- Associated Press - Sunday, May 25, 2014

THROCKMORTON, Texas (AP) - They lay scattered across Texas like battered pearls from a broken strand.

Crafted of stone and mortar, brick and wood, these tired and worn behemoths beg for attention, for the chance to look as they did when they were new.

The state of Texas is home to more than 235 historic courthouses, more than any other state.

Throckmorton is home to one of those courthouses, and it’s in the middle of a restoration to return it to the way it looked when it was built in 1891.

That renovation is possible because Texas is home to the largest historical program ever initiated by a state, according to Sharon Fleming, the program director of the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Project at the Texas Historical Commission (THC).

In the late 1990s, the commission had “documented the condition of the 50 of the oldest courthouses and determined that the counties lacked the resources to preserve the buildings.”

Then, the Texas County Courthouses were added to the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered Properties list in 1998. The National Trust is a 118-year-old organization that works to preserve the nation’s heritage.

When then-Gov. George W. Bush was campaigning to keep his seat in the 1998 Texas election, creating a program to save those historical buildings was one of his campaign platforms. He established the preservation project in 1999.

“The program provides partial matching grants to Texas counties for the restoration of their historic county courthouses. The program began with a $50 million appropriation for the grants, which were awarded in two rounds in 2000 and 2001” according to the Texas Historical Commission website.

“We owe him a big debt of gratitude,” Fleming told the Abilene Reporter-News (http://bit.ly/1jSwfqY). “It was extremely popular from the get-go.”

Every two years, the THC applies for funding from the Texas Legislature. In the early years, grants ranged from $40 million to $60 million. The amounts dropped to around $20 million in the last four to five years. But the most recent grant was a mere $4.2 million.

Most of those funds will go to courthouses with emergency needs, said Debbie Head, senior communications specialist for THC.

Kenath Hawkins of KBL Restoration is the project superintendent for the Throckmorton courthouse. He said the initial work on the courthouse began long before a single hammer fell.

“They’ve been working on this for eight years,” Hawkins said. “They work on the design for years before we work on the courthouse.”

This isn’t Hawkins’ first courthouse renovation. He served as project superintendent on several courthouses, both on his own and with his partners at KBL Restoration.

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