By: Michele Dunkerley
The First National Bank building, built in 1889, is one of the oldest buildings in Stephenville, Texas. It has been a prominent anchor of the Erath County Courthouse square for the past 125 years. The building was renovated in 2015, winning distinguished recognition for the restoration and the building itself. The First National Bank building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it received the 2015 President’s Award from the Texas Downtown Association for the state’s Best Rehabilitation/Renovation for a community of 50,000 or fewer.
The building served as a bank until 1925 when the First National Bank was merged with Farmers Bank and the resulting Farmers First National Bank was moved across the square. The building continued to serve other community needs– a law office, the city’s first library, insurance agency, telephone company, chiropractor office, real estate agency, beauty shop, floral shop, boot and saddle shop and art gallery. Its tenants included R. L. Thompson, an attorney who practiced law in a second floor office for over sixty years (c. 1909 – 1969). By the early 1990s the building was vacant and in disrepair, and was rescued by Brad and Nancy Allen, who made significant improvements to the structure. City Council member Boyd Waggoner’s law office was then housed in the building until it was purchased in 2008 by Red Fences, LLC. With the professional assistance of Quimby McCoy Architects and KBL Restoration, the building’s restoration and historic designation were completed in 2015. Stephenville’s Economic Development Authority is now the upstairs tenant; the downstairs is intended to be a choice retail establishment.
The First National Bank building is the earliest of three buildings in Stephenville’s downtown attributed to renowned architect, James Riely Gordon. In addition to the Erath County Courthouse, Gordon is credited with designing the Crow Opera House. Gordon was the architect of eighteen courthouses in Texas; of which twelve remain, including courthouses for Bexar, Ellis, Wise, Comal, and Victoria counties. He also designed the Arizona State Capital in Phoenix and, after he moved to New York, the Gramercy Park apartment house among many other notable projects.
The First National Bank building was constructed in the Romanesque architectural style using light grey limestone, presumably quarried nearby. The exterior walls are thirty-two inches deep. The building has wide arches and deeply recessed windows and doors. Its corner entrance features a neoclassical portico and Queen Anne turret with a conical roof, which were added after a fire in 1897 destroyed the original entrance corner. The building’s first floor offers the large open space planned originally for banking, while the second floor has five rooms with double doors connecting all offices. The recent rehabilitation has restored much of the building’s original fabric. The wood floors have been refinished and the historic plaster repaired. A section of the decorative plaster frieze in the first floor has been conserved, and the original wood beadboard ceilings have been exposed throughout.
The First National Bank building has retained a high degree of its original integrity. The building remains in its original location surrounded largely by the same buildings as when it was built. The feeling of the property has not changed. The building exterior remains nearly intact, with its materials, design features and workmanship largely unaltered. The building has also retained its association as a commercial structure. The First National Bank building retains all seven aspects of its original integrity – setting, location, association, design, workmanship, materials and feeling.
Photos provided by Michele Dunkerley