WALKING TOUR OF MASON’S HISTORIC COURTHOUSE SQUARE
This walking tour is brought to you by the efforts of the Mason County Historical Commission who is working to assists the county government and the Texas Historical Commission in preserving, protecting and promoting local historical resources. It identifies and researches historic sites and buildings in the county. The commission also seeks to educate and inform the public about Mason County history through publications, programs, markers and monuments.
Begin your tour on the south side of the Square in front of Mason Bank. Mason’s Courthouse Square is known as a two-block square. The name is derived from intersecting side streets on the north and south sides of the Square, dividing those sides into two blocks, while the east and west sides are not divided. This Harrisonburg-type Square originated in western Virginia, and only nine courthouse squares in Texas are of this type.
1. FORT MASON HOTEL/MASON BANK (1929)
Mason Bank is located on a tract of land known as Mill Block, so named because a steam-powered cotton gin operated behind the buildings on this block before 1900. Later, Mason Power & Light Company operated there. The company had a curfew on the use of electric lights so they could shut down the plant at night.
In Mason’s early days, only two buildings were located on the south side of the Square, one at each end. The rest was pastureland. In 1929 the Fort Mason Hotel, a brick four-story building with 54 rooms, a ballroom, a barbershop and a drugstore, was completed on this site. It was advertised as “the largest and most modern hotel between San Antonio and San Angelo.” However, it was not a financial success.
Mason Bank bought the Fort Mason Hotel in 1966 and removed the top two floors in 1967. The two bottom floors were converted into the bank building, which opened in 1968. In 2003 Mason Bank completed an extensive restoration of the building’s exterior, just in time for the bank’s centennial in 2004. According to George Brannies, then-president of the board, they were proud to be able to restore the building to an architectural design in keeping with historic Mason.
The lobbies of both the Mason Bank and the Commercial Bank on the west side house the personal collection of wood sculptures and bronzes of Gene Zesch, Mason County’s world-famous artist. The collection is open for public viewing at both banks during banking hours.
Most of the benches you see in front of the bank and elsewhere around the Square were obtained through a grant from the Mason Community Foundation to the Riata Service Organization, which also oversees the flower pots around the Square.
Look at the courthouse.
2. MASON COUNTY COURTHOUSE (1910)
This is the third Mason County Courthouse, designed by Dallas architect E. C. Hosford and built in 1909-1910. It is Classical Revival style and cost $39,786 to construct, according to county records. The elaborate metal cornices projecting above the eaves were originally constructed by the Lange family, who moved to Mason from Brenham after finishing this project. During the 1980s the exterior of the courthouse was repainted using the original paint colors. Most rooms have a fireplace trimmed with ornately-pressed metal. The district courtroom was used in the PBS film Noon Wine in 1984.
Originally, the courthouse lawn was packed dirt dotted with mesquite trees. The stately pecan trees of today were planted after the courthouse was built. The stone wall surrounding the courthouse lawn was built by local contractors August Henrich and Herman Ischar in 1927-1928.
The courthouse was gutted by an arsonist’s blaze in 2021. (This was Mason’s second courthouse fire; the first courthouse burned in 1877 and had to be replaced.) Engineers determined that the exterior stone walls were still structurally sound, and the task of rebuilding soon began. The reconstruction was funded by a combination of a legislative appropriation, a state historical commission grant, insurance proceeds, and over five million dollars in private donations. The project was completed in 2023.
The other two buildings on the courthouse grounds were built in the 1940s under the Works Progress Administration (WPA). In June 1938 a fire destroyed the garage across the street where the firefighting equipment and trucks were stored. The town raised $1,237 for new equipment the next day. That September, the Commissioners Court started plans for a new fire station with the aid of a WPA loan. The stone in the structure was obtained from the old Koocksville Mill northwest of town. The firehouse (now a county office) was completed in 1940. The other rock building on the east side of the lawn was constructed of native stone and brick and now serves as public restrooms.
Walk west on Westmoreland to Polk Boot Shop.
3. MASON AUTO COMPANY/POLK BOOT SHOP (1947)
This small, white, two-story building was constructed around 1947 for Frank Polk’s boot shop, which his grandson, Rex Klingelhefer, still operates. The Polks made the boots and belts used by Mason’s cheerleaders and twirlers. This is the location of an early livery stable and, after 1909, an ill-fated garage that burned twice. The city fire truck was stored there in the early days. This arrangement worked fine until the garage burned for the second time in 1938 with the fire truck still inside.
Walk west to the Mason County Jail.
4. MASON COUNTY JAIL (1894)
In 1893 two houses occupied Mill Block. This area was vacant until the jail, Mason County’s third, was erected in 1894. Ruth Ricks, who operated a boarding house on the west end of the block, was consulted to see if she had any objections to the jail being built so close to her establishment. She asked that there be a fenced lot and a 25-foot alley between the jail and her property. She also requested that the public outhouse on the courthouse grounds be removed.
The jail, built in a modified Romanesque Revival style, had living quarters for the sheriff on the first floor and cells on the second floor. The early builders did their job well; the jail still meets minimum state standards and is used to house prisoners when necessary.
Optional Detour: A few steps south of the jail on Post Hill Street, the Mason Military Museum is located in the American Legion Fort Mason Post #285 and Ladies Auxiliary. It is open on Saturdays. A bit farther up the road is the Old Yeller Statue in front of the Mason County M. Beven Eckert Memorial Library. In the lobby is an exhibit on the life and career of Fred Gipson, author of Old Yeller. Across the street from the library is the site of the early cotton gin mentioned earlier. The two-story sandstone Historical Building south of the library was built as Mason’s first high school in 1887, and its athletic field has been turned into Heritage Park, which was dedicated in 2002. Immediately south of the Historical Building and the swimming pool is the August Brockmann House (1871), which was restored by vintner Bill Blackmon. Brockmann, Mason’s first notable stonemason, built the earliest courthouse around 1872, the Historical Building (1887), and the First Christian Church (1879, now St. Martin’s Episcopal). If you are really up for a hike or want to head there by car later, historic Fort Mason is located at the end of Post Hill Street to the south.
Next, cross Post Hill Street at Westmoreland.
5. H. J. HOFMANN BUILDING/COUNTY ANNEX (1920)
(201 – 205 Westmoreland)
The fenced lot Mrs. Ricks required be left between her and the new jail became the site of the Airdome Open Air Theater in the early 1900s. It had no top, just canvas sides put up with 2 x 4s, with improvised benches inside. After the Star Opera House across the Square started showing movies in 1916, traveling tent shows were held here. Mrs. Ricks may have regretted asking for that empty lot, as it apparently afforded her very little peace and quiet. Still later, the lot became Henry Hofmann’s lumber yard and carpentry shop, which was built in 1920. Hofmann, who had trained for carpentry in St. Louis, later added the western portion of the building and built the lumber sheds in the back in 1929. The main building has been renovated for the Mason County Courthouse Annex.
Walk west to the corner of Westmoreland and Moody. Stop at Cadence Bank.
6. RICKS HOTEL/CADENCE BANK (1975)
Originally built as James Ranck’s house in 1882, the rambling stone and frame structure that formerly occupied this site was Ruth Ricks’ hotel and boarding house. When traveling salesmen arrived in town, Mrs. Ricks would confiscate their playing cards so they wouldn’t gamble in her establishment. A native of Kentucky, she was known for her good cooking, especially her dinner rolls. The hotel was torn down in 1975, when the bank was built.
Look at the two-story Max Martin House across Moody Street.
7. MAX MARTIN HOUSE (1922)
After the large frame house on this site burned in 1922, the Max Martin family decided to replace it with something fireproof. The Martin house was built of concrete blocks cast locally. Notice the colored bas-relief of a Hereford bull at the peak of the garage.
Past occupants of the house kept Nubian goats in the back, which has a concrete block fence around it. One goat, Opal, liked to jump up on top of the fence. City work crews across the street would yell at her to get back in the pen, and she would promptly obey. Soon anyone driving by knew to yell, “Opal, get back in your pen!” whenever they saw her on the fence. In the mid-1970s the house was used for Mason’s first private club, The Home Place. It is once again a private residence, and the owners have preserved the architectural integrity of the structure and its environs.
Walk north on Moody Street along the rock wall.
8. POST OFFICE/COMMUNITY THRIFT STORE (1960)
The former Post Office Building, which was constructed and dedicated in 1960, was purchased in 2013 by the Mason Community Foundation, which operates a nonprofit resale shop in the facility. Proceeds from sales are converted into grants for projects that benefit the Mason community, which have totaled well over $500,000 since the Foundation began.
9. WEST TEXAS UTILITIES/CITY OF MASON OFFICE (1923)
The City of Mason office is located in this renovated 1923 Mission Revival building that once served as local office of the West Texas Utilities Company (WTU). Prior to that, this site was the location of several wagon yards, a warehouse and a restaurant that served “Meats and Chili at all hours” in 1901. The tasteful paint job and the locally-made sign are results of the Mason Main Street Project. The three identical stucco houses directly behind City Hall on Westmoreland Street were built by WTU in 1926 as employee housing.
10. ODEON THEATER (1928)
Next to the City Office is the Odeon Theater, which opened to great fanfare in 1928. Odeon is the Greek word for theater. The facility was quite opulent for its time and place. The Odeon caused much excitement again in 1930 when it showed its first sound picture. In 1957 the Odeon hosted a special pre-premier of Walt Disney’s Old Yeller, the classic movie about a boy and his dog based on Mason resident Fred Gipson’s book by the same name. (A bronze statue of Old Yeller stands in front of the Mason County Library, two blocks south of the Courthouse on Post Hill Street.)
The Odeon Preservation Association, Inc. (OPA) purchased the building in September 1994. Over the past three decades, the OPA has renovated the theater and kept it operating. Activities at the Odeon include first-run movies, classic movies, and live music performances by artists such as Marcia Ball, Kix Brooks and Sarah Hickman.
11. OTTO SCHMIDT BUILDING/BLACKMON WINERY (1948)
Otto Schmidt, the owner of the Odeon Theater at the time, constructed this building in 1948 for a photography studio for his son Clayton. Ramona Kelso purchased the building in 1966, first operating a gift shop. Ramona retired in late 2007 after having brought art to the Square for 41 years. The building was later purchased by Blackmon Winery for a tasting room.
12. ZESCH BUILDING/GATLING GUN SALOON & KELLER’S STORE (1928)
(118 – 116 Moody)
In 1928 Mathilda Zesch constructed this building on what had been the site of a wagon yard. The building has contained a Western Auto Store from 1938 until 1986, a furniture store, and a restaurant. It is now a gun store and restaurant, Gatling Gun Saloon & Keller’s Store, owned and operated by Crockett Keller.
13. FRITZ HOERSTER BUILDING/MARKET SQUARE AND MASON CENTRAL APPRAISAL DISTRICT (1906)
(114 – 110 Moody)
This site, where the majestically restored façade now stands, once held a building erected about 1869 by Daniel Hoerster. Hoerster became brand inspector for the county and was shot a few blocks from here in 1875 during a local range feud known as the HooDoo War. Hoerster’s brother Fritz built a new building on this site in 1906, known variously as the Mercantile, Gartrell, Moran and Leifeste building. The hand-operated elevator that was used to lift buggies to the second floor can still be seen upstairs.
The elaborately decorated, pressed-metal front was mostly obscured by multiple coats of paint over the years. When the old paint was stripped in 1985 and the designs were rediscovered, the decision was made to highlight the decorations by hand-painting them a contrasting color, a project that took three months. Afterward, this building had the most striking storefront on the Square.
Market Square (114 Moody), a wonderful shop offering a wide variety of unique gifts and furnishings, is well worth a visit.
At 110 Moody is the Mason Central Appraisal District office.
14. THE COMMERCIAL BANK (1965)
The Commercial Bank was founded by Anna Mebus Martin and her sons, Charles and Max, in 1901. She had previously provided informal banking services to customers of her store in Hedwigs Hill, ten miles south of Mason near the Llano River. Martin was the first woman in the United States to found a bank and serve as its president. By 1911 she actively solicited the accounts of women and advertised that her employees “take special pains with women patrons.” Also a rancher, she is the only woman listed on the monument to Mason County ranchers and trail drivers on the east side of the courthouse lawn.
The Commercial Bank occupied several sites around the Square over the years. The current location was a saloon in the late 1800s and a Piggly Wiggly Grocery in the 1900s. The bank building was constructed in 1965, and in 1976 the bank purchased the former hardware store to the south and expanded.
If you want to know the time, temperature and weather in Mason, call (325) 347-8212. If you need a cup of coffee or a soft drink, stop by during banking hours.
Stand near the doors to the bank and look across the street at the north side of the Square. The exteriors of the buildings on the north and east sides have changed very little since 1929. With few exceptions, the buildings received facelifts and new paint jobs during the Main Street Project of 1985. This locally-funded initiative, spearheaded by Patsy Zesch and Barbara Pluenneke of Mason and coordinated by historical architect Kim Williams of Austin, brought a renewed sense of community pride to Mason. Local bankers set up a low-interest loan program to fund the project, although most building owners paid cash for the work on their buildings. As one of the local bankers put it, “People in Mason like to paddle their own canoe.”
That spirit of independence, tempered by a willingness to cooperate for the good of the community, goes far to explain the success of many community improvement projects Mason residents have started over the years. Two examples are the local tennis complex, which attracts tournament entries from across the U.S., and the Comanche Creek Golf Course at Fort Mason City Park. Both projects were funded by local contributions.
15. NORTHWEST TRIANGLE/NU-WAY GROCERY (1972)
(317 Ft. McKavitt)
This was the site of the Lone Star Saloon in the latter 1800s, a drugstore and millinery shop in the early 1900s, and a garage in the 1920s. Aunt Hattie’s Cafe, Mason’s longest-running restaurant, operated here from 1933 until 1972. Proprietor Hattie Lively enjoyed playing pranks on her favorite customers, such as serving them dinner rolls filled with cotton or cake “sweetened” with salt. Nu-Way Grocery was constructed on the triangle in 1972.
Optional Detour: Turn left and head northwest on Ft. McKavitt Street (Highway 87). The August Arhelger House at 347 Ft. McKavitt dates from the 1870s and is one of Mason’s few examples of fachwerk construction, which combines sandstone with hand-hewn timbers. Owners Ted and Mary Lee Shelton purchased the house in 2012 and started restoring it. Check out Cherokee Rose Antiques at 421 Ft. McKavitt. This small shop offers a wide and varied selection of collectibles and books on local and Texas history. Read the historical marker outside. The sandstone building, which was constructed around 1883, was the Holmes and Bierschwale Law and Land Office. Henry Holmes and Charles Bierschwale were neighbors in the 1870s as well as real estate partners. The Holmes house is now Sandstone Wine Bar, and Bierschwale lived nearby in the house where the Mason County News is currently located.
Look across the highway. In 1875 brand inspector Daniel Hoerster was shot dead off his horse at this location during Mason’s HooDoo War. The building at 336 Ft. McKavitt where Gray Electric is located was the Acme Garage, built in 1929. At 424 Ft. McKavitt, Mason Country Collectibles has been selling Texas topaz, Western furnishings and antiques since 1978. The building, with over 10,000 square feet of display space, once housed a Dodge and Plymouth dealership starting in 1929. Enjoy browsing in the store, then have your photo made in front of the bluebonnet mural on the west side.
Use the crosswalk to traverse Ft. McKavitt Street to the sidewalk in front of the Ranck Building.
16. STAR OPERA HOUSE AND GARAGE/KINESIO FITT (1916)
(310 Ft. McKavitt)
The building to your left across Spring Street served as a combination auto garage and entertainment center in its early days. The Star Garage, so named because of the partial star shape that still shows at the top, was home to numerous auto mechanics over the years and was also used as a feed store. The western part of the building was serving as a combination theater and skating rink in 1916, when a local man was shot and killed there by his wife’s jealous ex-husband during a Fourth of July celebration. From late 1916 until 1928, when the Odeon opened, the Star Opera House was Mason’s movie house. Ubaldo and Bryanna Mora remodeled the building as a fitness center and opened Kinesio Fitt in 2020.
Optional Detour: If you continue north on Spring Street, you will pass Guild Mortgage on the right, a saloon-style building that used to be the local radio station. Keep going and you will discover THC Beer Company and Fly Gap Winery, located in what was once Reardon Feed & Grain. Owner Brock Estes has created a whimsical space using salvaged materials in the old warehouse. In addition to offering beer and wine, Fly Gap has an outdoor stage and offers specialty foods. Fishmonger Adam Nelson operates The Reel Deal seafood market there every second and fourth weekend.
17. RANCK BUILDING/THE GATHERING PLACE (1875)
(246 Ft. McKavitt)
Mason was once a Ranck town (spelled R-a-n-c-k) due to the efforts of an early booster, James Ranck, who came to Mason around 1860. He arrived while Robert E. Lee was still the commander at Fort Mason. Ranck was the first Mason County resident to own land on the Square. With his partner and brother-in-law, William P. Lockhart, Ranck owned the north side of the Square as far as Broad Street. This building at the northwest corner was erected in 1875 and is the third-oldest surviving building on the Square, after the Mason House and the Bierschwale House.
James Ranck built his store on this corner because he liked the large live oaks that grew in the area then. The store had living quarters on the second floor, and both the Rancks and the Lockharts resided upstairs. In 1886 a wedding reception reported to total 1,000 guests was held on the second floor. Surely they all did not arrive at the same time! Anna Martin started her Commercial Bank here in 1901. She paid $4,600 for the building and its contents in 1893. A wood frame addition to the west was added in 1919 and removed in 1986, and the ground was littered with square nails. The front of the sandstone building was remodeled in a Spanish style in 1929. Over the last few decades, the space has housed an antique store, a variety store and a bistro. In April 2016 National Geographic featured a photo from 1889 showing the building as the home of the Mason County News. A specialty drink and snack shop, The Gathering Place, now operates here.
SMITH BUILDINGS (1929)
(244 – 238 Ft. McKavitt)
In 1929 the Smith brothers constructed these four buildings to replace four frame structures from the latter 1800s that had previously occupied the site. A saloon, a tobacco and stationery store, a grocery, a jewelry store, a fabric shop, a barbershop, a meat market, a cafe, real estate offices, and a beauty shop have all operated here at one time or another. Note the fine pressed metal ceilings on the awnings in this block.
18. THE THING IS BOUTIQUE
(244 Ft. McKavitt)
A former frame building on this site housed Mason’s first Mexican restaurant, Pancho’s, which Manuel Lopez operated from about 1910 until he moved to Brady in 1919. The Thing Is Boutique, a specialty women’s clothing and accessory store, is located here now. Don’t resist the temptation to wander in; what’s inside is just as fun as what is in the window.
19. ON THE SQUARE GUESTHOUSE
(242 Ft. McKavitt)
This site was formerly a real estate office. It now houses a one-unit bed and breakfast with a view of downtown Mason.
20. Not Occupied
(240 Ft. McKavitt)
From 1946 until 1983, generations of Mason’s women bought their dresses for special occasions at Alma Capps’ Smart Style Shop and got their hair fixed in the beauty shop in the back. Janie Zavala was the first salon operator in town who cut men’s hair, and nervous Mason High School boys in the 1970s would sneak in the back door so they wouldn’t be seen going into a beauty shop.
21. BRONCO SUE CUSTOM HATS
(238 Ft. McKavitt)
Currey’s Fabrics, which occupied this building for several decades, was an old-fashioned fabric store offering materials, quilting and sewing supplies. The space is now used by Bronco Sue Custom Hats. The store offers a variety of hats for just about any occasion.
22. GOWING/FULTON BUILDING/RED DOOR B&B (1894)
(226 Ft. McKavitt)
This double building, originally constructed in 1894 as Charley Gowing’s saloon and lawyer Marshall Fulton’s office and residence, was the site of a bank founded in 1897 by F. W. Henderson, a lawyer and financier. The Hendersons lived in high style above their bank in the eastern building before relocating to Brady in 1902, with oriental rugs and ornate furniture gracing floors painted white and French doors that opened onto a balcony overlooking the Square. After C. C. Smith acquired the western building, he added a second story in 1910, and Smith Hall became a popular place for dances and masquerade parties in the 1910s and early 1920s.
Anna Martin moved the Commercial Bank here in 1903. The building later became the headquarters of Mason Independent School District before reverting to retail use. A series of variety stores also operated here from 1946 until 2017: first Grimsley’s, then Dot’s, then Winn’s, and finally Hinckley’s.
Brent and Monica Hinckley purchased and renovated the building. They created the Red Door Bed and Breakfast upstairs, as well as their own private residence, and opened their variety store on the ground level in 1995. After moving the variety store, they expanded lodging for the bed and breakfast to the first floor. The Red Door now offers eight guestrooms and a balcony overlooking the entire Square.
HOFMANN BUILDING/ MASON DRUG BUILDING (1895)
(220 – 218 Ft. McKavitt)
These two stores from 1895 are really one building, with no firewall between them. They also shared a common stairway. Before the present-day buildings were constructed, William P. Lockhart operated a general store on this site for many years, and in early times county government met upstairs in his “courting room.” In the 1880s Mason had nine individuals who styled themselves doctors, and many had their offices in these buildings.
In 1895 lawyer Marshall Fulton built the Hofmann Building next to his office and residence, and at the same time Anton Hoerster erected the Mason Drug Building, which originally served as his family’s grocery store. Note the Mesker Brothers cast-iron fronts on these buildings. If you look closely at the fronts, especially those you will see farther down the block, you’ll see that the decorative parts are bolted onto plain columns. In this way customers could choose different styles, while the manufacturer kept costs down by producing only a limited number of column designs. When considering these columns, it is worth remembering that Mason has never been served by a railroad. All the massive cast-iron work had to be freighted in by wagon.
23. HOFMANN BUILDING/PETER’S PRAIRIE VINEYARD TASTING ROOM
(220 Ft. McKavitt)
Stop and read the historical marker out front.
The Hofmann Building, as well as many other buildings on the north side of the Square, has a tile entry with the name of the store worked into the design. These decorative touches often provide valuable information about the history of the building. This space formerly housed Hofmann Dry Goods Company, which was in continuous operation from 1890 until 2000, making it Mason’s second-longest-running family business (after Grosse’s). The store moved into this building as soon as it was completed in 1895. In the early days, the Hofmanns made yearly trips to St. Louis to buy merchandise.
In 2022 the building opened as Peter’s Prairie Vineyard Tasting Room, owned by Kim and Curt Henderson. The stylish interior honors the past in a relaxed modern atmosphere where wine-lovers can explore estate-grown wines and charcuterie boards.
The pressed tin flowers inlayed on the bar inside were salvaged from the façade of the building, which was destroyed by a fire in 1979. During the renovation, the Hendersons exposed holes in the ceiling where pot-belly stove flues vented and a stunning wooden lattice (complete with pencil scribblings of unknown origin) that can be seen behind the bar.
24. MASON DRUG COMPANY/RANCHLAND WESTERN WEAR
(218 Ft. McKavitt)
The threshold of Ranchland Western Wear reads “Hoerster Building.” Note the old fans above the recessed entry. The Mason Drug Company was here from 1910 until it was sold in the 1970s. The drugstore was Mason’s early social hub, open till ten o’clock at night. Generations of Mason residents socialized at the old-fashioned soda counter. Young men with their dates blew car horns to receive curb service. Older men sat and visited on the bench outside. On election nights in the days before the Internet, Mason citizens would gather outside the drugstore to see the local election results posted. It was also the bus stop.
In recent decades, the building has been a clothing store. Ranchland Western Wear opened here in 2008. The shop offers western clothes and accessories.
25. SEAQUIST BUILDING/THE SQUARE PLATE (1900)
(212 Ft. McKavitt)
Note the Seaquist name in the tile at the entry and on the façade of this building, which originally housed a grocery store. In 1920 Oscar Seaquist, who owned the Seaquist Mansion, had his shoe and boot business on one side of this building, and the other was used for a restaurant. He remodeled the building to its present-day appearance in 1929.
The Square Plate, a favorite lunch spot, offers daily specials and a full menu of tasty soups, salads and sandwiches.
26. SMITH BUILDING/BUZZ...ON THE SQUARE (1929)
(208 Ft. McKavitt)
On this site there once stood wooden, “old west” style buildings that housed businesses such as a jewelry store and tailor shop. They were demolished or relocated, and the present-day building was constructed in 1929.
The east half of what is now the store was once the site of a barbershop, which closed following the death of its owner in 1986. The old advertising mirror from the shop now hangs in the Mason County Museum.
Both The Square Plate and Buzz on the Square are owned and operated by Julio and Beatrice Ramon. Buzz has a large selection of gifts for adults and children as well as greeting cards and a registry for brides, graduates and new parents. It also sells books on local and regional history.
27. MASON NATIONAL BANK BUILDING/MASON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT (1919)
(200 Ft. McKavitt)
This sandstone building, with its beveled corner entry, ribbon lights and marble trim, has its former name, Mason National Bank, preserved in marble and tile at the entry. Before this structure was erected in 1919, the site was the location of the Early Dawn Meat Market, run by Leo Zesch. As a result of anti-German sentiment during World War I, the bank changed its name from the German American National Bank. The bank was originally a one-story building, with a second story added around 1927. Mason’s telephone switchboard was located upstairs until direct dial became available in 1959. In the days before Facebook, callers expected switchboard operators to be able to tell them whether someone’s baby had been born and where the fire had broken out when the alarm went off.
Walk east across Broad Street.
Optional Detour: If you turn left onto Broad and walk three blocks north, you will find yourself gaping at the Seaquist Mansion. Built beginning in 1887, the property received a Texas historical marker in 1972 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Seaquist House Foundation bought the mansion from the Seaquist family in 2015 and started restoring the magnificent structure. The house is open for tours and private events. Note the fine workmanship in several other sandstone houses in this neighborhood. Continue to the end of the street to see the 1918 Broad Street Bridge, the last remaining concrete truss bridge in Texas and one of the few left in the nation. A historical marker was placed on the northern end.
28. SEAQUIST BUILDING/LEE LAW OFFICE (1914)
(100 Broad Street)
The granite column marked “O. Seaquist 1914” tells only part of the story of this building. The Mason Post Office was once located on this site in a wood frame building that burned along with three other frame buildings in 1900. In 1913 Oscar Seaquist bought the property for $3,000 and hired an architect to design a one-story building. A second story was later added to accommodate the local Masonic Lodge, which needed a meeting place. Seaquist had a boot shop on the ground floor. First State Bank, which merged with the Mason National Bank in 1932, was also located here. The building housed a succession of grocery stores until its conversion to a law office.
29. VEDDER/LEMBURG BUILDING/HILL COUNTRY TITLES OF MASON AND MASON SQUARE MUSEUM (1913)
(130 –132 Ft. McKavitt)
The next three buildings heading east were erected by three separate owners at the same time in 1913, which is why they are so well matched. The first was constructed by C. S. Vedder. He ran a confectionery and ice cream plant and later expanded into bottling soft drinks. Vedder Drug Store, with its 20-foot pressed tin ceilings, electric ceiling fans and lights, and wood showcases, became the home of Davenport Pharmacy in 1942, when Rocky and Grace Ray Davenport moved from the Fort Mason Hotel. The Davenports expanded into the building to the east, formerly a tin shop, after a fire in 1976 destroyed much of the interior. Davenport Pharmacy closed its doors in 2004 when pharmacist Grace Ray Davenport decided to retire. The Davenport family sold the two buildings in 2005.
Great buildings don’t make great towns – great people do. The former Davenport Pharmacy buildings deserve special mention because of the dedication of the Davenport family to the preservation of Mason’s history. Grace Ray Davenport (1917-2015) was one of the driving forces behind the Main Street Project, and her many years of research on the history of the buildings around the Square underpin the information in this tour. She kept historical photographs on display in the pharmacy, and a visit with her was always a must to fully appreciate the Square and what it means to Mason. Her daughter, Fran Davenport Hoerster (1939-2023), continued this legacy through her dedicated research and writing for the local historical commission.
Hill Country Titles of Mason, a branch office of the Fredericksburg headquarters, opened here in 2022 to provide title services to the community.
Appropriately, the adjacent Davenport building to the east became the Mason Square Museum, which opened in 2007. A group of citizens who had long been interested in preserving Mason’s history decided to start a new museum in a downtown location that would be highly visible to visitors. They obtained a long-term loan from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History of North America’s largest blue topaz, which was discovered in Mason County in 1904. The museum focuses on the most turbulent three decades of Mason County’s history from 1847 until 1877. That period included the early settlements, Fort Mason days, secession and the Civil War, Indian raids, and the HooDoo War. The museum is funded primarily by sales in the gift shop.
30. KOTHMANN AND JORDAN BUILDING/MASON COUNTY OUTFITTERS (1913)
(126 Ft. McKavitt)
The “K and J” in the tile at the entry of this building stands for E. W. Kothmann and Eli Jordan, brothers-in-law who operated a grocery store and were dealers and manufacturers of high-grade saddles, harnesses, whips, collars, lap robes and all other goods to be found in a first-class saddlery. Mason County Outfitters is a retail clothing store that offers outdoor clothing for men, women and children.
31. MCDOUGALL BUILDING/CLEAR TITLES OF MASON & MASON SQUARE B&B (1900)
(124 Ft. McKavitt)
Constructed shortly after the fire of 1900, this building housed Henry McDougall’s Buckhorn Saloon from 1903 until McDougall’s untimely death at age 37 in 1905. Henry was also a musician who played his fiddle for dances in surrounding towns. Once when he was returning from a dance in Llano in 1901, his buggy was struck by lightning! Some of the large deer horns that lined the wall behind the bar were later displayed in San Antonio’s Buckhorn Saloon.
After McDougall’s death, his wife Martha added the second story in 1912, running a combination rooming house, office building and saloon. Her brother, Will Zesch, later purchased the building and operated a meat market and grocery store here with his sons Harold and Bert, starting in 1925. They had to close during the Depression because customers could not pay their accounts. The building still contains a well and pump that once supplied water for the entire block. The well room also has a barbecue pit dating from the time of the meat market.
The first floor was the law office of attorney David Young for many years. He founded Clear Titles of Mason in the early 2000s and retired in 2023, selling the title business to Rode and Sarita Moore. Mason Square Bed and Breakfast on the second floor offers comfortable rooms, each with lovely antiques and a private bath.
LANGE BUILDINGS (1890)
(120 – 118 Ft. McKavitt)
T. A. Parks bought this property in 1886 and probably erected two frame buildings on the site. August Lange bought it three years later and constructed the existing stone buildings in 1890, which were the easternmost buildings on the block to survive the fire of 1900. Lange had a jewelry store here.
32. MURPHY CREEK CELLARS
(120 Ft. McKavitt)
A Cheap Cash store, a jewelry store, a dry cleaning store, a menswear store and an insurance agency are some of the former tenants in this space, which is currently occupied by Murphy Creek Cellars. This winery and retail store offers 160 Texas wines, as well as gifts and accessories for entertaining and frozen casseroles and specialty foods for sale.
33. JOE DAVID YATES REAL ESTATE
(118 Ft. McKavitt)
A haberdashery, an auto store, an electric store, and a succession of florists all occupied this space in the past. Joe David Yates Real Estate has its secondary office here to complement the main office on Highway 87.
KING AND SCHMIDT BUILDINGS (1889)
(116 – 114 Ft. McKavitt)
J. S. King and Otto Schmidt were close friends, and in 1922 they remodeled their shops, originally constructed in 1889, to look alike, including the addition of the decorative tile entryways.
34. HOMESTEAD REAL ESTATE
(116 Ft. McKavitt)
A jewelry store operated at this location for many years, followed by a cafeteria and then a bakery. The building is currently an office for Homestead Real Estate and Lee Lasater Properties.
35. Not currently occupied
(114 Ft. McKavitt)
This building housed a children’s clothing shop for many years. It was also an art gallery and picture framing store and an ice cream shop.
BRIDGES BUILDINGS (1889)
(110 – 108 Ft. McKavitt)
These two buildings were constructed in 1889. One of the original builders, John C. Butler, was an early Mason County sheriff. In 1902 S. F. “Lace” Bridges, the original proprietor of the Mason House hotel, purchased the buildings.
36. THE MASON BOUTIQUE
(110 Ft. McKavitt)
This building housed the First National Bank when it went into liquidation in 1897 and its cashier, E. M. Reynolds (who owned the Seaquist Mansion at the time), was sent to federal prison for falsifying reports to the government. Anna Martin was elected president for the purpose of overseeing the bank’s liquidation. She thus became the first female bank president in the United States, four years before she founded her own Commercial Bank. Later, this site was occupied by a racket store, an old name for a “dollar store” offering inexpensive goods. This building is now home to the Mason Boutique, a delightful women’s clothing shop that is well worth a visit. Upstairs is the Mason Square Loft, a bed and breakfast.
37. MASON COUNTY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
(108 Ft. McKavitt)
This building was once the site of the Mason County Bank, established in 1887 by F. W. Henderson, who also founded another bank in Mason. Later, the building housed dress shops, drugstores and other retail businesses.
The Chamber of Commerce now operates from this historic structure, providing Mason’s citizens and visitors with tourist information and maps on Mason and Mason County.
38. LOUIS SCHMIDT BUILDING/WILLOW CREEK CAFE (1904)
(106 Ft. McKavitt)
Note the fine Mesker Brothers cast-iron fronts and expanses of glass on this 1904 building and compare it to Underwood Antiques on the east side of the Square. Only these two structures on the Square have such lavish use of glass. The Schmidt Building is also notable for its huge doors, which were an asset to the Ford dealer later located here; a Model T could easily be driven through the entrance. Schmidt originally sold hardware, wagons, buggies and hacks. His brother Theo had a saloon with a handsome bar in the western part of the building.
Steaks, burgers, salads and homemade desserts are just some of the delicious fare available at the cafe that has occupied this striking building since 1996. Additionally, in late 2014, owner Angela Crouch expanded and remodeled the interior space, which now offers a bar serving beer, wine and cocktails.
S&H BUILDINGS (1884)
(102 – 100 Ft. McKavitt)
Business partners Glen Smith and William Hofmann purchased this lot in 1883 from William Lockhart. The eastern building was constructed in 1884, and the western portion was added around 1888. After William Geistweidt purchased the property, “Geistweidt Hall” became a popular place for dances in the early 1900s. The upper floor, once a pool hall, now offer studio lodging. An owner in the early 1980s considered dismantling this building and relocating it, but fortunately Mason still lays claim to this fine sandstone structure that anchors the northeast corner of the Square. Dick Stengel purchased the building in 1987 when it was in sad disrepair and gradually restored it to its former glory.
39. Not currently occupied
(102 Ft. McKavitt)
In 1904 the German American National Bank began operating here and used this location until the time of World War I, when anti-German sentiment prompted it to change its name to the Mason National Bank (now Mason Bank).
40. T. BO’S BAR & MERCANTILE
(100 Ft. McKavitt)
This building housed a mercantile and hide-buying business at first. An early Coca-Cola bottling plant was located here, but in 1929 William Koock bought the business and switched to Dr Pepper.
Now it is home to T. Bo’s Mercantile, which offers a large selection of gifts and specialty foods such as irresistible handmade chips and salsa. It also has a cooler loaded with soft drinks and a wine and beer bar in case your tour has made you thirsty. Owners Courtney and Brett Nix also operate a bed and breakfast upstairs called The Loft on the Square.
41. MASON HOUSE (1869-1870)
(105 N. Live Oak)
In 1869 or 1870, S. F. “Lace” Bridges constructed this hotel at the urging of his half-brother, James Ranck. Bridges’ ladylike wife, who had been born in England, found herself in an environment where she sometimes had to serve outlaws in her dining room and had to protect her children from Indian raids. The Mason House is the oldest building still standing on the Square.
Used in the past as apartments, it was purchased in 1997 by Sue and Keith Kaan, who renovated the building and used it as their private residence before selling it in 2006. The former lobby has a six-foot mantel and opens onto the front south room via a huge double door. The walls are 18” thick. A long, narrow room north of the lobby was used as the hotel dining room, where a stray bullet from a nearby saloon once knocked a water pitcher out of a waiter’s hand. Other buildings were part of this complex when it was a stage stop on the line from San Antonio. There was a schoolroom, a shoe shop, stables and pens. The livery stable, a small building immediately east, is still standing.
Optional Detour: Turn left and continue north on Live Oak. After the Bridges family became more prosperous, they built three small rent houses on the right (east) side of the street. Courtney and Brett Nix, owners of T. Bo’s, restored the first one at 109 N. Live Oak in 2022 for a bed and breakfast. The second one was in very poor condition and was falling off its foundation, so Keith and Sue Kaan replaced it in 2009 with the building at 131 N. Live Oak, whose style is highly compatible with the historic structures on the block. Formerly the Artisan Gallery, it now houses Greater Texas Solar, which the Kaans started in 2016. The Kaans also restored the third Bridges rent house at 135 N. Live Oak, which is now home to Off the Square Hair Company and The Elephant’s Trunk, a vintage and collectibles shop. Around Christmas 1886, the Bridges family left the Mason House and moved into the sturdy residence with the long porches at 205 N. Live Oak. They celebrated with a lavish Christmas party that year. This building was also restored by the Kaans.
Optional Detour: Veterans Memorial and Trail Driver Statue
Cross over to the northeast corner of the courthouse wall and stand behind the yellow curb by the flags and the Mason County Veterans Memorial.
If you feel a sudden chill as you stand here, it may not be the effect of salubrious breezes wafting from Comanche Creek. This spot was once the site of the Mason County Jail, and in 1875, during the HooDoo War, five accused rustlers were taken from the jail by a mob. Two were hanged; one was cut down before he died; another was shot; one escaped.
Trail Driver Statue
Mason County has a long history of ranching. During the 1986 Texas Sesquicentennial, this bronze by local sculptor Mitch Mikeska was dedicated to honor early Mason County ranchers and trail drivers. The names of many of them are inscribed on the base. As some old-timers observed when the statue was installed, the rancher is looking toward the bank, which is appropriate.
Before the first courthouse was built around 1872, court was held beneath a huge oak tree that stood just north of the statue until 1951, and rowdy young men from the rural communities would tie their horses there while they hit the saloons. The tree was decorated with Christmas lights in later years, prompting one weathered cowboy to remark, “Old tree, many’s the time you’ve seen me lit up, but I never thought I’d live to see you lit up!”
Look at the east side of the Square to view the facades of the buildings. Then look at Underwood Antique Mall. Cross to the east side of the Square.
Optional Detour: From the corner at Underwood’s, proceed east away from the Square one block. On the right you will see a gate. Enter through the gate to visit the tasting room of Robert Clay Vineyards. The building you pass as you approach is where wine is made and stored by the vintners. If you like to meander behind the scenes, this is a great spot to enjoy sitting on the porch sipping a glass of wine on a pleasant day.
42. LEMBURG BROTHERS BUILDING/UNDERWOOD ANTIQUE MALL (1901)
(100—104 S. Live Oak)
The initials of several generations of Mason citizens are carved in the soft sandstone north wall of this handsome building with its Mesker Brothers cast-iron front and vast expanses of glass similar to the Louis Schmidt Building on the north side. In 1894 “Mr. Ernest” Lemburg moved his dry goods business into an earlier sandstone structure that resembled a smaller version of the existing store. His brother John joined him in 1897, and they constructed a new building in 1901. The Underwood family bought the grocery business in 1956. When the era of independent “mom and pop” grocery stores ended, the Underwoods switched gears in 1991 and installed an antique mall with a wide variety of antiques and collectibles. They have a little something for everyone, including glassware, Mason County topaz, jewelry and furniture. Take time to investigate.
43. C&G BUILDING/PARR VINEYARD TASTING ROOM (1879)
(106 Live Oak)
If a sweet little town like Mason could have had a den of iniquity, the C&G Building would have been it. Dating from 1879 and named for original owners Calhoun and Garner, the building first housed a saloon and pool hall, the twin tickets to ruination for many a young man. Four men were killed in gunfights here between 1884 and 1889. Later, in an extreme turnabout, church suppers were held here.
From 1906 until about 1986, Ed Henrich, and later his son Stanford, operated a saddle shop and sporting goods store at this location. Henrich’s and Hofmann Dry Goods were the last two Mason business that wrapped customers’ purchases in brown paper tied with string. They were also the last buildings on the Square whose interiors had remained almost entirely unchanged since the early 1900s.
The C&G Building is now a wine tasting room. Stop in for a refreshing glass of small batch estate grown wine and meet proprietors Rob and Dilek Parr. The stone walls have been exposed to create a stunning yet cozy interior.
44. HENRICH BUILDING (1912)
(108 Live Oak)
Brothers Ed and Robert Henrich erected this building in 1912. It was originally home to Mason’s first indoor movie theater, the Lyric (later renamed the Dreamland). By 1916, when the Star Theater opened across the Square, Ed Henrich had expanded his buggies and harness business into this space. During most of the twentieth century, Ed’s brother Walter, and later Walter’s son and daughter-in-law, had clothing stores here. Andy Smith converted the building into a bed and breakfast in 2020, exposing the rock walls. It is now used for private accommodations and is not open to the public.
45. MORROW BUILDING/MASON GALLERY (1890)
(110 S. Live Oak)
This old stone building, constructed in 1890, was a drug store before it was remodeled in 1927. This building and the one to the south were home to the Mason County News from 1928 until 2009. The awnings have very ornate pressed metal ceilings. Today, the Mason Gallery offers fine artwork and framing. It also hosts visiting artists throughout the year. Owners Bob and Cathy Terrell have developed a reputation for quality framing and presentation, and their work is represented throughout Texas and the southwest.
46. ZESCH BUILDING/NELL’S VINTAGE (1927)
(112 S. Live Oak)
In 1927 the Zesch brothers constructed this building to replace two old frame buildings on the site. The buildings on this site have been home to grocery stores, an auto parts store, and a cafe. An ex-Texas Ranger once ran a pool hall here. Today Nell’s Vintage is a wonderland of vintage treasures and interior decorating flourishes. If you want to spruce up your house or find a great gift, this is the place.
47. LOUIS SCHMIDT BUILDING/LEA LOU CO-OP (1928)
(114 S. Live Oak)
After Louis Schmidt sold his impressive building on the north side of the Square, he erected this smaller structure in 1928 to house his hardware business. In 1943 the Grosse family bought the building to use for their hardware store. It is now the bar and indoor entertainment area for Lea Lou Co-op, discussed below.
48. GROSSE LUMBER YARD/LEA LOU CO-OP (1916)
(116 S. Live Oak)
Read the historical marker. Grosse and Sons, which did business here from 1887 until 2015, was the longest-running family business in Mason. Its founder, Richard Grosse, studied architecture in Germany and designed several of Mason County’s most distinguished sandstone structures, including the additions to the Seaquist House in the 1890s, the Historical Building by the library, the Lutheran Church, and the Art and Hilda Methodist Churches. He also designed the Mason County Jail you saw earlier, as well as several fine houses. The rather simple wooden building with its stucco front was constructed in 1916 and occupies the site where Grosse Lumber Company operated for all of its 128 years.
In 2015 Andy Smith purchased the property and began extensive renovations while retaining much of the old lumberyard’s original character. Lea Lou Co-op features Joe’s Italian cuisine, plus a full bar and live music most weekends. The back area is available for outside seating and can be rented for special events. On the south side of the property, check out the Lea Lou Lodge, offering vintage accommodations with a modern touch in the old carpenter shop.
49. CHARLES BIERSCHWALE HOUSE/MASON COUNTY NEWS (1871)
(122 S. Live Oak)
This tiny sandstone residence with its rock fence was started in 1871, making it the second-oldest surviving building on the Square (after the Mason House). If it looks romantic to you, there is a good reason: the home was twice given as a wedding present to newlyweds. If the gift seems extravagant, remember that prices were not the same in those days; the house and lot sold for $903 in 1893.
The building was bought by new owners in 2003. It is divided into two office suites: Sandstone Cellars and the Mason County News, which has been around since 1877 and moved to this location in 2009.
50. SANTOS TAQUERIA AND SANDSTONE CELLARS
(205 San Antonio)
This building has housed a succession of service stations throughout its life, possibly starting as early as 1916. After an extensive renovation, it began a new life in 1999 as Santos Taqueria, the Silerio family’s Mexican eatery. Founder Santos Silerio recreated dishes from her home state of Durango, and her family continues to prepare her original recipes for gorditas and other interior Mexican specialties. Be sure to notice the old concrete Texaco star near the portico.
Next door to the south is Sandstone Cellars, the first winery to open in Mason County in 2004, while Mason was still a dry county. Another Silerio family enterprise, it is owned and operated by Manuel Silerio and Scott Haupert. You can buy wine by the bottle in the shop where sculptures by local artist Bill Worrell beckon. Or you can walk a few steps further to the yellow house next door and enjoy a glass of wine or a frozen wine drink. Santos will even deliver to you there; just stop by and order your meal on the way.
In the 1870s the wine bar was the home of Henry and Lucia Holmes, who witnessed many of the terrifying events of Mason’s HooDoo War. Lucia Holmes kept a diary documenting the killings. The Holmes were also instrumental in founding Mason’s first Episcopal Church. On Sundays, when Santos is closed, Mason’s Episcopalians host a potluck lunch here to which everyone is welcome. In 1902 Lucia Holmes sold the house to Mr. and Mrs. Tom Payne, whose descendants became well known far beyond Mason. Their grandson, Benno C. Schmidt, Sr., was the managing partner of J. H. Whitney & Company in New York from 1960 through 1992, and their great-grandson, Benno C. Schmidt, Jr., was president of Yale University from 1986 until 1992.
This concludes our tour of Mason’s Courthouse Square. We hope you enjoy your visit! We invite you to come again to Mason County, the Gem of the Hill Country. You’ll find friendly folks, Mason topaz, great antique and clothes shopping, fabulous wines, unique lodging, and lots of Texas history and hospitality.
Stop by the Mason County Chamber of Commerce for more information and brochures about Mason and Mason County.
Updated as of Oct. 19, 2023