Lee Jamison

Lee  Jamison - Trinity County Courthouse and Jail

Trinity County Courthouse and Jail, 2018

Painting oil on canvas  
12 x 24 in

Location: W. First Street, Groveton, Tx.

We used to drive past this interesting building often on trips to visit Melinda's parents near Nacogdoches. I've never seen another courthouse that looks the same or seems to be in the same family, though the claim is that this one began, in 1908, patterned after the Polk County Records Building in Livingston. It was then appended to. That seems to coincide with the odd pattern of Groveton itself, which has a unique downtown in which a little spur of Main Street juts off from First Street in front of the courthouse, like an outdoor movie sound stage. But even that doesn't symmetrically align with the courthouse. It's off center, as though to make a kind of nod to the jail.

Jails in East Texas appear to have been points of notable civic pride. In many counties they are prominently displayed, as this one is, on the courthouse square. In Jasper the WPA jailhouse is even placed in front of the courthouse. Here an Art Deco WPA jail is, as it were, given equal billing. But civility is not neglected in Groveton. Just beyond the courthouse on the same grounds is the public library.

All this points to how temporally close we are to something like the frontier in Texas generally. When these buildings were built three prior courthouses (probably properly aligned with Main Street) had been burned in sometimes suspicious fires. Records had even been stolen and never recovered. The Texas Historical Commission entry on this courthouse states that by the time the first wing of this building was built (on the far right) the people of the county had been convinced of the necessity of a "substantial building" to protect public documents. Hence that original wing was called the "Records Vault". A rock Jail didn't just show the people were safe, but they were civilized in their treatment of transgressors. And, of course, a library proved the public cherished culture.

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