County Seat: Karnes City * County Population: 14,824 (2010 U.S. Census)
The Karnes County Courthouse was completed in 1894 in a Romanesque Revival style as designed by John Cormack.
The inaugural county seat was in Helena, as detailed by the following historical marker text:
In 1854, Karnes County erected its first courthouse in the county seat of Helena, an important stage stop between San Antonio and Goliad. The original courthouse was destroyed in a storm about 1865, and a new stone courthouse was built in Helena in 1873.
In the mid-1880s, the citizens of Helena refused to grant right of way and cash concessions sought by the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad to route its proposed rail line through the town. As a result, the railroad bypassed Helena as it built a line through Karnes County in 1886-87. By 1893, the railroad town of Karnes City, established here in 1891, had surpassed Helena in population and political clout. Karnes City was chosen the new county seat on Dec. 21, 1893.
Karnes County officials let bids for a new courthouse and jail on Jan. 4, 1894. They received bids from prominent Texas courthouse designers Alfred Giles and J. Riely Gordon, but awarded the contract to design and build a new county courthouse at this site to John Cormack. Cormack died before finishing the structure, and his business associate, J. A. Austin, completed the job. The courthouse was dedicated on Oct. 25, 1894, and completed on May 29, 1895. Its original turrets and clock tower were removed during 1920s remodeling.
The last few years have found Karnes County in the Eagleford Shale “hotspot,” as explained by the Karnes City Chamber of Commerce: “The countryside outside of Karnes City has transitioned from crop fields, pastureland and cattle ranches to a mosaic of man-camps, trailer parks, oil rigs, service companies and fracing equipment. Even though the town is permeated with the hustle and bustle of traffic and an increase in population, Karnes City hopes the newcomer feels welcome and experiences a sense of down-home hospitality.”
Finally, Karnes County is home of the Lonesome Dove Fest, the official kickoff of dove season. The annual festival combines education, outdoor activities and entertainment.