It was an extremely hot day in July when this tourist happened upon two of Waxahachie’s greatest treasures in discovering the historic, Ellis County courthouse.
Sitting in the center of town like a “Mexican Zocalo” this building, the first of the finest is standing proudly as one of Texas’ finest!
It is a unique courthouse whose architectural design by Harry Herley includes his many imagined faces of Mabel Frame after his affections for her had been rejected. Talk about long term revenge. ... As this courthouse stands, his feelings are still witnessed to this very day.
It was by chance that we another of Ellis County’ finest, the Courthouse’s Director of Maintenance, Keith Roberts who took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to answer a few of our questions about the secret staircase that led out of the courtroom.
Knowing that we were interested in the history of Ellis County, he showed us the exit. Then, after briefly posing with some of our family members for personal pictures by the stairway, he surprised us by saying, “Since you are so interested in this courthouse, you have put me in tour mode. Would you like to see that attic and the bell?”
He was looking at the very expensive camera strapped around my neck, “I don’t think that anyone has seen actual pictures of the clock mechanism in the tower,” he continued.
It was then that I knew exactly what he wanted ... so I gladly agreed to take him up on his hospitable offer.
Roberts led my family up a circular staircase that ended in the open attic above the top floor that is used for public offices. We got to observe the many air conditioner units that acclimatize the building year round. Roberts briefly talked about the improvements to the courthouse before he directed my personal attention to one of the most important features of the beautiful, historic building – its clock mechanism.
Leaving the rest behind, the first part of my exclusive tour with him was to squat and climb through a small opening into the heart and center of the courthouse building. It was a very tall square room that went upward two stories to a floor which housed a fan that was centered under the famous bell.
The fan purpose was to exhaust the hot attic air out of the air vents that are easily visible to anyone who is looking at the courthouse on the exterior of the building.
Roberts led me up the narrow twisting staircase, which, when passing a structural beam, left but little room to pass by. When we exited the stairs, we were looking directly at the bell whose sound has been probably heard by most of Waxahachie’s citizens. And as this writer watched the electronic clapper hit the bell during part of its hourly chiming, he felt a very privileged sense of awe as he singly watched it for all the masses who have heard it.
Without asking, Roberts did something to remove and open up one of the louvers that led out to a ledge above the roof. He invited me to go out and photograph the street and the clock from one of the building’s many precipices. After snapping a few shots with my professional camera, he helped me back into the center of the courthouse.
“Would you like to see the actual clock?” Roberts asked.
At that point and being that high up in the heart of the courthouse, there was only one answer to that question, “Sure!” I said.
Fit and very familiar with the steep ladder, Roberts guided me up a very tall, vertical ladder that led to the top and very heart of the clock tower.
As a kid, I climbed many ladders like this but never to view such a precious treasure. hrough the narrow opening at the top of the ladder, the Ellis County clock mechanism came into full view.
Roberts, going ahead of me, already had part of the blue visqueen cover removed. ... And I saw the amazingly simple mechanism that drives the county clock!
I stood up and let my camera go snap, snap, and snap as it captured many views of a clock that so many of the Ellis County residents have often heard but have never seen while Roberts explained to me exactly how the clock worked.
As the keeper of the clock, Roberts is the public confident that keeps the county on schedule day after day.
And after anything but a brief, momentary power outage, it is Roberts who unknowingly, willingly and silently ascends the many floors of the quiet insides of the courthouse building to reset the clock to the proper time while the county’s residents speedily circle the streets below in their busy daily tasks.
The clock’s mechanism is amazing; eight large hands driven ever so slowly by the tiniest of motors while its energy is divided four ways to synchronously move the eight large hands of the clocks as they tower ever so proudly over the fine citizens of Waxahachie.
And when the bell tolls at its appointed time, it commemorates the energetic and diligent service of all of Ellis County’s finest as they work hard to serve each other through their work and during their daily activities.
So, the next time that you find yourself in the heart of Waxahachie’s town square, stop and look up at the courthouse tower. As you ponder its magnificence, marvel also at the sound of the county bell and recognize that for years, it is one of the best representations of all of you, Ellis County’s finest.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Keith Ringers is a resident of Elberta, Ala., and a recent visitor to the city of Waxahachie. He was so impressed with our community, he wanted to share part of his experience (and photos) with our readers.