“A courthouse, more than any other structure, is expected to elevate and educate public judgment to discriminate and appreciate an architectural masterpiece.” – Wise County Courthouse Architect James Riely Gordan
Boyd City Administrator Greg Arrington knows the value of a photogenic courthouse. Over the past seven years, he’s visited every one in the state – more than 250 in total – as part of a personal mission to document them all.
“What happened, and it happened early on, was that while the courthouse was the destination and the purpose for the project, it morphed into the back roads and everything else,” Arrington said. “Of the 20,000 miles I drove, only about 150 of them were on the interstate.
“You take Boyd for instance. Boyd doesn’t have a county seat courthouse, but I wouldn’t want to miss that town. ”
The backroads journey ended last Sunday with a photograph of the Wise County courthouse in Decatur. It started with a class taught by Messenger photographer Joe Duty. Arrington had been interested in courthouses before the class and brought several of his photos for feedback.
“Joe just started asking these very pointed questions, like ‘What are you doing? ‘What are you trying to do?'” Arrington said. “And at first I was intimidated. ‘I don’t know what I’m trying to do.’ But he helped me define that – what it is about a courthouse and why I want to take that picture.
“I just sort of came up with, ‘I love these buildings. I want to capture these buildings forever.’ I smarted off and said, ‘One of these days I’m going to go to every one of them.'”
Arrington split his trips by region, taking shorter assignments on weekends and using vacation time for longer drives. Photographs of West Texas courthouses were compiled over the course of four trips, with the expansive region split by north and south.
“I just took vacation because I wanted to get all of the Panhandle,” he said. “It was easy because those are like the old, gridded out counties. They’re square and right next to each other. They built those county seats so a horse and buggy could get from one county to another.”
The West Texas region proved to be a favorite experience, he said, though his favorite courthouse is an abandoned facility located in a pasture in Sherman. Urban counties Harris and Travis proved most difficult, due to traffic, parking and people.
Throughout the countless hours on the road, Arrington’s methodology and tools have changed. Where he began the journey sleeping in a tent, he’s now bought a small camper trailer. His Canon Rebel camera has been replaced by a more advanced model equipped to GPS tag the location of every photo.
Camping in state parks for all but one of his 57 trips, Arrington said focusing on the moment more than the day’s shots proved to be the best formula for a good trip.
“While the courthouse was the destination, it was the trip it morphed into that I had the most enjoyment on,” he said. “I never stayed in a five-star hotel, but I stayed in a million-star state park.”
From strange encounters at truck stops to tornadoes in Linden and ice storms in Brownwood, the trips weren’t without setbacks either. Varying from a nervous night spent awake with U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents at Falcon State Park near the Mexican border to being stuck behind a Christmas parade in Georgetown, Arrington said each adventure taught him valuable lessons he’ll carry forever.
With the journey behind him, Arrington said he’s been asked what he’ll pursue now.
“I’m going to do it again,” he said. “And because of the things I learned on the trip I’m going to take more time documenting things from point A to point B. I’m not a great writer, but I know I can blog about this or create a website.
“I know the tricks now. I have all the equipment. I don’t need anything else,” he said. “I’ve got my truck. I’ve got my trailer. And you learn on the road. You grow on the road.”