I don’t often write first-person accounts of what I’m thinking on a given day. For one thing, I don’t think many people care. Today is the exception. First, I want to explain all the county courthouse posts. These are stories I wrote over a period of a few years when I was actively going out to see classic old Texas county courthouses. I had self-published them on a personal web site that I am now in the process of deconstructing.
So, I needed a place to put them. Either that or I could just trash them, but I didn’t want to do that. Maybe just a sentimental thing, too, but I felt they still had some relevance to the core topic of this blog.
And, they still have an audience as well. I suspect most of the readers are school children researching their one-page reports. Come on, we all wrote those papers at some point in our life, and I’m just putting out some low fruit for these little guys. Actually one of my nieces told me she ran across them because they were referenced on an assignment sheet for a research paper she wrote for a college history class. The funny thing is, she told me, she didn’t realize I had written them until she came back later documenting her sources.
There are about 10 of these courthouse posts now. I will probably do another 10 simply because I have the resources.
Actually, I was originally inspired to go see these historic buildings after reading The courthouses of Texas: a guide. In this book they had a short list of the really great courthouses and I started off on a journey. Actually, if you are into self-abuse, you could go see all 254 Texas county courthouses. Me, I just wanted the best of the best. As a bonus, most of the great courthouses are in interesting places.
Actually, I think historic county courthouses make great road trip destinations. A few weeks back I took a Sunday drive down to Waxahachie. There were so many people there. A few folks were there to eat at a restaurant that was open, but most people came there to see the courthouse. They would drive up, get out of the car and wonder around the courthouse and town square, then get back in the car and leave. I would like to tell you this is the first time I ever noticed this. Actually, I’ve seen this over and over. Old courthouses are popular road trip destinations.
Without belaboring the point, this sort of road trip is a lot like heritage tourism. I’ve also heard it called educational travel. The point of the trip is to understand the story of the place and possibly its people. I realize that reading up on a destination is a little over the top for some folks. Sometimes it can be a real bonus to know a little about the back story before you visit a place.
For example: I recently took a walk through the Johnson County courthouse in Cleburne. I’m not a student of architecture, but I had read something about this courthouse five or six years ago. From my dim recollection of that reading, I remember that this building is representative of prairie architecture. I remember that this architectural form is known for strong horizontal lines and geometric patterns. As I walked around the outside of the building I noticed, first, the massive width of the building. Then I notice all the geometric patterns. On the clock tower, frieze, and in the cornice.
I go inside the courthouse only to realize these same patterns recur inside the building. First I noticed them in the most apparent places, but then I notice the patterns used in more subtle ways. In the heavy iron railings, in the webbing of the iron stair cases. In the heavily ornate trim and moldings in the large courtroom. Then it occurred to me that some of the patterns were geometric and some were sculpted. They were sort of like leaves and fruit. Kind of like the bountiful fruits of the vast, horizontally expansive prairie.
My point is that with just a little bit of knowledge from reading a few paragraphs about this courthouse and its architectural style, I was able to appreciate this building and its complexity vastly better.
I recently came across KERA’s Living With the Trinity: a River’s Story. It made me think about travel beyond the road. I’ve read that the Trinity River Valley northwest of DFW in the area of the Palo Pinto Mountains is a great place to canoe. As a child I spent many-a-day wondering the river banks near my hometown. There was this one place at a sharp turn in the river where mammoth stone blocks marked paths through what was otherwise wilderness. As children we had no idea what to make of this strange labyrinth in the middle of nowhere. Today I know that it was actually Guard Lock Number 10 on the Beaver and Erie Canal. You never know what you’re going to discover exploring the bounds of a river.
So that’s my pitch for road tripping for discovery. Don’t go to just look, go to understand the back story of a place or people. And, don’t limit yourself to the low fruits of roadside attractions. Rivers and railroads and mountain tops hold super potential for discovery.