DAVE DENISON Preservationist Ida Lou Ames near her home in Texarkana Department shows that the call alerting police to the fire came in at 4:41 a.m. It was not made by a woman who was out walking; it was made by an eyewitness to the fire and, more important, to events leading up to the fire. The witness was contacted by investigators about a week after the fire was extinguished. The eyewitness, Evelyn Huggins, who lives in a mobile home across from the northwest corner of the public square, gave an account that cast doubt on the hungry hobo theory. Yet officials have not spoken publicly of her account, nor was she interviewed by the local press. Her testimony suggests that county officials knew soon after the fire that evidence suggested the fire was the work of an arsonist and not a vagrant. In an interview in her home in October of this year, Huggins told me what she remembered of the events on the night of the fire. She is a large woman with a nononsense demeanor that, as it turned out, belied a friendliness and a willingness to talk. Huggins recalled getting ready for bed around midnight on the night the courthouse burned. Her bedroom window faces the courthouse. Glancing out of it on this particular night, she noticed a pickup truck pulling up in front of the courthouse. She saw someone get out of the truck. “The man I saw was a young man,” she said. She noticed his features when he opened the door of the truck and the truck’s interior light shone on him. Her home is perhaps 200 feet from the courthouse, so she was only able to give the most basic description: a white male of average build, with lots of dark hair and a small beard. She told police the man was driving a two-tone pickup tan with a brown stripe. Huggins said the man disappeared for a while. She did not see him go into the courthouse. But around 1:30 a.m., she said, he returned to his truck and drove away. She dozed off but some time later, perhaps around 2:10, she heard a loud noise that sounded like a window being blown out. Then she fell back to sleep. Around 4:35 a.m. Huggins was awakened by the arrival of her sister, who had been driving in from out of town. Her sister told her that it appeared the courthouse was on fire. Shortly thereafter Huggins called the police. I asked Huggins what she made of the events she saw that night. She said it was difficult to believe the cause of the fire was anything but arson. “That’s everybody’s conjecture around here whoever it was was paid to do it. It just don’t make sense any other way,” she said. THE MORNING AFTER NEW BOSTON’S volunteer fire department was first on the scene. By 5:06 a.m. volunteer firefight ers from the nearby town of DeKalb were en route. \(“You light ’em, we fight ’em” Eight minutes later firefighters from Hooks and Maud were on their way. According to Fire Chief Billy House, the blaze was burning on the second floor of the courthouse when New Boston firefighters arrived. House had about two dozen men on the scene, training two-anda-half inch hoses on the fire, some climbing onto the roof of the low-lying north annex to get a better approach. When DeKalb’s men arrived they took the south side. By this time, House said, the fire was burning so strongly they could only hope to keep it from spreading to other buildings. Bowie County Judge James Marion Carlow remembers being awakened by a phone call from the police chief of Maud, the tiny village where Carlow makes his home. When the chief told him the courthouse was burning, Carlow recalled later, he first thought it was the new courthouse that was on fire. After being set straight, he hurried to the old courthouse. He watched the fire for a while and then returned to his office to make a few phone calls. He called Ida Lou Ames, the head of the Bowie County Historical Commission and Ruby Neil Hart, who was active with the same group. Ames remembered telling the county judge she would be right there to see the damage. “He said, ‘No, it’s too depressing,’ ” Ames recalled later. “I said, `I’ll be right there.’ ” Ames arrived shortly before 7:00. The roof had already fallen in. She stood with Judge Carlow and commented that the fire didn’t feel hot from where they stood. She realized later that the building’s walls had acted like a chimney and the heat was escaping from the top. Ames asked Carlow about the insurance coverage on the building. The judge told her he had moved recently to have the amount of coverage decreased, but that he wasn’t sure whether the new policy or the old one was in effect, Ames said. Carlow now says he does not recall the specifics of that conversation. News of the fire began to spread around the county. Ames drove back to her home in Texarkana and called Gerron Hite of the Austin, the agency that is concerned with old courthouses and historical landmarks. Hite mentioned the fire to Mark Denton, an archaeologist at the Texas Antiquities tion over buildings with landmark status. Judge Carlow returned once again to his office and, at 10:14 called the State Fire Marshal in Austin to report the fire and to request an investigation into the cause. At 10:30 Carlow received a call from Mark Denton of the TAC. He also got a call from Hite in Austin, who asked him about the condition of the courthouse and reminded him that certain laws gave his agency a say in what would happen to the building. According to Denton’s memorandum of his call, Carlow “said he didn’t know yet whether they would need a demolition permit and he was generally very unclear about THC or TAC jurisdiction in the matter.” As it would happen in the following months, Judge Carlow would have plenty of time to become “clear” about THC and TAC jurisdiction. For what that jurisdiction amounted to was that the county would not be able to tear down the remains of the courthouse without the go-ahead from Austin. A CASE OF ARSON THE INVESTIGATION into the cause of the fire began the next day, on Thursday, August 13. Deputy state fire marshal Don Turk, who works out of an office in Lufkin, spent three days that 8 DECEMBER 9, 1988
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