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Discussions Underway To Rebuild Historic Mason County Courthouse Gutted By Fire

State and local officials are already discussing plans to rebuild the 111-year-old Mason County Courthouse, which a fire nearly destroyed on Thursday. Officials suspected arson as the cause.

The interior of the three-story structure in Mason, a town about 100 miles northwest of Austin, was completely gutted. Only exterior walls were left standing.

No records were destroyed — they had been removed before restoration work began — but some antique furniture was lost in the blaze. The restoration project was funded with $4 million grant from the Texas Historical Commission, or THC.

An arson suspect, identified as Nicholas Miller, was arrested after the fire near Waco by the Texas Department of Public Safety. He was jailed in the McLennan County Jail.

Mason County Judge Jerry Bearden said on Saturday that Miller allegedly told locals he was upset over a child custody case, a matter heard in the historic courthouse.

Investigators were also looking into a fire at a house owned by Miller's uncle in Mason, according to county officials.

That fire broke out around the same time as the courthouse fire in the town of 4,300 people.

The belongings of some firefighters were stolen from their fire station as they battled the blaze.

The county recently won the state funding to restore the courthouse, constructed in 1909 at a cost of $39,000.

Bearden said the structural integrity of the courthouse walls will be examined first to see if they can be part of a rebuild.

He said there were funding sources already under consideration for the massive job.

"We hope to be able to use some of our insurance money," he said. "We hope that we're still able to qualify for the historical commission grant and then we're taking donations."

Two local banks in Mason are accepting donations: Commercial Bank of Mason and Mason Bank.

In a statement, Mark Wolfe, the THC's executive director, said that he was "gratified to hear of [Bearden's] commitment to rebuild. ... Overall, the THC has helped more than 70 Texas counties rebuild, restore, and preserve their courthouses, and we want to assure Mason County that we will do what we can to help them with this challenging project."

The courthouse was designed by architect Edward Columbus Hosford and made of local sandstone with porticoes on all four sides with two columns supporting each.

The three-story beaux arts style structure was topped by a dome and clock tower. That style of architecture is inspired by classical Roman and Greek structures, according to state historical officials.

The courthouse is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Hosford also designed the Glasscock County Courthouse in the West Texas town of Garden City in 1909. It shares some design similarities with the Mason County Courthouse.

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