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Alfred Giles, Architect

Written by Janet W. Harris.

Alfred Giles (1853-1920), a well-known Texas architect of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was commissioned in 1881 to design Gillespie County’s second courthouse, which now houses Pioneer Memorial Library in Fredericksburg. When that project and numerous others frequently kept Alfred away from his San Antonio home, his wife worried about his safety. In the spring of 1882, during one of the 14-hour trips Giles had to make to Fredericksburg to oversee courthouse construction, the stagecoach he was traveling in was waylaid by thieves.

The two bandits robbed Giles, the only passenger, of a watch his mother had given him in 1873 before he left his native England to come to the United States. When he offered to exchange $20 he had hidden in his shoe for the watch, the robbers gladly accepted. After forcing Giles at gunpoint to assist them in rifling the coach’s mailbags, they permitted him and the driver to continue on to Fredericksburg.

To allay his wife’s fears, Giles sometimes carried a pair of homing pigeons with him on his trips. Upon reaching his destination, he would release one pigeon, carrying local news, to let his wife know he had arrived safely. Once he knew when he would return, he would release the second pigeon.

As a competitor for the Gillespie County courthouse design, Giles was entitled to a $50 prize, but he asked that it be given to the only other entrant, architect F.E. Ruffini, as acknowledgment of his talent. Giles went on to design the Brooks, Caldwell, Goliad, Kendall (facade only), Live Oak, Presidio, Webb, and Wilson county courthouses. Incidentally, the engraved heirloom watch that Alfred bought back from the highway robbers remains in the Giles family to this day.

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