left more here than just buildings
Wharton County was home to four buildings designed by Eugene Thomas Heiner (1852-1901).In addition to the 1888-89 Wharton County Courthouse and Jail, Heiner also designed the 1899 Wharton Public School Building and the 1895 W.J. Croom residence in Wharton.
The school building, which no longer survives, was located on land donated by the Sorrel family.
While the school building is gone, the brick from the old school was reused to build at least two Wharton houses that still stand today.
Interestingly, Heiner would leave more than mere buildings in Wharton County. The Heiner family, itself, also would have a strong presence here.
Heiner’s family life centered around his four daughters: Mabel, Viola, Jennie and Hazel. But tragically, Heiner’s wife, Viola died prematurely in 1889, resulting from complications in childbirth. A single parent in the Victorian age, Heiner raised the girls with the help of a governess.
Heiner often took the girls with him to the dedications of his buildings and sometimes included their pictures in the cornerstones of his buildings.
One of Heiner’s daughters, Jennie Heiner, who studied in Europe to be an opera singer, moved to Wharton County and married Mack Webb, the first mayor of El Campo. Jennie and Mack played a leading role in El Campo society and the development of western Wharton County.
There is a wonderful account of her life in the Wharton County Historical Museum, which reads:
“Jennie devoted her life to a family and the role of talented hostess, gardener and leader in the civic and cultural affairs of El Campo. She is said to have given generously of her talents as a soloist and pianist for various churches, weddings, civic organizations and other special occasions.
“Jennie Webb as a gardener and flower arranger won a number of ‘outstanding’ awards at flower shows. It is said that she painted with oils but was also interested in creating culinary works of art, creating beautiful cakes decorated with hand-molded sugar flowers.”
Jane Webb, one of Jennie and Mack’s three children married Percy Marquess. Marquess would later become the Wharton County Auditor, and Jane Webb Marquess would play a special role in Wharton society.
Jane spoke to many about her grandfather, Eugene T. Heiner, the architect of the courthouse. Over the years she collected many old photos of the 1888-89 Wharton County Courthouse and dreamed of the day it might be restored to her grandfather’s vision. Today those photos are getting more attention than ever before, as people begin looking at the past as a roadmap for the future.