Irreplaceable memories were lost as a result of the Jan. 18 fire in downtown Waxahachie. For local attorney Constance McGuire, those include her framed certificate of admission to practice in front of the U.S. Federal Court, Northern District of Texas.
Although the paper can be replaced, what can’t be duplicated is the signature of then U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes.
Hughes, who passed away in 1985, was the first woman appointed as a federal district judge in Texas, taking the bench in 1961 before retiring in 1975 and serving in senior judge status until 1982. It was Hughes who administered the president’s oath of office to Lyndon Baines Johnson on Nov. 22, 1963, in Dallas.
Among other documents and memorabilia lost to the flames was the document Constance signed after being sworn in to serve as appointed county judge from 1985-1986.
Still, she and her attorney husband, Kent McGuire, count their blessings. That and with a sense of humor, the couple has moved forward.
Word spread quickly after fire crews responded to an early morning report of flames coming from the second floor of a restaurant next to the McGuires’ building. City firefighters were joined by additional personnel from surrounding cities as they battled the blaze in the 100 block of S. College St., across from the historic county courthouse.
The McGuires learned of the fire through a phone call from a friend at about 4:15 a.m. and immediately drove downtown.
“We were there from 4:30 on – and watched everything go,” Constance said. “You just sat there – there wasn’t anything you could do.”
The McGuires, who have been attorneys since 1975, purchased the building at 109 S. College St. in 1984, with Constance setting up her office in the top floor. Kent left the Dallas firm he was working with to join her in civil and criminal law practice in 1986. The couple rented out the first floor to various retailers through the years up until they decided to renovate it into additional space for their practice.
“We had completed that project in December 2008,” Kent said.
Walls to come down
The insurance companies are wrapping up their reports, with the McGuires saying they already know their building is a total loss.
“Every wall is coming down. Nothing can be saved,” Constance said. “Unfortunately, it’s going to come down.”
It was a police officer on patrol who first smelled smoke and then spotted the flames coming from the back of the second floor of the restaurant located at 111 S. College St. Although firefighters initially believed they could save the law office, the flames breached a wall and continued through the McGuires’ building into an antique store and barbershop at 107 S. College St.
“We can’t go into (what’s left of) the building,” Constance said. “The bricks are still falling. I don’t believe there’s any mortar left to hold them any more (as a result of the intense fire).
“We would like to rebuild, but haven’t made a definite decision,” Constance said.
It’s a little uncertain how old the McGuires’ building was. The local appraisal district had listed a 1911 date; however, there’s some documentation indicating it could have dated to 1904-1905.
A local historian noted the block’s past includes a previous fire in Nov. 12, 1911. That one started in the northern end of the block after jumping south from the 200 block of S. College St. The 1911 fire burned everything in its path up to the building now owned by the McGuires.
The McGuires were able to transfer their main business line to their residence the same day as the fire, with their staff setting up at the kitchen table to take calls and contact clients about what had happened.
All of their paper files were lost to the fire, but through help from other attorneys and a bit of luck in that their computer server survived the fire, the vast bulk of materials has been recreated.
“We want to thank all of the attorneys who had cases against us who recreated the files, the court documents and letters, and made us new ones,” Constance said, saying that within several days they began receiving boxes from their colleagues.
“All of them offered us space to work out of; everybody has been very kind,” said Kent, with Constance saying, “They’ve been just wonderful. We really have a good group of people we work with.”
McGuire Law Office has since been set up in another location. After District Judge Bob Carroll mentioned his former office space across from the new county courts and administration building was still unoccupied, the McGuires looked it over and decided to reopen there, at 213 E. Main St.
A major positive for the space was that it was fully furnished, so, after moving the telephone lines, setting up Internet and acquiring a couple of new computers to augment the laptops being used, the law office has settled into its new home, albeit temporarily, with the couple anticipating at this time they’ll be there about nine months or so.
“We’re able to see clients,” Constance said.
“We’re open for new cases; we’re open for whatever,” Kent said.
Through the efforts of their staff, the other attorneys and the recovery of data from their computer server, they’ve been able to contact all of their clients.
“They tell us they’re sorry to hear about what happened – and then we talk about their case,” Constance said, with Kent adding, “They’ve been very understanding.”
The McGuires extend their deepest appreciation to the Waxahachie Fire Department for its efforts in trying to save their building. In particular, they say “thank you” to the firefighters who, the next day, worked to retrieve their computer server from the structure’s remains.
Constance said she was watching aerial video taken by a television crew after the fire was out and glimpsed what appeared to be the office refrigerator on a very small piece left of the second floor.
The refrigerator was to the office’s backside and in the corner away from the restaurant. Realizing the server would be to the north side of the refrigerator, the couple approached the fire department to see if it could help.
With it ascertained that a crew could safely attempt the recovery of the computer server from the alley side, firefighters ascended a ladder, with the operation taking about an hour-and-a-half to complete.
“We do give the firemen credit,” Constance said. “They were able to cut through, reach in and retrieve the server. We greatly appreciate what they did.”
“We can’t say ‘thank you’ enough,” Kent said. “We thank Fire Chief David Hudgins and his fire crew. We thank them.”
The couple took the server to a computer expert, who was able to retrieve all of its data, including client contact information.
“We were very fortunate,” Constance said. “There was this one little corner left standing. … What are the odds?”
Contact JoAnn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 469-517-1452.