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Harry Herley

by Fred Weldon



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Harry Herley

Harry Herley is the architectural sculptor credited with carving the ornament on Ellis County courthouse.   We first learned about him from a photocopy of his business card that turned up among the holdings of the Ellis County Museum.  It bore his photograph and and the names of architects in Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, and Fort Worth on whose buildings he had worked.1  The museum has recently acquired an original of Herley's business card on the back of which is imprinted an image of Ellis County courthouse and the words "Carved by Herley."

Harry Herley Carver and Modeler. References: Peabody & Stearns, Boston, Mass. Henry Ives Cobb, Chicago, Ill. Isaac Taylor, St. Louis, Mo. Shipley, Routan & Coolidge [sic], Boston, Mass. Burnham & Root, Chicago, Ill. Messer, Sanguinet & Messer, Ft.Worth, Tex.



Written documentation of Herley's connection to the courthouse construction is scarce.2 It is clear, however, that he was either an employee or subcontractor of Dallas masonry contractor, Theodore Beilharz, whose firm supplied all finished stone for the courthouse project.  Herley was probably principal carver and supervisor of the carving for the courthouse job.

Before Henry Hobson Richardson popularized the Romanesque architectural style in the 1880s, there had been little demand in the United States for ornamental carving of the kind found on this building.  Earlier styles required hand-carved tracery and trim, but ornamental work characteristic of Byzantine and Romanesque forms introduced by Richardson were rare in America; consequently, architectural sculpture had not developed as a craft, and no cadre of ornamental stone carvers existed in this country.  High relief carving of the type and quality found on this building could only be produced by artisans trained in Europe.3

English census records for 1861 and 1871 establish that Harry Herley was born in 1857 in Derbyshire, Mapleton, to Cornelius John and Rebecca Emma Herley.  He was christened Julius Henry Herley.   The elder Herley is identified in the census as an "architectural sculptor in wood and stone," and Julius--who preferred the name "Harry"--was listed as "sculptor and carver" as early as age fourteen.4 Other English records show that he married Elizabeth Councill in West Derby, Lancashire, in 1877.5  

Port of New York records list a "Harry Herly [sic]" with the occupation of stone carver entering in 1886.  The Herleys settled in Chicago.  The earliest record of Harry's American career that I have found appears in the Chicago city directory for 1886 where Herley and Frederick A. Purdy are listed as "architectural carvers and modelers."      

The 1888 Chicago directory lists Herley by his given name, Julius Henry, and indicates that the firm of Herley and Purdy was either moving or expanding its operations to St. Louis.6  St. Louis directories for 1887 and 1888 list Herley & Purdy with residence addresses for both in Chicago.  The Minneapolis directory for 1890-91 lists residence and business addresses for Herley in that city.  The St. Louis directory for 1893 lists a residence address for Herley.  

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Traditionally, stone carvers were itinerant.  Usually they did not sign their work, and no evidence positively identifying specific carvings as Herley's has been found in any of these cities. 

The stock market crash of 1893 and depression and widespread unemployment, coupled with a court-house building boom in Texas, probably explains Herley's move to Dallas where he became associated with Theodore Beilharz, a successful masonry construction contractor and supplier of finished stone and masonry products.  Beilharz supplied the finished stone used in the Ellis County courthouse job and probably most of the skilled labor employed to erect the building.7                          

It is commonly and mistakenly believed that the porch capitals of the Ellis County courthouse were carved in place.   Since the Middle Ages, the preferred and usual building practice has been to shape and finish each stone before laying it, including ornamental stones.  Carving in situ was dangerous and expensive, and it was resorted to only in exceptional circumstances.8 Photographs establish that the practice on this job was the conventional one and that all ornamental parts were all carved before being laid.9

From his stone yard at Pacific and Hawkins in Dallas, Beilharz operated a construction business and supplied finished stone for building projects all over Texas.  There, he maintained a staff of stonecutters and carvers, tools, and massive steam driven power equipment necessary to cut and finish architectural stone.   I have found no documentary or archeological evidence of the existence of a stone cutting facility in Waxahachie large enough to have stored, shaped, and finished the volume of stone required for this building.  Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that Beilharz shut down or duplicated his Dallas operation and moved a crew of cutters and carvers, tools, and steam equipment to Waxahachie for this relatively small project. 

It must be concluded, therefore, that the sandstone trim used in the Ellis County courthouse, including the porch capitals, was cut, shaped, and carved at the Beilharz shop in Dallas and shipped by rail to Waxahachie finished and ready for installation, and that some granite elements were prefabricated at the quarry.

Work on the courthouse began in March 1895 immediately upon funding.10 Carving of the first floor porch capitals would have been the first order of business for Herley and his crew.  The twin cornerstones were laid four months later on July 4, 1895,11 and photographs taken in late winter 1895-96 show that construction had progressed to the third floor and that first floor porch capitals were in place and finished.12 At that pace, the carving of the porch capitals would have been completed and installed by the end of summer 1895.

The popular story that some of the images carved in the porch capitals are portraits of a local woman named Mabel Frame has no basis in fact.13 The record contains a lot of information about Miss Frame and her family, but nothing that supports the claim that they were, or could have been, acquainted. 

During the carving stage of construction, Herley worked in Dallas at Beilharz stone yard.   There is no record of his having come to Waxahachie until the summer of 1896, almost a year after the porch capitals were carved.  The earliest record of Herley's presence in the city is months after all the ornamental carving had been completed:

Capt. W. H. Getzendaner has had cut from Pecos red sandstone two figures representing the body and face of dragons.  The figures rest upon sandstone blocks and hold shields in from of them of the same material.  These figures were cut from solid blocks of stone and are the creation of Carver Harry Herley. The work is perfect in finish and attracts much attention.14 

In August of that same year, Herley was in Waxahachie for his marriage to Minnie Hodges.15 According to the 1898 Dallas directory, they established residence in Dallas.16 The 1900 Dallas directory lists Minnie as "wid Harry" suggesting his early death.  However, no record of his death has been found, and the U.S. census for 1920 lists a Harry Herley in Stillwater, Oklahoma, living with a farm family and working for his board.17 No further record evidence of Herley's life has been found. 

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[1]The firms named are the most prestigious architectural firms of the period.  Shepley, Rutan, & Coolidge was H.H. Richardson's firm until his death in 1886.  Richardson was the architect who popularized the Romanesque form which this courthouse exemplifies.  Marshall Sanguinet of Fort Worth was hired by the commissioners court to supervise construction of the building.  Sanguinet had recently moved his practice to Fort Worth from St. Louis, where he may have become acquainted with Herley. 

[2]The only documentary records relating to construction found to date are Minutes of the Ellis County Commissioners Court (hereinafter, "Minutes") and microfilm copies of The Waxahachie Enterprise, a local weekly newspaper, most numbers of which for the year 1895 are either lost or in such fragile condition that they are not available for examination.  Original plans and specifications, working drawings, contractor business records, and the like, are apparently lost. 

[3]Mariana Griswold van Rensselear, Henry Hobson Richardson and His Works, Toronto: Dover, 1969, pp. 29, 69.  She reports that Richardson was never satisfied with the quality of architectural sculpture available in America.   

[4]UK Census 1861, 1871.    

[5]England & Wales Civil Registration records. 

[6]Lakeside Directory of Chicago for 1886, pp. 691, 1629; for 1887, p. 720; and for 1888.        

[7]Otto Kroeger was the general contractor for the courthouse job, but a change of personnel on the commissioners court and a dispute with Kroeger led to the employment of Marshall Sanguinet as supervising architect and a subcontract with Beilharz to supply the finished stone.  Information on Beilharz is plentiful: Directory of the City of Dallas 1896. Dallas: Evans & Worley, 1896 s.v., Beilharz, pp. 37, 504, 534; The Ency­clopedia of Texas, Davis, Ellis A. and Edwin A. Grobe, eds. Dallas: The Development Bureau (no date), v. II, s.v., "Beilharz, Theodore," p. 756; The New Encyclopedia of Texas, Davis, Ellis A. and Edwin A. Grobe, eds.  Dallas: The Development Bu­reau, (no date), v. IV, s.v.,"Beilharz, Theodore" p. 2265; Greater Dallas Illustrated.  The American Il­lustrating Company, [1908] s.v.,  "Theo. Beilharz," pp. 149-150; Waxahachie National Bank v. Beilharz, 62 S.W. 743 (Tex. 1901).  (Vernon___); WNB v. Beilharz, No. 5043  Minutes of the 40th District Court, vol. M, p. 133.  Feb. 2, 1900 (retrial of the cause reviewed in 62 S.W. 743).

[8]Nicola Coldstream, Masons and Sculptors, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991,  pp. 44, 64.

[9]Three photographs of the building site taken in late winter 1895-96 are among the holdings of the Ellis County Museum.     

[10] Minutes p. 145, March 18, 1895. 

[11] Enterprise, July 5, 1895. 

[12] See footnote 9, above. 

[13] According to that story, while in Waxahachie sculpting the porch capitals, Herley resided at Miss Frame's grand-mother's boarding house where he met and became infatuated with the girl and carved her portrait in one of the capitals, but, after being rejected by her, he took revenge by carving unflattering images of her.

[14] Enterprise, June 12, 1896

[15] Ellis County Marriage License Record, vol. I, page 147; Enterprise,  September 4 and 11, 1896.  Record of the dissolution of Herley's marriage to Elizabeth Councill has not been found. 

[16]Worley's General Directory of the City of Dallas, Dallas: Evans and Worley, October 1898, s.v., Herley, at p. 230.  “Harry Herley, stone carver and modeler. r. [residence] nw corner Pacific and N. Hawkins.”  This is the address of  Beilharz Stone Yard. 

[17] His identity as Julius Henry Herley has not been positively established.

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