1898 Courthouse cornerstone marker wrecked
For nearly 110 years, a large marble marker, carved with names of local officials, stood to commemorate the 1898 Orange County Courthouse. Now, the shattered remains are in the county’s maintenance department after being hit three times in the courthouse parking lot.
“How can you replace it? It’s irreplaceable,” said local historian, Dr. Howard C. Williams.
Names on the marker included Civil War veterans, including the county judge, who had been a member of the famous Terry’s Texas Rangers.
Mark Wimberley, maintenance director, said the marker was hit by a pickup truck with the same driver twice within a week last year. The previous year, a woman in a car hit the marker. The county, though, did not move the marker or place a barricade around it.
County Judge Carl Thibodeaux said the pieces could go to the Heritage House Museum.
The marker was in the back parking lot of the courthouse at the site where the 1898 courthouse, designed in the Greek revival style, stood. Dr. Williams said if the marker can be repaired, it should remain at the courthouse.
That courthouse, which replaced a courthouse that burned, was demolished for the current courthouse. The current courthouse was built by the federal Works Progress Administration in 1937, according to Picturing Orange, a history book by Dr. Williams.
Dr. Williams said the 1898 courthouse wasn’t paid for when the current courthouse was built, so county officials let it stand, unused, until 1942. After the final payment was made, the old courthouse, which Dr. Williams said was in bad shape, was torn down. The cornerstone marker was left.
The marble marker was on pedestal that appears to be of concrete brick, painted white, and part of the 1898 courthouse wall. The pedestal is still standing and is a little more than seven feet wide and is nearly 15 inches up off the parking lot. The wall is almost 20 inches high from the curb side.
The marble marker itself was embedded in the wall and was about 24 inches wide. Including the pedestal, the marker stood about five feet off the ground. A little more than an inch of the marker and part of one name, Sholars, along with “county atty.” is left.
The county judge listed on the 1898 marker was S. Chenault. Names listed at the top under “Erected 1898” were S.P. West, district judge and M.L. Brooks, “Dis’t. Att’y.;” County Officers were S. Chenault, County Judge; N. Burton, “Dis’t. And Co. Clerk;” M.A. Watson, “Dis’t. Deputy Co. Clerk;” J.D. Bland, Sheriff And Tax Collector;” H.H. Russell, “County Treasurer;” A.B. Lyons, “County Assessor;” J.T. Adams, “Co. Attorney;” and Joe. Bland, “Surveyor.”
Commissioners were J.J. Windham, Precinct No. 1; L.M. Lewis, Precinct 2; R.C. Gravett, Precinct 3, and J.E. Stephenson, Precinct 4.
Jerry Pennington, President of the Orange County Historical Society and Orange City Judge, researched the life of Chenault. He said he became interested in the judge because he saw the name on the marker. Chenault was also an attorney.
Stephen Chenault was born Jan. 6, 1831, in Tennessee and was in Texas by 1857. He joined Company E. 8th Texas Cavalry in Houston on Sept. 12, 1861. That group was known as Terry’s Texas Rangers. Though Pennington wrote that Chenault’s Confederate military action isn’t in the records, his cavalry company was at the Battle of Shiloh and the Battle of Murfreesboro. The cavalry also charged at Varnell’s Station and Dug Gap.
Stephen Chenault moved to Orange in 1866 when he was 35 years old. His brother, A.T. Chenault, had a cypress shingle mill on the Sabine River.
The late Southeast Texas historian W.T. Block wrote in the book Cotton Bales, Keel Boats, and Sternwheelers: A History of Sabine River Trade 1837-1900, that Stephen Chenault was also known as “Captain Chenualt” because he owned and operated the steamboat Bonnie.
“Chenault was a well known lawyer of Orange during the 1870s and it may surprise the reader to learn of a lawyer who also owned and captained a steamboat,” Block wrote. “Financially, law and medicine were rather unrewarding pursuits on the sparely settled East Texas frontier and there were few physicians and attorneys of those days who did not engage in sideline occupations.”
Pennington found in the court records that Chenault’s first trial as a lawyer in Orange was in 1866.
Chenualt also in his career served as Orange’s representative to the Texas Legislature and as Orange City Attorney. He was a member of Confederate veteran groups and spoke at veteran gatherings.
Chenault died in 1910 and at least one marker in Orange still has his name. A granite marker is at his grave in Evergreen Cemetery, a couple of blocks away from where his name long stood carved in marble at the Orange County Courthouse.