McDermott Building


This most handsome and dignified of public buildings in Fredericksburg, the McDermott Building, housing Pioneer Memorial Library, began life as Gillespie County's second courthouse in 1882. County commissioners offered a prize of $50 for the best design. Advertisements were placed in the San Antonio and Austin papers.  Of the two designs entered, commissioners chose the one submitted by Alfred Giles of San Antonio, one of the finest architects working in Texas during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Other local examples of his work include a two-story rock home at 110 North Bowie and the former Bank of Fredericksburg - "the cupola building" - in the middle of the 100 block of East Main. Giles also designed several other Texas courthouses and many other residences and buildings in Texas and Mexico.

"Symmetrical" is a good word to describe the formal balance of Giles' design. The north and south sides are alike, as are the east and west sides, each with a porch to match the one on the opposing side. East and west sides have matching chimneys on the roof. Louvered ventilating dormers are on all six gable openings. The south porch has been partially enclosed to provide for mechanical and storage space. This beautiful building served as Gillespie County Courthouse until August 16, 1939, when the present courthouse was dedicated. During the following years many organizations and agencies used the space for meeting rooms, offices and storage. At one time, City of Fredericksburg offices were located here. Gradually it fell into disuse until 1963, when the structure was condemned and occupied only by bats, pigeons and an occasional drifter.

In November 1965, Mr. & Mrs. Eugene McDermott of Dallas were visiting here and expressed a desire to help insure new life for the old building as a library. They became patrons of the 1967 restoration. At that time the main library was on the east side of the first floor where the youth room is now. Two former youth rooms were located where the main office and librarian's office are at present. The circulation desk was originally in the center of the downstairs hall. On the second floor, the present adult section of the library was named Milam Hall, Mrs. McDermott's family name. Until the 1984 restoration, it was used as a meeting place for various organizations, including Fredericksburg Music Study Club and the Boy Scouts.

The present interior arrangement was made in the 1984 renovation, spearheaded by Mrs. McDermott, who had been widowed in the meantime. Mrs. McDermott made available funds to match local subscriptions for renovating the much needed expansion. Both times the McDermotts made certain that every original feature of the building was preserved, if possible. 

Unusual and interesting features include a spiral staircase, in an alcove at the east entrance. This led originally to the district judge's bench in the second floor courtroom. This is now closed off. Note also the original hummingbird design on the doorknobs, copied by local artist Nancy Coon and made into medallions for necklaces and book markers during the 1984 renovation. The interior highlight is probably the unusual wall hanging, executed by the late Carletta Gydesen Broun of Ingram, for its allotted space in the second floor hall during the 1967 restoration. This superb six-by-nine work of art is called "Our Town" and depicts in stitchery some of the outstanding and unique features of Fredericksburg.