On New Year's Day in 1993, the Hill County Courthouse was gutted by an electrical fire. All that remained standing were the four limestone walls.
The first alarm was sounded at 6:35 pm. Hillsboro Firefighters quickly responded to find a third floor office engulfed in flames, and within minutes flames spread to the bell tower.
Fifteen Hill County fire departments, along with fire fighters from other counties, battled the flames throughout the night. Hill County citizens gathered around the square, while others watched on television as the seventy foot bell tower collapsed in flames. The official cause of the fire was electrical.
|Courthouse Bell after the fire|
The next morning the rim of the bell was visible through the ceiling of the first floor hallway. Weighing 1,525 pounds, it had marked the hours for 102 years until its supports were consumed by the fire.
Talk of restoring the courthouse started before the final hot spots were extinguished. Architects with the Texas Historical Commission determined that the building was restorable and just ten days after the fire, the Hill County Historical Commission called a county-wide meeting to organize the restoration efforts. Local fund raising projects, including two concerts on the square by Hill County native Willie Nelson, along with grants and other funding sources contributed to the restoration.
| T-shirt decal from the 1993 |
Willie Nelson Concert
The original bell was moved to a newly-constructed bell plaza on the courthouse lawn. The rock used in the plaza matches that of the courthouse. It was quarried south of Abbott and first used for an 1896 building that housed a shoe cobbling business in Abbott.
Restoration took over six years and $9 million dollars to complete. The restored building was dedicated April 24, 1999 with Texas Governor George W. Bush as the keynote speaker.
| Dedication Ceremony with Governor Bush
to the right of the woman at the podium