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DAVE DENISON Former Dallas Cowboys football player Walt Garrison reportedly was the model for New Boston’s James Bowie statue matter. The papers had reported days after the fire that the courthouse was insured for $584,105 and that the policy had been arranged by an insurance agent in Hughes Springs, in nearby Cass County. More than a year later, the Dallas Morning News reported that the actual insurer was a company in Dallas named Commercial Union. That company’s adjuster, Dan McLain, told me recently that he went out to the scene of the fire for a day shortly after the event. He met with investigators and with Judge Carlow. He was told there had been a problem with vagrants in the building and that the entrances had not been secure. It was his belief, he said, that “if a vagrant had been trying to warm something up or to keep warm” a fire might have gotten out of control because of all the combustible material in the vicinity. “That was the story we were given by the authorities,” McLain said. “We certainly weren’t going to question them.” In cases of suspected arson it is common for insurance companies to conduct their own investigations. Many companies take at least 90 days before settling the claim. But that was not the case with Commercial Union. McLain said the company chose not to investigate. “After we were told there were vagrants in there, we basically closed our books on it,” he said. Even after the fire marshall’s report was completed on August 26, Commercial Union was not dissuaded from the vagrant theory. On September 3, just 22 days after the fire, the county received a check from the insurance company for $584,105. Judge Carlow had been wrong if he told Ida Lou Ames, as she recalls, that the insurance coverage had been lowered. In reality, the policy had been renewed on August 1 and the coverage had been increased. Both Carlow and the insurance company say that the rate increase was an automatic, acrossthe-board five percent increase that affected several county buildings covered on the same policy, not just the courthouse. Nevertheless, it is a fact that the coverage increased 12 days before the fire. It is alsd a fact that the insurance settlement arrived in county coffers shortly before the fiscal year was ending on September 30, at a time when the county was short of money. Records at the County Treasurer’s office show a deficit in the month before the fire of $327,681. Taking into account a $250,000 certificate of deposit the county held and cashed in August, the deficit would have been reduced to $77,681. By the end of September, thanks in part to the half million dollars from insurance, the county was back in the black, finishing the year with a general fund balance of $410,141. County governments are prohibited under the Texas Constitution from ending the year with a deficit. To at least a few county wits. it appeared that the Hungry Hobo could not have come along at a better time, as far as county finances were concerned. THE ARCHAEOCRATS WHEN THE HALF MILLION dollars of insurance money came into the county treasury, the county could have set out in either of two directions: the money could have been earmarked to fix up the old building, or to fix up the budget. It became clear very soon after the fire that the county preferred the latter approach. Within weeks, the county judge was quoting figures that it would take one, perhaps two, million dollars to renovate the old courthouse. And anyway, he argued, we already have a new courthouse, we don’t need the old one. He began to proceed as if the only sensible course of action would be to call in the wrecking crew. But not so fast. There was that matter of THC/TAC jurisdiction Mark Denton had mentioned to Carlow on the phone the day of the fire. To the Austin “archaeocrats” the government workers who oversee the state’s archaeological sites, old buildings, and other protected landmarks and artifacts the Bowie County courthouse was more than just a pile of old bricks. Their involvement with the county had begun while the courthouse was still in use. The ninemember Texas Antiquities Committee had decided in May of 1981 that the building was worthy of landmark status. After all, it was one of the oldest county courthouses still in use in Texas \(of the state’s 254 county courthouses, there were 35 that either predated Bowie County’s or were built the same year, according to 1984 THC statiswritten to the Bowie County Commissioners Court, “the TAC is pleased to inform you . . . the committee voted to designate the [Bowie County Courthouse] as a State Archaeological Landmark. The designation meant that the courthouse was then protected by the state antiquities code, which provides that a State Archaeological Landmark not be “taken, altered, damaged, destroyed, salvaged or excavated” without permission of the Antiquities Committee. In addition, laws had been passed protecting old courthouses specifically; in this realm the Texas Historical Commission has the power to delay demolition of courthouses for up to six months. The courthouse’s protected status accounts for why the building was still standing a year and a half after the county had moved into a new facility. And yet it was never clear just what the county had intended to do with the old structure. County officials had been informed long before the fire that they could not unilaterally decide upon demolition. Certainly those officials who were aware of the county’s financial straits knew it would be difficult to expend the money to renovate the courthouse. So they let it stand and they ignored it. Gerron Hite, the staff architect at the Historical Commission wrote to thenCounty Judge Ed Miller in January of 1986. It had come to his attention, Hite wrote, that Bowie County officials would be moving to a new courthouse soon. “We would appreciate knowing if any physical changes are being considered for the historic courthouse and jail,” he wrote. “We will be looking forward to working with you in the future in this important landmark to the people of Bowie County.” Hite says he never received an answer to his letter. The Texarkana Gazette reported in December of 1986 that the courthouse was deteriorating from lack of maintenance. “If they don’t tear it down, it’s going to fall down,” said county commissioner L.B. “Boss” Grimes. But the story quoted state officials reminding the county that the building was a protected landmark. By this time County Judge Ed Miller was preparing to leave office and the courthouse was no longer his problem. It was the problem of James Marion Carlow, who became county judge in January of 1987. Carlow was a dairy farmer from Maud who had won against a candidate backed by Miller in the November election. A lean man who looks slightly ill at ease in a suit, Carlow was an outsider in county politics. Many expected him to show an independent streak in administering the county, which had been under Miller’s control for eight years. The small group of local preservationists were hopeful they would get a fair hearing from the new county judge, as they began to think of ways to get the old courthouse restored. The central figure in the long fight for preservation that was just beginning to unfold was Ida Lou Ames, chairwoman of the Bowie County Historical Commission. Ames is a resolute woman with a broad and pleasant face and hazel-blue eyes. She runs a health food and vitamin store behind her 10 DECEMBER 9, 1988