1883 Johnson Co. Courthouse Cornerstone -- Cleburne TX
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Benchmark Blasterz
N 32° 20.835 W 097° 23.160
14S E 651882 N 3580071
Quick Description: After the 1883 Johnson Co. Courthouse burned in 1912, its cornerstone was saved by a citizen. It was eventually donated back to the city of Cleburne, which put it on public display at the "new" courthouse that replaced it in 1913.
Location: Texas, United States
Date Posted: 1/27/2013 7:47:08 PM
Waymark Code: WMG8A8
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member BarbershopDru
Views: 2

Long Description:
The cornerstone from the 1883 Johnson County TX Courthouse sits next to the east entrance to the building as part of a small memorial. The sign with the old cornerstone reads as follows:

"This stone is from the fourth Johnson County Courthouse, a three story red brick bulding with a four-story bell/clock tower, and was finished October 6th 1883, costing $49,685. The building was destroyed by fire on April 16, 1912.

City Marshall A. Bledsoe, serving in the absence of his brother, Fire Chief Baylor Bledsoe, (who was on vacation) lost his life.

The bell tower cost $4000.

Mr. Dodson, respected Confederate soldier, was the architect, Mr. Lee Slaughter was the contractor.

The cornerstone was given back to the county by the family of the late Carl Collins.

1990" [end]

The 1883 courthouse was a Second Empire beauty, that was similar to the courthouse in nearby Parker County.

A story about the centennial anniversary of the fire appeared in the local newspaper, the Cleburne Times Review: (visit link)

"April 16, 2012
County courthouse fire 100 years later

Cleburne city marshal killed in 1912 fire

By Matt Smith/msmith@trcle.com

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic’s sinking, an event that will be commemorated by people and planned events the world over. Although less well known or remembered, even locally, April 15, 1912, proved a day of tragedy for Johnson County as well.

Fire consumed the Johnson County Courthouse, claiming the life of Cleburne City Marshal Abe Bledsoe in the process.

Built in 1883, that courthouse, the county’s fourth, occupied the same location of the county’s current courthouse. Although the date on the current courthouse reads 1912, completion of construction and the opening of that building actually occurred in 1913.

JC courthouses through the years

Wardville served as the original county seat for Johnson County, which was created by the 5th Texas Legislature in 1854. William O’Neal built the first courthouse, a log building, at a reported cost of $49, according to a Johnson County Courthouse Historical Museum pamphlet.

That courthouse now sits at the Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum off U.S. 67 on the banks of Lake Pat Cleburne.

Texas Constitution compliance requirements necessitated moving the county seat to Buchanan, named after then President James Buchanan, in 1856. The second courthouse, a wooden one-room structure, cost $500. Unfortunately, no pictures of that courthouse are known to exist.

Ten years later, Hood County was formed from a portion of Johnson County and a new county seat had to be established. The new county seat established in Camp Henderson, which became Cleburne in 1867. That same year a wagon moved the Buchanan courthouse to the spot where the Christian Heritage Foundation building, which before that was a Woolworth’s, now sits.

County growth soon required a larger courthouse. A two-story building with a wooden fence was built for $10,123. That courthouse also occupied the same spot on the downtown square as the current courthouse.

In 1883, the county completed its fourth courthouse at a cost of $44,685, a courthouse that still stood until the 1912 fire.

In 1907, a Mr. and Mrs. L. Freeman married on top of the tower of the 1883 courthouse.

“The event brought more people to town, it is said, than has ever before surrounded the courthouse,” according to a hand-written remembrance of the courthouse, portions of which appeared in the Cleburne Morning Review on April 16, 1912.

The letter is now in the county judge’s office in the current courthouse. The name A.J. Wright, former owner of the Wright Building in downtown, appears on the letter, which would seem to make him the author.

Sandy Sims, former administrative assistant to County Judge Roger Harmon, said it is unclear who actually penned the letter, it may have been Wright’s wife, or someone else.

The Morning Review article containing part of the letter offers no help as the story carries no byline.

Plans were already under way to replace the 1883 courthouse with a new building before fate and tragedy intervened.

“The JC Courthouse burned,” reads the headline in the April 15, 1912, edition of the Cleburne Daily Enterprise.

“City Marshal A. Bledsoe meets death in the burning building,” reads the first subhead.

The third subhead states, “Fire alarm turned in at 12:30 this morning sounds the death knell for Cleburne’s efficient city marshal and marks the passing of the old temple of justice with its history.”

From another headline on the front page of that day’s edition, Cleburne readers learned that, “Titanic is in trouble south of Cape Race.”

The front page of the April 16, 1912, Cleburne Morning Review contains no mention of the courthouse fire. Readers had to turn to page 5 for that story.

A story headlined “Santa Fe Shop men have a good meeting” appears on the front page.

Fire Marshal Burditt spotted the courthouse fire Monday morning “about 12:30 o’clock,” according to the Cleburne Morning Review.

“Burditt, while on South Main Street, noticed a red tongue of flame shooting up behind the small windows in the tower of the Johnson County Courthouse,” according to the article.

Burditt, the paper fails to list his first name, ran toward the courthouse square firing four shots into the air. As he drew closer he could see the red glow of fire through the tower windows.

On the east side of the courthouse, “night officers Messrs. Rogers and Darnaby” also fired shots into the air.

“The six-shooter bombardment soon awakened half of the city, and in 20 minutes the courthouse square was alive with people, according to the article.

Burditt asked a night clerk named Mobley at the Hotel Cleburne to turn in an alarm, which Mobley did before waking the hotel guests.

Fire wagons soon arrived and streamed water into the blaze. A strong south breeze swept smoke and sparks northward as the fire worked its way from the upper part of the building to the lower floors.

A fatal turn of events

Abe B. Bledsoe became city marshal of Cleburne in 1911, a year before his death.

The titles city marshal and chief of police seem to have been interchangeable in those days, according to a history of the Cleburne Police Department written by former CPD Chief Claude Zachary in the 1990s.

The 1907 Cleburne City Directory, for example, lists Charles McClain as chief of police while later directories and records refer men holding the same, apparently, office as city marshals.

Or maybe not. Specifics of whether city marshals and police chiefs were separate or once the same office in Cleburne depends on who you ask.

Former CPD Deputy Chief N.H. Laseman said he believes to two positions were always separate.

“At least that’s what I was told,” Laseman said. “Until we went to the police department concept, people would run for [the city marshal position] then they’d hire their own deputy marshals.”

The city marshal office went from an elected to an appointed position — Cleburne still has a city marshal — sometime in the ’40s or ’50s, Laseman estimated.

Senior District Judge C.C. “Kit” Cooke said he believes the positions may have once been essentially the same thing.

Cooke said a former bailiff of his, Glenn Clark, served as chief of CPD in the late ’40s or early ’50s, but was referred to as marshal. Carroll Cooke, Cooke’s uncle, on the other hand was appointed to the office in the mid-’50s as always referred to as chief of police, Cooke said.

Whether Bledsoe was city marshal or chief of police, he unfortunately ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time that 1912 morning.

Bledsoe apparently felt duty bound to join firefighters as the Cleburne fire chief — Bledsoe’s brother, Baylor Bledsoe, was out of town on vacation.

That decision proved heroic and deadly as it cost Bledsoe his life on the second floor of the burning courthouse.

Bledsoe joined several firefighters in the building, all of whom soon realized the peril of the situation.

“[Bledsoe] was conscious of being in imminent danger and he told fireman Vernon Steakley and Elmer Shannon to get the second floor windows and lower doors ready for a quick getaway,” according to the Cleburne Morning Review.

The firefighters were standing near the west door of the district court, firefighter Carey Hughes reported after the fact, when Bledsoe approached him and said, “Let me have the hose; you go down and rest, I’ll fight ’er some myself.”

Soon after a crash reverberated through the courthouse as the big tower and tin roof collapsed into the structure.

According to the Cleburne Morning Review story, many spectators watching said, “Can it be possible that someone has been caught under that death trap?”

Shannon exited safely, according to reports.

Tumbling bricks and mortar struck Steakley, injuring his shoulder, as he climbed out a window. Bledsoe was not so lucky.

“As fireman Steakley crawled into the window, he heard the crash behind him and he knew one of the brave firefighters had been caught in the clutches of death,” The Cleburne Morning Review reported. “How to rescue him was the question. A large piece of tin from the roof had covered the officer like a blanket, and heavy brick and mortar had fallen on the tin. The officer still held to the nozzle, and the water was pouring on and about him, and another stream was played on the pile of debris. But the bricks and tin being hot, there was no chance for the brave man under the death trap. He was scalded and roasted to death.”

It was “heart-rending” for firefighters to fight the fire and not attempt to save Bledsoe, according to reports. Which didn’t stop firefighter Louis Cashion from attempting to do so.

“But he had not proceeded far on his daring mission when the heat and smoke caused him to waver, and he too might have been lost but for the timely act of his brother, Joe Cashion, who ran in and brought him out,” according to the Morning Review.

With the fire finally extinguished, firefighters managed to recover Bledsoe’s body at 4:30 a.m., a recovery fraught with jeopardy.

“For the men did not know what instant an over-topping section of brick and mortar might also bury them and mash their lives out,” the Morning Review reported.

Rescue workers found Bledsoe clutching the nozzle of the hose in a death grip when they finally managed to unpin him from the rubble, according to reports.

News of Bledsoe’s death caused a general expression of sorrow from the hundreds of Cleburne residents gathered on the sidewalks, according to reports, and false rumors spread that Cashion and Shannon had also died in the fire.

The aftermath left the courthouse’s steel vaults and some brick walls standing but consumed practically all the wood work, according to reports.

“The familiar faces of the old clocks in the courthouse tower had gone forever,” the Morning Review reported.

Newspaper accounts from the time recorded no cause for the fire.

“I’ve heard people say that it might have stared in a court reporter’s office, but I don’t know if that was ever proven for sure or if the cause was ever determined,” Sims said in 2009.

The Cleburne City Council met on April 18, 1912, and appointed Alf C. White as the new city marshal, according to reports.

City officials also allowed residents to remove bricks and other debris from the rubble of the 1883 structure, according to reports.

One Dub Collins carted off the 1883 date marker, formerly affixed to the upper outside wall of the old courthouse before the fire.

“It was in the backyard next to a tree,” said Carla Oefinger, Collin’s great-granddaughter. “My brother and I used to play on it all the time. It was my father’s grandfather’s; he collected things. We always knew it had some kind of special meaning, but as children didn’t really understand what it meant.”

Oefinger’s mother donated the date marker to the county in 1990, she said. The marker and a plaque, which mentions Bledsoe and the 1912 fire, is located on the lawn of the current courthouse.

Cleburne Police Chief Terry Powell said in 2009 that, to the best of his knowledge, no other Cleburne police officer, save Bledsoe, ever died in the line of duty. The Cleburne Fire Department has not been as fortunate, having lost three firefighters in as many fires over the years." [end]
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