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Historic Mason County Courthouse 'destroyed' by fire, suspect in custody

A man is in custody after the suspected arson.

MASON, Texas — A man is in custody after suspected arson at the historic Mason County Courthouse on Thursday night, the Mason County Judge's Office said.

As of Monday morning, Nicholas Miller is now charged with arson, evading arrest and unlawful possession of a firearm. On Friday, he was charged and arrested after a police pursuit and was being held in McLennan County, McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara said. The police chase started in Williamson County and ended near Robinson after the suspect was stopped using a spike strip.

Miller is also suspected of setting a house on fire on Ranck Avenue in Mason, according to the Mason County judge.

Videos and photos are circulating of the courthouse engulfed in flames. County Judge Jerry Bearden said the building is destroyed.

VIDEO: Suspect in Mason County Courthouse fire leads police on chase

In the overnight hours of Feb. 5, multiple volunteer fire departments including the Brady Fire Department were called to Mason County to respond to "multiple structure fires" including the Mason County Courthouse, the Brady Fire Department said on Facebook. The courthouse, located west of Llano, is 111 years old.

Judge Bearden said the fire started at 10:15 p.m. on Thursday at the courthouse. Multiple units responded and no one was hurt, but Bearden said the building is destroyed. 

The Hill Country Passport reported that by 1 a.m. on Friday, firefighters had the fire mostly contained and were only putting out a few hot spots left in the building.

VIDEO: Historic Mason County courthouse engulfed in flames

Bearden said the county had moved everything out of the building because they were preparing for planned renovations using funds from a Texas Historical Commission grant. Furniture was still in the building, and the bell tower is now destroyed, according to Bearden. The county had moved out all of the records because of the planned renovations.

Bearden told KVUE the courthouse was the "pride and joy of the town."

"This is not a rich town. We don’t have much but the people who live here, we are going to see if we can find a way to rebuild," Bearden said. "But if anyone can help – please."

According to the Mason Chamber of Commerce, the courthouse was built in 1909-1910. At the time, it cost $39,786.

In the 1980s, the exterior was repainted using its original colors. The district courtroom was renovated in 1986 with a grant from the Texas Historical Commission.

The Texas Historical Commission released the following statement Friday:

Our commission and staff are in shock today as we consider the terrible damage caused to the landmark Mason County Courthouse in last night’s fire.

We offer our sincere condolences to Judge Jerry Bearden and his constituents across Mason County.

A courthouse is the heart of its community, a focus for celebrations, and a symbol of democracy. The loss of a courthouse to fire is one of the most heartbreaking things a community can experience.

We are grateful that at this point it appears no lives were lost.

Credit: McLennan Co. Sheriff's Office

It is a terrible irony that Mason County has experienced this tragedy. For more than a decade the county has worked toward the preservation of this precious building, and Judge Bearden has been a consistent and vocal advocate of the project. We recently awarded a grant of more than $4 million to the county for the building’s full restoration, and the dreams of many Mason County residents to see the courthouse returned to its original glory were about to come true.

We are gratified to hear of the Judge’s commitment to rebuild. This is not the first time a county has faced this challenge. In recent decades both Hill and Newton counties were able to successfully rebuild their courthouses after devastating fires. Overall, the THC has helped more than 70 Texas counties rebuild, restore, and preserve their courthouses, and we want to assure Mason County that we will do what we can to help them with this challenging project. It won’t be easy, but we know that together we can accomplish anything.

For now, we mourn the loss of a landmark. Hopefully that loss will be temporary, and one day we can celebrate its rebirth.

The commission said Mason County had received a $350,000 planning grant in 2010 to help it complete a full restoration of the courthouse. Another grant was awarded for $4.1 million in 2020 as part of a $25 million measure from the 2019 state legislature. Some of the restorations that were supposed to happen at the courthouse included a fire detection system.

A GoFundMe campaign has been launched by The Commercial Bank in Mason with the purposes of rebuilding the courthouse. To view the GoFundMe, please visit: https://gf.me/v/c/n9n/mason-county-rebuild-our-courthouse

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