For 111 years the Old Blanco County Courthouse has been a central part of the community's identity. Although parts of the building show the wear of age, the narrow stairs to the second floor still command a quiet elegance.

The building has served the community as a bank, newspaper, opera house, school, union hall, and museum. The 37 years that the limestone building spent as a hospital makes it special in the community. Many residents remember lives that were begun, saved, and lost within the old walls. "There are still lots of people living in the area who were born there," said Kathleen Inglish, president of the Old Blanco County Courthouse Preservation Society.

The limestone edifice was only used for its intended purpose five years before the county seat was moved to Johnson City. In 1879, Blanco won the first election by seven votes. On the third try in 1891, Johnson City won. Blanco has remained the larger town, Johnson City has retained the county seat.

The city fathers had sold town lots to build the building. To recoup the $25,970 cost of building, the courthouse was rented out until it was sold to the hosptial in 1933.

The building stared blankly at the town square for 16 years until John O'Boyle, a San Antonio businessman, purchased the building to move it to his ranch in 1986. After having second thoughts about the project, O'Boyle sold the building to the Preservation Society in 1990.

The group has been working to raise 20 percent of the $450,000 the restoration project needs to be eligible for federal grants. The group has had the four sets of double doors refinished, installed a temporary roof, acquired an elevator, and cleaned the exterior walls.

The thick walls and heavy wooden floor are still strong after more than a century of use. Ms. Inglish said that when the architectural plans are finished this fall it will include offices, a museum, a gift shop, and community meeting rooms.

"The grounds are a city park," Ms. Inglish said, "there is something happening there almost every weekend".

Blanco is about 50 miles west of Austin. There are several interesting shops and a genuine country general store on the courthouse square. The town supports several good eateries ranging from classic greasy spoon to deli. The Real Beer Brewery (403 Third St.) is open for tours on Saturdays at 1pm, and Blanco River State Park usually has water behind the small dams for fishing and swimming.

Coming up this weekend...

Market Day in Blanco brings vendors, craftsmen, and garage sales to the old courthouse square, 10am-5pm, every third Sat., Apr.-Nov. The courthouse is open for free tours all day. 210/833-2201.

Grape Stomp Harvest Celebration at Fall Creek Vineyards at Tow entertains visitors with games, hay rides, food, music, and tours, 11am-5pm, Aug. 17 & 24. 512/476-4477.

Card & Comic Collectors Show at the New Braunfels Civic Center is Aug. 17-18. 210/625-2540.

Coming up...

Ballunar Liftoff at the Space Center in Houston combines rockets with colorful hot air balloons, Aug. 23-25. 713/244-2105.

Tahiti Sport takes explorers on a unique bicycle and canoe tour of the French Polynesia islands with documentary film producer Anne Marie Heilman, Sept. 15-23, 22-30, and Sept. 29-Oct. 7. 512/328-7180.

Chilympiad is looking for celebrity judges for the Sept. 21 chili cookoff. To get free admission, sample chili, and get a cool pin, call Sue Caffey, 512/443-6321.

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