Hello my fellow explorers! I realize it’s been awhile since I’ve posted and I apologize. My husband and I recently bought a house so we’ve been busy with that. The house is a bit of a fixer upper, which we love. We believe in the value of sweat equity, and trust me when I say there’s been plenty of sweat with June temps maxing out at over 90 degrees. It’s not even officially summer yet either! Anyway, let’s get on to the good stuff. By the way, I’ve compiled extra bits of interesting information throughout this post, so keep an eye out for those links.
Late this past winter, I was on a solo photography trip and wound up in Mason; a lovely little gem of a town two hours west of Austin. I knew the moment I rolled in on 29 that this place was special. Mason is a step back in time; with a rich history and deep roots. At the time, I couldn’t stay long and reluctantly left the tiny town behind with a vow that I’d be back as soon I could. Finally, months later the time came when we decided to take a weekend off from working on the house and hit the road. As luck would have it, (with maybe a bit of persuasion on my part) we ended up in little Mason. I told you already that I knew it was special the first time I visited, but I really had no idea how fantastic it really is until the second time. Let’s start with the courthouse.
Located on Westmoreland Street, the Mason County Courthouse was constructed in 1909-1910 in the oddly familiar Beaux Arts style for just shy of $40,000. It’s unexpectedly lavish for a county populated by roughly 4,000 people and was built with locally sourced materials. This courthouse was designed by the architect Edward C. Hosford. Click here to see other courthouses designed by Hosford!
Constructed in 1909, this is the third courthouse to serve the people of Mason County. Commissioners Court probably met in other locations until the first courthouse was built in 1872. It burned in 1877 and was replaced that year by a second red sandstone building.
Designed by E. C. Hosford and built at a cost of $39,796, this Beaux Arts style courthouse features a center dome and clock tower, gable front porticoes with two-story Doric columns, and rusticated stonework with contrasting stone lintels.”
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark – 1988
The Mason County Courthouse in 1939.
Photo courtesy of TxDOT
Mason Square 1876
Photo courtesy of the Mason County Historical Society
In a bitter twist of irony, a fire destroyed the fire department and all the equipment in 1938. This building is its replacement and today serves as the local law enforcement office.
Ornate stonework on the side of the building above.
This is an eye catcher, for sure. Located south of the square across Westmoreland Street, this imposing red sandstone jail was constructed in 1894. From the Mason Chamber of Commerce walking tour guide:
“In 1893 two houses occupied Mill Block. This area was vacant until the jail, Mason County’s third, was erected in 1894. Mrs. Rick, who operated a boarding house on the west end of the block, was consulted to see if she had any objections to the jail being built so close to her. She asked that there be a fenced lot and a 25-foot alley between the jail and her property.
She also required that the public outhouse on the courthouse grounds be removed. The jail, built in a modified Romanesque Revival style, had living quarters for the sheriff on the first floor and cells on the second floor. The early jail builders did their job well; the jail still meets minimum state standards and is used to house prisoners on the occasions when this is necessary.”
“A good example of a small, nineteenth-century jail, this structure was built in 1894 from the brown sandstone available in the nearby hills. The ground floor of the county’s third jail includes living quarters for the sheriff, while the jail cells are located on the second floor. The modified Romanesque Revival building features a massive entry arch, segmental arches over the windows, and a central tower.”
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark – 1983
In the past, the Mason County Jail has employed an unusual but highly effective method of discouraging repeat offenders. Back in 2006, Sheriff Clint Low decided to teach Mason County criminals an embarrassing lesson that by all accounts has a high rate of success.
Other than the fact that each cell has an area of only 18 square feet, inmates were also forced to wear pink jumpsuits, pink shoes, pink drawers, sleep in pink beds, and were surrounded by pink walls. Sheriff Low claimed that Mason County experienced a 68% drop in crime after the jail’s pink policy was enacted.
Did you know that Mason is the hometown of Old Yeller author Fred Gipson? Or that Mason County had its own war that killed twelve men? It’s also the home of the biggest piece of topaz in North America, found right here in a rural part of the county.
Sadly we didn’t get to visit the museum as we arrived on a Sunday afternoon and it’s only open Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Don’t worry though, that just means I’ll have to go back soon and do an update!
Meet the Odeon Theater, longest operating theater in West Texas. Built in 1928, community member and patrons of the Odeon seek to convert the theater into a performing arts and cultural event center. The Odeon is located on the west side of the square at 122 S. Moody Street.
There’s a marker outside the bank that reads:
Throughout the 1890s, private banking institutions sporadically served Mason residents. In December 1903, several pioneer settlers met to form a new bank. It received its authorization in January 1904 as the German American National Bank of Mason. John Lemburg, Sr. served as the first president, J.W. White as vice-president and F.W. Lemburg as cashier. During the bank’s first 100 years, six other men would serve as president, including J.W. White, who served two different terms.
Anti-German sentiment during the First World War caused the bank board to change the bank’s name in 1918 to Mason National Bank. The institution led the community in purchasing Liberty Bonds during the war. In 1932, amid the Great Depression, the First State Bank of Mason merged into the Mason National Bank. J.D. Eckert, formerly of First State Bank, became president. That same year, the bank received certification by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. In 1934, Eckert retired, and White resumed the position of president until his death in 1939. D.F. Lehmberg followed him in the office, remaining until his death in 1953. Following Lehmberg’s death, Wilburn “Bill” Lemburg (d. 1972), grandson of John Lemburg, Sr., became the bank’s president. Under his leadership, the bank moved in 1968 from the north side of the town square to the present location, previously the site of his grandfather’s house.
Throughout its history, the bank’s leaders have been active in local organizations. Mason National Bank is well-known and respected for its generous support of community programs.
I found this curious machine in a dusty shop just off the square. It’s a Landis No. 12 and was once a staple in every shoe repair shop. There were thousands of them in shops across the US. and were used to sew the outer sole to the welt on shoes. Check out this link to view the Landis Shoe Stitcher user manual!
Two wasp nests, both red wasps and yellow jackets, guard the door of this old store.
Another view through the window.
Found one block south of the square on Post Hill Street.
I wonder how long it’s been like this?
Fort Mason: the very first stop in our Texas Forts Trail series. It’s located at 204 West Spruce Street on a hill overlooking the town.
Established July 6, 1851
By the U.S. Army
As a protection to the frontier
Named in honor of
Lieut. George T. Mason,
Killed in action near Brownsville
April 25, 1846
Albert Sidney Johnston, George H. Thomas,
Earl Van Dorn, and Robert E. Lee
of the 2nd U.S. Cavalry,
were stationed here at intervals
from 1856 to 1861
Evacuated by Federal Troops,
March 29, 1861
Reoccupied after the Civil War
Erected by the state of Texas 1936
Fort Mason was the last command post of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate General of legend. Lee, a native of Virginia, opposed secession and slavery. He refused to take up arms against the South until Virginia came under attack. You can read more about him here.
Ft. Mason Post no. 285
IN MEMORY OF ALL VETERANS
This site of old Fort Mason was donated
to the historical society of Mason County
by Mr. and Mrs. Richard P. Eckert in
memory of his father
Lee F. Eckert
Restored by Mason County
Historical Society 1976
This building is dedicated to
Kurt Zesch who’s Herculean
effort made this project
This next set of photos is merely a taste of the incredible history painstakingly presented at Fort Mason.
It seems there’s never enough time to see and do everything we want. Before I knew it the sun was going down and we had to head home. Soon, I’ll head back to Mason and do a follow-up on all the things we missed. In just the short amount of time we were there I learned so much and had a fantastic time! Keep your eye out for updates on Mason, the Texas Forts Trail series, and all my other posts on Texas Unknown. Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Until next time,