meeting place for the Second Baptist Church and as chamber of commerce offices. The building, which features some Italianate detailing, is one of few remaining examples of 19th-century city hall-fire stations in Texas. Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1984

 


 

 

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marker for

Emzy Taylor

Historical Marker
Georgetown, Williamson County Texas

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Emzy Taylor
Serviced As Chief Of The
City's Volunteer Fire Department

1841-1895

 

 


 

 

GEORGETOWN

CITY HALL, CALABOOSE AND FIRE ENGINE HOUSE

Narrative by  HARRY L. MOORE - - OCTOBER 1983

 

THE CITY HALL, CALABOOSE AND FIRE ENGINE HOUSE

 

I
General

The population of Texas continued to increase rapidly following independence in 1836 and then statehood in 1845. As the frontier continued westward, new commun­ities were planted and grew along the principal lines of communication. These early towns provided a point for human congregation among the newly created and settled homesteads and served as a destination, or more frequently a temporary respite for settlers seeking their own land, or adventure along new frontiers.

 

Although some frontier towns blossomed quickly, most evolved slowly, the merchants and citizens constructing temporary structures at first, lining up build­ings and streets by estimation and creating city services and facilities as the need became evident. Town surveys and city maps came later, often requiring adjustment of established property lines. In the county seats, public and commercial buildings blossomed around the courthouse square.

Today, these historic, picturesque towns dot the Texas countryside. Spacious, unique residences and public and commercial buildings of the nineteenth century combine with a frontier history to lend a special character to each town and con­tribute to the creation of a strong Texas pride among the townspeople.

 

Georgetown, Texas is an excellent example of the nineteenth century Texas frontier town. Incorporated in 1848 shortly after annexation, the town was a long and hard day's travel by coach north to Austin along the "Main Street" of Texas, the north-south axis of the State, which in later years became a well known route to the Chisholm Trail.

 

The City of Georgetown can boast of many history ladened nineteenth and early twentieth century structures of both frame and native stone. In fact, the entire courthouse square has been designated the Williamson County Courthouse Historic District. Furthermore, in 1981 the City of Georgetown was selected by the State of Texas as one of five cities to participate in the Texas Main Street Project aimed at encouraging the preservation and reconstruction of historic city centers.

 

The purpose of this paper is to investigate the history surrounding the construc­tion and design of Georgetown's first municipal building, the multifunctional City Hall, Calaboose and Fire Engine House (hereafter referred to as the City Hall).

 

II

Site Selection

The search for an appropriate site upon which to build a City Hall began at least as early as April 1882 when a previously appointed (October 1881) Calaboose (n. Chiefly Southern & Western U.S. A jail.) Committee was instructed by the City Council to develop a plan to improve the old County Jail building for use as a combined City Hall and Calaboose. The old stone building was located on the east side of the square. It had been purchased by the City in February 1882 to serve as a City Calaboose. The plan, however, was not executed. Apparently, the old County Jail could not be modified inexpensively, and the cost of other property seemed too great for the newly elected City Council. Within a year the City had dismantled the building, sold the stone from its walls, (to reappear in other buildings on the square), and then disposed of the lot.

 

Although the Council's desire for a municipal building probably did not diminish, the proper combination of circumstances which would permit the construction of a mul­tifunctional city building did not present itself again for nearly ten years. Finally, in 1891 all factors converged favorably: the continued need for a city hall and jail; the need to expand the then existing temporary structure used as a truck house to accommodate the City's firefighting companies; the availability of already owned City property one block off the square; an apparently improved financial position; and possibly of greater significance, a positive approach by the City Council. Thus, in 1892 the first city-owned municipal building, the City Hall, Calaboose and Fire Engine Truck House combination was constructed.

 

The structure is a multifunctional two story building of native stone located on the southeast corner of the city block south of the Williamson County Courthouse Square. The lot upon which the building is situated (the south half of Lot 5, Block 51) was obtained by the City in December 1883 from the Georgetown Water Company. (1) The land was originally part of the Clement Stubblefield headright of one-third league (1476 acres) granted him by the Republic of Texas in 1837 (2) by virtue of having immi­grated to Texas in February of that year as a "colonist" and "settler" from Tennessee, both young and single. (2) "Settler" Stubblefield sold his headright to Thomas B. Huling in 1837 (2) who later, in 1844, selected, surveyed and claimed the land. (3) Five years later, in 1849, Huling and George W. Glasscock conveyed a considerable amount of land to Williamson County for the sum of one dollar, including part of the Stubble­field headright and the specific piece of land ultimately designated the south half of Lot 5, Block 51 in the City of Georgetown. (4) Before becoming city property, however, the lot passed from Williamson County ownership through the hands of seven owners over a period of thirty-four years. A list of the owners of the lot and Williamson County deed references are provided in Appendix I.

 

The precise date in 1892 the building was completed is not known. City Council records indicate the establishment of a committee to obtain plans for con­struction of a city hall on 14 December 1891, (5) and a request for sealed bids for construction was advertised in the Williamson County Sun on 21 January 1892 – the bids to be submitted by noon, 8 February. (6) A second committee, including the Mayor, was established 12 February 1892 to consider bids and award a contract. (7) During the entire year of 1892, Council records reflect a piecemeal approach to construction of the building. Nevertheless, it is likely the structure, including external trim, was completed by mid-summer, although finishing efforts apparently were not concluded until the end of the year. A list of recorded bids, contracts and other construction efforts is provided in Appendix II.

 

Prior to the time of City Hall construction, five structures are known to have existed on the lot. Two small frame structures were located side by side on the southwest corner of the lot facing south (9th Street), the westernmost a plumber's shop and the second and smaller (abutting the first to the east) the office of the Georgetown Water Company. A larger frame structure, the Fire Engine Truck House, was located on the northern half of the lot facing Main Street. The fourth structure was a large standpipe, part of the Georgetown water system. This structure, resembl­ing a very large section of pipe standing on end, was situated on the southeast corner of the lot. Constructed of riveted iron plate, it was twenty feet in diameter and one hundred feet tall, dominating the City skyline. Between the truck house and the standpipe, on the Main Street side of the lot stood a wooden bell tower, the fifth structure. A sketch of the lot showing arrangement of the structures in 1885 and 1889 is provided in Appendix III and early photographs of the Georgetown skyline are provided in Appendices IV & V.

 

It is not known precisely when either the plumber's shop or the Georgetown Water Company office was built. It is likely; however, they were erected mid-to­ late 1883 after 14 May of that year when the Georgetown Water Company entered into a contract with the City Council to construct a system to supply water to George­town and its inhabitants. (8)

 

The Fire Engine Truck House was a temporary structure built by the Georgetown Hook and Ladder and Rescue Hose Companies in December 1884.9 The need for a fire engine truck house as part of a municipal building was recognized as early as March 1883, about a year following organization of the first hook and ladder company.10 Prior to December 1884 the firefighting companies rented land on the square (at $5 per month) upon which to store their equipment. (11)

 

The bell tower was constructed in the early months of 1885.12 Seven years later, in April 1892 the tower was condemned and dismantled, and the bell was placed upon the standpipe. (13) A list of events and circumstances concerning the city bell and bell tower and a photograph of the bell are provided in Appendices VI and VII.

 

The standpipe was probably completed in the summer 1884, although a specific date is not recorded. This date estimation is established on the basis of a 14 July 1884 entry in the City Council record directing a member of the Council to have the bell placed on top of the standpipe, although for reasons unrecorded the task was not executed. (14)

 

The construction of the City Hall required removal of the three frame structures and, because of its poor state of repair, the bell tower. The standpipe remained in place, its presence a significant factor in the design of the City Hall, until past the mid-twentieth century when it was finally dismantled and removed in the early 60s. (15)

 

III

Design and Construction

In the late nineteenth century, Texas municipal government functions and fire­fighting organizations frequently occupied the same structure, City Council Chambers and the Mayor's Office on the upper level and the Fire Department with its fire­fighting equipment occupying the lower level. (16) The design of the Georgetown structure, however, was "different", housing the various municipal government func­tions and firefighting elements in separate wings. (17)

 

C.W. Schell won the contract to build the City Hall18 according to plans and specifications developed by C.I. Belford (19) and modified by the City Council. (20) The presence of the standpipe on the City lot dictated the wing design of the building. The use of native stone in pitch face ashlar style was consistent with other perman­ent buildings existing or under construction at that time.

 

As a sign of economic times (including the Panic of 1893) the City Council was concerned with cost of the building and apparently took every opportunity to cut corners. Although it cannot be determined with certainty, suggestions of the City Council to reduce interior building costs were probably accepted. This presumption is based upon a later recorded decision of the City Council (1902) to cement the truck house floor and paint and plaster the second leve1 (21), items apparently in­cluded by the architect in the original plans, but recommended for omission by the Council ten years earlier. (20)

 

In 1892 the building and the standpipe occupied an approximate square on the lot: the standpipe located in the southeast quarter, the building occupying the remaining three quarters. The standpipe hid from view the inner walls of each wing. A photograph taken about fifty years ago shows the relationship between the building and the standpipe in Appendix VIII.

 

The exterior walls of the building were constructed eighteen inches thick all around. The stone facing on the south and east sides of the building, including the walls behind the standpipe, are coursed ashlar masonry, while those on the west and north sides (the "rear" walls) are of the lesser expensive ruble stone finish (and now plastered). In the original plan the walls behind the standpipe were also to have been of ruble finish. However, someone with foresight, even in those hard economic times, obtained agreement to upgrade the plans to substitute coursed ashlar masonry for the planned ruble finish on the hidden walls. (22) The merit of this change became obvious with the removal of the standpipe nearly three quarters of a century later.

 

The east wing of the City Hall faces Main Street, a principal street in 1892; whereas, the south wing faces 9th Street (known then as Locust), a secondary street. For that reason the east face of the building was, and remains, more ornate than the south face: an ornamented galvanized cornice terminates the main facade; window caps of galvanized iron are mounted over each of three windows on the second level; and, until about 1923, elaborate wrought iron gates (3) graced the fire truck entrance mounted between the exterior walls and two iron support columns (see photo Appendix IX). (23) By contrast, the south wing of the building, while also displaying a galvanized iron cornice, has no other ornamentation above the doors or windows of either level. The westernmost window of three on the lower level was barred during the period the west half of the wing was occupied by the City Calaboose - the bars were removed about forty years ago. (24)

 

The exterior walls behind the standpipe, although faced with coursed ashlar masonry as described earlier, lack cornices, caps and all other ornamentation. Further­more, the doors and windows (the southernmost window on the lower level was barred) were not located with symmetry or exterior appearance in mind except as the walls might be viewed around the standpipe. Thus, these faces of the building which now front onto the streets since removal of the standpipe give the appearance of being the rear of a building. The space previously occupied by the standpipe is used currently for parking by city officials. A recent photograph showing the relative appearance of the walls originally behind the standpipe and those facing Main and 9th Streets is at Appendix X.

Interior stairways were not constructed. Instead, an iron stairway was origi­nally provided in 1892 on the exterior of the east wall behind the standpipe as the only means of reaching the second level of the building. To make it more convenient to reach the upper level from the Main Street side, a second iron stairway was in­stalled on the south wall of the east wing sometime after the turn of the century, before 1905. (25) This second stairway was subsequently replaced (about fifty years ago) with a concrete stairway.26 A sketch of the City Hall structure and standpipe arrangement, circa 1905 is provided in Appendix XI.

 

Because of building design both the western and northern walls of the building are in effect the rear walls. They are ruble finished and without ornamentation. The north wall apparently had no windows or doors when first constructed (now heavily plastered; window outlines not discernable; no photo or sketch evidence), but a small doorway has been cut through the wall to connect the original building with a vehicle parking addition constructed in the mid-twentieth century for more and larger fire trucks. The west wall has three windows on the upper level and four (one small) on the lower level. The larger windows on the lower level were originally barred when constructed. Two windows remain barred today, while the third (northern­most) at rear of the Fire Department wing has been modified to provide a rear door

for the truck house. It is not evident because of heavy plaster work whether or, not the smaller window on the first level was barred originally. The likely hood is strong, however, that it was, in view of its location on the Calaboose side of the building. In 1892 the Mayor's Office and City Council Chambers were located on the second level over the south wing while the City Marshall's Office and City Calaboose (in the west half) shared the lower level of the same wing with the Georgetown Water Company Office and a plumber's shop. The Fire Department's hook and ladder truck and hose cart, along with at least one horse occupied the remainder of the lower level which constituted the east wing from the Main Street entrance extending to the west wall. The volunteer firemen used the large un-plastered, unpainted space above the equipment storage area as the Fireman's Hall.

 

The Georgetown Water Company was allowed office space in the City Hall in exchange for providing sufficient water for use of the City Hall, and for the Fire Department to "flush gutters and firemen's drills. (27) While it is not recorded, it is presumed the plumber's shop was permitted to co-exist in the same office space with the Georgetown Water Company because of the functional relationship, plus the fact the shop building had been dismantled in order to erect the City Hall. It is likely, however, that the City received rent from the plumber for the space provided.

 

Early in its existence, the City Hall was authorized to be used for religious purposes. In 1893, the City Council agreed to allow the 2d Baptist Church of Georgetown to use the upper level hall. In exchange for this opportunity the church was to provide seats and lights for the hall (although ownership of the seats remained with the church). (28) The extent of utilization of the City Hall for this purpose and when the practice ended is not known.

 

Over the entire ninety-one year history of the building, the Fire Department has used the same space on both levels. The Department has imposed no significant changes to the exterior of its part of the building, but has made extensive internal changes upstairs. On the contrary, the south wing has had several occupancy functional changes over the years with resulting interior changes; still, relatively few changes to the building's exterior have resulted. Current photographs of the City Hall exterior are provided in Appendix XII (three pages).

 A list of exterior building changes from 1892 to the present are provided in Appendix XIII.

 

The individual volunteer companies of the Fire Department met and trained independently. Annually, however, the entire department met to elect officers and to address the April/May Firemen's Picnic. This latter topic is the principal subject of minutes recorded in the Fire Department record book from 1885. Most activities of the volunteer firemen took place in the Fireman's Hall.

 

The major internal modification to the truck house and Fireman's Hall occurred in 1902 when folding doors were constructed between the Fireman's Hall and the Council Chambers, and interior painting and plastering were accomplished along with the laying of a concrete floor in the truck house. (21)

 

In 1916 the Fire Department membership included ninety volunteers and two paid drivers who slept overnight in the truck-house. (29) It is not certain when firemen first remained overnight, but from that point onward, at least since 1916, the Firemen's Hall portion of the upper level began to undergo significant change. Changes probably occurred slowly, as the upper level was modified first to accommo­date one or two firemen, most likely on a rotating basis, and then to provide for full-time occupancy for families (with children). As a result, one third of the upper level floor space, that located immediately over the truck house, was converted into an apartment containing a sitting room, kitchen and two or three bedrooms, depending on furniture arrangement. During this period the iron stairway on the south side of the east wing was replaced with a more substantial, safer stairway of concrete. The floor space immediately west of the apartment (the center one third the upper level space) continued to be used as the Firemen's Hall and gathering place. To provide for speed in moving between the upper and lower level by residing firemen, a slide pole was installed in the northwest corner of the Fireman's Hall. Later, in the 1950s or 60s the pole was removed and a metal circular stairwell (around the slide pole) was installed in the northeast corner of the Fireman's Hall (about the center of the truck house) making it possible for firemen to ascend to the Hall from the truck house and avoid use of the exterior stairways, one of which entered into the kitchen of the apartment and the other into the ante-room

of the Council Chambers. (30)

 

The addition to Fire Department resources of the fire engine pump truck in 1922 or 23 forced the removal of the metal gates (too narrow). As more modern equipment arrived to meet the needs of a growing community the truck house space became inadequate. In the 1950s a parking building was added north of the truck house to provide necessary space and a passageway cut in the wall to connect the two areas. The center portion of this addition was used until 1971 by the Police Department, although a space behind the Police office permitted movement from one end of the addition to the other. Ultimately, the addition was remodeled to its present state in 1971 with a white brick facade (although first planned in 1965

using coursed ashlar masonry) and the Police Department moved to its present location on Main Street across from the City Library. Currently, the truck house is not used to protect modern firefighting equipment. Only an information and radio counter, a small office for the Chief, a trophy case and the metal stairwell occupy the space, which also serves as a parking and display space for the recently repainted 1922 pumper. One fireman remains on duty full-time, rotating with two others every third day. A current photograph of the east wing of the City Hall and the parking addition is shown in Appendix XIV.

As described earlier, the south wing of the City Hall was occupied initially by the Calaboose, the Georgetown Water Company and the plumber's office on the first level and the Mayor's Office and Council Chambers on the level above. This arrange­ment continued at least past the turn of the century according to the Sanborn map series. The plumber moved out before 1905 and for an unknown period electrical supplies were stored in the wing. The Police Office moved around the corner (time unknown, but presumed before construction of the parking addition); whereas the Calaboose remained in the south wing at least into the mid-1930s.30 In 1971 the City Offices moved to their present location with the utilities billing office on 7th Street and was replaced in the south wing by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce. The upper level, above the Chamber of Commerce, has been used recently to store city records and miscellaneous Fire Department and Chamber of Commerce equipment and materials. In August 1983, the City Council authorized temporary use of part of the space to house historic photographs, documents, etc. and provide a Georgetown Heritage Display sponsored by the Heritage Society.

 

Recently, the Chamber of Commerce redecorated its offices and currently, the Fire Department is planning to remodel the interior of its side of the building to provide needed office space on the lower level. Additionally, if feasible finan­cially, the Fire Department hopes to replace the white brick exterior facing, added in the 1971 remodeling activity, with native stone to make the building's exterior appearance consistent with the 1892 construction design. Further, as a means of preserving our community heritage for future generations, a monument is planned on the site of the 1884 standpipe to house and display the 1882 city fire bell and to commemorate the establishment of the Georgetown Volunteer Fire Department and the construction of the 1892 multifunctional city hall.

 

 

Notes

1 Williamson County, Record of Deeds, Vol 32, p. 478.

2 Ibid., Vol 1, p. 2.

3 Ibid., Vol 2, p. 366.

4 Ibid., Vol 1, p. 224.

5 City Council of Georgetown, Texas, Minutes of Council Meetings, Vol 3, p. 61.

6 Untitled Article, Williamson County Sun, Georgetown, Texas, 21 Jan 1882, p. 3.

7 Ibid., Vol 3, p. 70.

8 Ibid., Vol 2, p. 165.

9 Ibid., Vol 3, p. 24.

10 Ibid., Vol 2, p. 144.

11      Ibid., Vol 3, p. 7.

12 Ibid., Vol 3, p. 29.

13 Ibid., Vol 4, p. 74.

14 Ibid., Vol 3, p. 13.

15 Personal interview with Mr. J.P. Longino.

16 William B. Gibson, Texas Public Buildings of the Nineteenth Century, (University of Texas, 1968), p. 192.

17      Ibid., p. 193. •

18 City Council of Georgetown, Minutes of Council Meetings, Vol 4, p. 74.

19' Ibid., Vol 4, p. 64.

20 Ibid., Vol 4, p. 72.

21 - Ibid., Vol 4, p. 415.

22 Ibid., Vol 4, p. 74.

23 Personal interview with Mr. J.P. Longino.

24 Personal interview with Mr. Wilburn Barker.

25 City of Georgetown Map, Sanborn Publishing Company, Limited, editions 1900, 1905.

26 Personal interview with Mr. Wilburn Barker.

27 City Council of Georgetown, Texas, Minutes of Council Meetings, Vol 4, p. 122

28 Ibid., Vol 4, p. 116

29 City of Georgetown Map, Sanborn Publishing Company, Limited, edition 1916.

30 Personal interview with Mr. Wilburn Barker.

 

Bibliography

City of Georgetown, Texas. City Ordinances. Vol 1.

City of Georgetown, Texas Fire Department. Minutes of Meetings. Vol 1.

City of Georgetown, Texas City Council. Minutes of Council Meetings. Vols 1-5. City of Georgetown, Texas. Georgetown, Texas Illustrated, a pamphlet. 1908.  Maps, City of Georgetown, Texas. Sanborn Publishing Company, Limited. Editions  1885, 1889, 1894, 1900, 1905, 1910, 1916, and 1925.

Personal interview with Mr. Wilburn Barker full time fireman with the Georgetown, Texas Fire Department for 15 years. Personal interview with Mr. "Chili" Gahagen, second generation volunteer fireman. Personal interview with Mr. J.P. Longino, volunteer fireman for 50 years.

Robinson, William B. Texas Public Buildings of the Nineteenth Century. Publication Number Two of the Texas Architectural Survey sponsored by the Amon Carter Museum of Western-Art and the School of Architecture. University of Austin, 1968.

Untitled Article. Williamson County Sun, Georgetown, Texas. 21 Jan 1882, p. 3. Williamson County. Record of Deeds. Vols 1, 2, 8, 10, 21, and 32.

Williamson County Historical Commission. Scrapbook. Vol 5.

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