'New use sought for old jail'
By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor
Pictured: Photo by Judith Pannebaker
County Clerk Candy Wheeler and District Clerk Tammy Kneuper display original and bound copies of historic court records of Bandera County. The archival effort is funded by a $10 user fee attached to all court filings.
(Editor's note: Thank you, Roy Chancy of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District for loan of the Dec. 16 newspaper.)
Surprisingly, the headline, "New use sought for old jail," came courtesy of the front page of a Bandera newspaper, dated Dec. 16, 1982. Everything old, it seems, is new again.
On Dec. 10, 33 years ago, the members of the Bandera County Historical Commission discussed plans for using the century-old jail, located on 12th Street, as an archives center and exhibit gallery. During the meeting, which was convened in the building designed by the famous Texas architect, Alfred Giles, then County Judge-elect Tommy Curbo toured the 1881 building. According to the article, the county had leased the jail to the local historical commission, which was described as an arm of the Texas Historical Commission.
After prisoner detention was moved to the now-razed jail located behind the Bandera County Courthouse, the historic jail on 12th Street found new life as a museum under the direction of Gladys Graves, with exhibits consisting mostly of a "collection of memorabilia assembled by Mrs. Graves." Additionally, the space served as a repository for "old county documents and records no longer needed for daily reference at the courthouse" - some of which dated back to the 1856 founding of Bandera County.
An assemblage of handmade office furniture "from pioneer days" was also stored in the old jail. Fortuitously, historical commission member Marjorie Langford and others rescued both the furniture and historical records from a trash pile when the courthouse on Main Street was remodeled in the 1960s. In the early 1980s, the documents had not been indexed or organized, but were - happily - kept intact.
Fast forwarding to the present, employees working with County Clerk Candy Wheeler and District Clerk Tammy Kneuper have worked at categorizing all the records saved in the 1960s; however, not all have been restored or bound.
As District Clerk Tammy Kneuper explained at an earlier meeting of Bandera Commissioners Court, "The 81st Legislature authorized the collection of the archival fund for the restoration of old records. Records from 1961 and back have been mandated for archival preservation."
To fund the preservation, each year commissioners approve a $10 fee, to be included in the cost of any lawsuit, including appeals or cross-actions, counterclaims, intervention, contempt action, motion for a new trial or third party petition in the district court. The fee also applies to filings such as deeds, births and marriages in the county clerk's office. "The ten dollars becomes part of the filing fee and it's strictly a user fee," Kneuper continued.
"We now have 75 percent of our old court records completed," she added. Other local historical records, however, remain languishing in storage pods. "If we archive five books a year, we could go on for 25 years," Kneuper said. "The oldest record I've had restored is case #513, which was recorded in 1896."
Each bound book of historic records costs approximately $1,200.
At this time, Wheeler's office has no funds for record restoration, but she has archived some records, the oldest being from 1856. "The $10 fee will help us," she said. "We want to renovate the filing in records management by purchasing rolling shelves to double our storage space."
In 1982, historian and then-Commission Chairman Peggy Tobin discussed the importance of preserving old records, as well as finding "the highest and best use of the jail building by all the people of Bandera to whom it belongs."
Curbo advised "that extreme care should be taken and professional advice sought by any group seeking to arrive at a master plan for re-use of a building as unique and historic as is the jail."
On Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, Bandera City Council agreed to convey municipal property on 12th Street to the Frontier Times Museum for a proposed historical renovation project. The undertaking would eventually include restoration of the 1881 jail and 1868 courthouse, as well as relocation of two other historical buildings to the area of virtually unusable land at the end of 12th Street, which is owned by the city.
Speaking for the project were George Sharman, chairman of the Old Jail Committee; museum Executive Director Rebecca Norton; Bandera County Historical Commission Chairman Roy Dugosh; and historian Dave Burell.
The museum expansion would include relocation of an 1887 farmhouse from East Texas to serve as a visitors' center with offices, gift shop and restrooms. Additionally, the former Dug Spring School, a one-room school similar to those once found throughout the county, will be moved to the site and renovated.
Once legal procedures are identified and followed, the city will convey the property to the historical commission for their project.
In January 1983, commissioners court was slated to appoint a new and expanded historical commission that would make the organizational changes necessary to carry forth a project as large as the rehabilitation of the old jail. A need for an auxiliary, nonprofit corporation to seek and receive funds was also stressed.
In addition to Tobin, Langford and Curbo, other members of the historical commission at the meeting were Frances and Harold Sherman, Jennette Saul, Matie Mae Pue, Sallie Lewis and Jay Edwards.
Current members of the Bandera County Historical Commission include Dugosh, Burell, Norton, Elenora Dugosh Goodley, Alison Swift, Billy Reeves, Merry Langinais, Cindy Harrington, Lauren Langford, Cecil LeStourgeon, Mary McGroarty Smith and William Feather Wilson. Tobin continues to serve as historical consultant.