Victorian Collection

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After the Civil War, expansion of the railroad blazed a trail of agricultural and industrial wealth. Technological advancements resulted in an opulent and extremely eclectic period of architecture in Texas. Because of the railroad, builders were no longer dependent upon local materials. In addition, balloon-frame construction, invented in the early 19th century in Chicago, was now being employed across the country. This technique used light, pre-cut studs held together by mass-produced factory-made nails, which allowed for quicker and easier construction than the heavy logs attached with hand-cut nails used in frame houses. Meanwhile, electricity, water and sewage systems, and other technological advancements allowed for even further development of architecture (Handbook of Texas Online, s.v. "Architecture," February 2005).

The Victorian era in Texas encompassed a number of architectural revival styles, including Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne and Richardsonian Romanesque, all of which drew from historical references. Many of these styles were popularized by Andrew Jackson Downing and Richard M. Upjohn, both of whom wrote highly influential pattern books encouraging less formal plans. Residential, civic and commercial architecture became characterized by asymmetrical plans, the combination of different materials in one building, and elaborate ornamental detailing in both wood and stone.

Civic and commercial building increased dramatically with the construction of courthouses, especially after 1881, when the state legislature authorized bonds for their funding. The traditional courthouse on the square was meant to serve as a symbol of community justice and strength (Texas Historical Commission, February 2005). Many were built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, largely developed by the American architect Henry Hobson Richardson. The style was loosely derived from Romanesque precedents and included such features as asymmetrical plans, rounded arches, thick masonry walls with rough-faced stonework, and towers with conical roofs. Architect James Riely Gordon worked in this style, refining and copyrighting his courthouse plans. He integrated natural ventilation in his designs in order to address the harsh Texas heat by directing prevailing winds through diagonal entrances and into a high open-air shaft in a central tower. Twelve courthouses designed by Gordon still stand in Texas.

By the late 19th century, architecture was becoming a rigorous and respected profession in America, and the number of trained practitioners increased. Texas architects from the Victorian period include: Nicholas J. Clayton, most famous for his Galveston mansions, including the Bishop's Palace (1887); James Riely Gordon, who designed several of Texas' courthouses, including the Ellis County Courthouse in Waxahachie in 1895; Alfred Giles, who designed the Gillespie and Wilson county courthouses; W. C. Dodson, designer of the Hill County Courthouse in Hillsboro in 1890; and A. O. Watson, who designed the All Saints Episcopal Church in Austin.


Alfred Giles, the Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Handbook of Texas Online , s.v. "Architecture,"

James Riely Gordon, the Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

Nicholas Joseph Clayton, the Alexander Architectural Archive, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.


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