CITY HALL, CALABOOSE AND
FIRE ENGINE HOUSE
Narrative by HARRY L. MOORE
- - OCTOBER 1983
THE CITY HALL, CALABOOSE AND
FIRE ENGINE HOUSE
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
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).
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
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
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)
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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,
7 Ibid., Vol 3, p. 70.
8 Ibid., Vol 2, p. 165.
9 Ibid., Vol 3, p. 24.
10 Ibid., Vol 2, p. 144.
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.
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,
26 Personal interview with
Mr. Wilburn Barker.
27 City Council of
Georgetown, Texas, Minutes of Council Meetings, Vol 4,
28 Ibid., Vol 4, p. 116
29 City of Georgetown Map,
Sanborn Publishing Company, Limited, edition 1916.
30 Personal interview with
Mr. Wilburn Barker.
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.