As part of the 2011 budget cutting frenzy in Austin, Texas Governor Rick Perry has announced his plans for the elimination of the Texas Historical Commission. In 1953 the Texas State Legislature established the agency as the Texas State Historical Survey Committee with the task to identify important historic sites across the state.

Today, THC is composed of seventeen citizen members appointed by the governor to staggered six-year terms and employs about 200 people who work in various fields, including archeology, architecture, history, economic development, heritage tourism, public administration and urban planning.

The THC:

n Helps protect Texas’ diverse architectural heritage, including historic county courthouses.

n Partners with communities to stimulate tourism and economic development.

n Assists Texas cities in the revitalization of their historic downtowns through the Texas Main Street Program.

n Provides leadership and training to county historical commissions, heritage organizations and museums in Texas’ 254 counties.

The agency also administers the state’s historical marker program — currently there are more than 12,000 historical markers across the state, and it operates twenty state historic sites including house museums, military forts and archeological sites.

One of the most important and visual programs is the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program In 1999, the Texas Legislature created the program to provide matching grants to assist county courthouse restoration projects throughout the state.

Texas has more historic courthouses that any other state. Today more than 234 courthouses still stand that are least 50 years old. About 80 were built before the turn of the 20th century. By the end of that century, most of these structures were significantly deteriorated due to inadequate maintenance, insensitive modifications or weather related damage.

The Texas Historical Commission documented the condition of 50 of the state’s oldest courthouses in the late 1990s and determined that counties lacked the resources to preserve the buildings for future generations. To date THC has assisted in the preservation and restoration of more than 80 county courthouses.

Restoration of the historic buildings reached a critical point when Texas county courthouses were added to the National Trust’s11 Most Endangered Properties list in 1998. The state’s response was to create the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, the largest preservation grant program ever initiated by a state government. This nationally recognized preservation program has turned around the trend of disrepair and begun the process of restoring the state’s most treasured historic landmarks.

In addition, the THC administers the Texas Courthouse Stewardship program to assist counties in maintaining their facilities.

The urgent need to preserve the state’s historic courthouses became evident during the first six rounds of grants, as did Texans’ enthusiasm for the program. There are, however, more than 160 nationally recognized historic courthouses across the state that could benefit from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. Continuing the program is vital to the future of these grand community treasures.

The restoration of the county courthouses has benefited the entire state. Records show that $373 million of total courthouse contribution activity has generated nearly 8,579 jobs, $238 million in income and over $325 million in gross state product.

The threat to historic courthouses is real. In 1993, fire ravaged the century-old Hill County Courthouse in Hillsboro. In 1999, fires destroyed the 1911 Reagan County Courthouse in Stiles and damaged the 1891 Tyler County Courthouse in Woodville.

On August 4, 2000, fire gutted the historic 1902 Newton County Courthouse just two weeks after the THC approved its master plan for the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. The THC provided emergency stabilization funds and Round III funding for full restoration of the Newton County Courthouse.

Texas courthouses date from the mid-19th century and were among the first permanent structures in many counties. Restored historic county courthouses preserve an important architectural feature of Texas’ past while making these landmarks functional and safe for use today.

County courthouse projects are serving as a catalyst in economic revitalization in business districts surrounding courthouse squares throughout the state. Historic courthouses are focal points for heritage tourism, one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry in Texas.

A total of 136 Texas courthouses are listed in the National Register of Historic Places; 145 are Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks and 109 are State Archeological Landmarks.

Proposed cuts in funding for state-supported historical commissions and the arts commissions could be disastrous for the groups, their supporters contend.

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday proposed eliminating state funding for the Texas Historical Commission and the Texas Commission on the Arts in an effort to deal with the state’s projected $15 billion shortfall in the next two-year budget period.

The Texas Historical Commission’s budget tops $100 million, with 20 percent from the general revenue fund, the Austin American-Statesman reported.

“We recognize that some cuts are necessary statewide and that this agency will be affected,” said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the Historical Commission. “We welcome the opportunity to do our part in assisting legislative leaders in prioritizing the state’s needs as they apply to this agency. Our historic resources are a vital part of our future and can contribute a solution to the state’s economic difficulties.”

The historical agency also successfully fought first lady Anita Perry’s plan to build a controversial addition onto the Texas Governor’s Mansion. The state agreed to build a smaller addition. No one has been charged over the 2008 arson fire that damaged the unoccupied mansion during renovations.

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