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ASU History Students Involved in Federal Building Centennial Celebration

August 22, 2011

When federal, state and local dignitaries gather to mark the centennial of the O.C. Fisher Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse Friday (Aug. 26), the celebration will culminate a year of work by Angelo State University public history students and faculty documenting the building’s rich heritage.

The centennial ceremony scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday in the Fisher Federal Building at 33 E. Twohig Ave. will draw a variety of guests, including U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway and Chief District Judge Sidney A. Fitzwater, District Judge Sam R. Cummings and Clerk of the Court Karen S. Mitchell, all of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas.

The program will include remarks by Dr. Jason Pierce, ASU assistant professor of history, and San Angelo attorney Don Griffis of Jackson Walker L.L.P., representing the Tom Green County Bar Association. The ceremony will culminate with the unveiling of a historical plaque detailing the building’s judicial and local heritage.

Students from ASU’s history program have spent the last year preparing for the building’s centennial celebration. Under the direction of Dr. Pierce and with the assistance of Joyce Lowe, the deputy-in-charge of the San Angelo Division, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas, students in the Introduction to Public History course (History 2372) researched the role of the federal courts in San Angelo, and the life and career of O.C. Fisher for whom the building was renamed.

When the building opened in 1911, it served as San Angelo’s post office, so the students also examined the role of post offices in the area and the development of the San Angelo post office. ASU history majors Sarah Sanchez of San Angelo, Kagan Box of Seminole and Kain Tomlin of Marble Falls did the initial work, and then continued the effort under the direction of history master’s student Heather Wylie of San Angelo in the Historical Preservation, Research and Writing course (History 4314).

ASU History and Political Science Department Head Dr. Kenneth J. Heineman put the courts building in a historical perspective. “The O.C. Fisher Building, erected 50 years after the first shots of the Civil War were fired, 22 years after the closure of Fort Concho, and 21 years after the U.S. Census announced that the American physical frontier had closed, represents more than mere bricks and mortar,” he said. “That the O.C. Fisher Building came into existence at all gave witness to the people of West Texas that America had survived much and would continue to thrive as democracy’s frontier.”

In addition to their historical research, ASU students Sanchez, Box and Tomlin created a brochure and designed an online presentation website on the building’s history. The brochures are available at the building. The online resource is accessible at the following web address: http://prezi.com/9glmq1_m-nsf/oc-fisher-building/.

Pierce said, “This project serves as an example of the valuable role students can play in serving a community and documenting its history. Their work has broadened our understanding of the O.C. Fisher Federal Building and place in our history. This is information that might otherwise have been lost to us.”

Heineman said, “The ASU History Department and our public history students are proud to have helped commemorate this important structure and look forward to working on future projects that will benefit the community.”

Originally built to house San Angelo’s post office and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, the Italian Renaissance Revival-style building opened in 1911 and was expanded in 1932. It has continuously served the citizens of San Angelo and the surrounding communities for 100 years.

Its construction came simultaneous with the San Angelo population surpassing 10,000 residents and the community becoming a major center of legal and economic activity for the region.

In 1980 the building was named for O.C. Fisher, a San Angelo lawyer and Kimble County rancher, who served as Tom Green County attorney, 1931-35; Texas state representative, 1935-37; district attorney, 51st Judicial District of Texas, 1937-43; and U.S. representative, 1943-74.