History takes the stand

History takes the stand

Take a trip, explore Texas Courthouses 

By Sydni Ellis

In Texas, admiring courthouses is a tradition — like eating cornbread and chili (with no beans!) and dressing up for high school football games. Europe has its cathedrals, and we have courthouses. 

In fact, Texas has the largest and most diverse collection of county courthouses in the nation, according to the Texas Historical Commission (THC). Many of these architectural masterpieces have fallen into disrepair over the years, which is why the THC’s award-winning Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program (THCPP) is working to restore the landmarks to their former glory. These structures are beautifully designed and a unique part of Texas history worth of checking out. 

There are currently 242 historic courthouses still in government use (more than any other state in the nation), 136 in the National Register of Historic Places, 145 are Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks, and more than 70 have been fully restored or are currently being restored by THCCP. Check out a few of our favorites below.

Atascosa County Courthouse, at 1 Courthouse Circle Drive in Jourdanton, it is the only existing Mission Revival style courthouse in Texas. The beautiful courthouse was features shaped parapets, a Spanish-tiled roof, balconies with iron railings, arched openings, and wooden windows. The courthouse is only 33 miles south from the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park if you want to check out more history while you’re in the area. atascosacounty.texas.gov. 

Located at 100 East Houston Street in Linden, the Cass County Courthouse is the only antebellum courthouse in the state, which opened in 1861, and the oldest continuously functioning courthouse in Texas. This was the second courthouse built here, and it suffered tornado damage in 1908, fire damage in 1933, and a restoration in 2012 to its 1934 Greek Revival style appearance with locally fired brick. It has weathered a few storms but is still a beautiful testimony to the strength of the community. co.cass.tx.us. 

Nicknamed Old Red, the Dallas County Courthouse was built in 1892 with contrasting red sandstone and blue granite. It also has eight circular turrets, a clock tower and two clay figures on the roof. It was reconstructed in 2004 with a clock tower, a fourth-floor library, a grand staircase, and an open, four-story high space in the center of the lobby. The courthouse also has more than 100 lunettes (half-circle stained glass windows), a brightly glowing red Pegasus, and an original vault. 100 South Houston Street in Dallas. oldred.org. 

The Denton County Courthouse is the centerpiece of the Square, located at 110 West Hickory Street in Denton. It was built in 1896 and restored in 2004 using the original blueprints. Its building materials are locally sourced, with limestone from Denton, pink granite from the Austin area, red sandstone from the Pecos area, and tan sandstone from Mineral Wells. It houses the Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum as well as the grave of John B. Denton. The courthouses’ gorgeous copulas, detailed columns, and stunning design make this one fun to tour. dentoncounty.gov. 

The Donley County Courthouse, located at 300 Sully Street in Clarendon, is the oldest functioning courthouse in the Texas Panhandle, completed in 1891. The Romanesque Revival courthouse has a unique façade that is completely asymmetrical, with no two sides of the building alike. It is made with stone and brick, with a tower in the northeast corner and a conical turret roof over the stair in the southeast corner. Other delightful details include stained glass windows in arched openings, columns with smooth and textured stones, and contrasting red brick and quarried limestone. co.donley.tx.us.  

The Romanesque Revival style was also used for the design of the Ellis County Courthouse, which opened in 1897. This architectural marvel includes elaborate ornamentation, contrasting masonry, and beautiful massing. Legend says a stone mason carved a local woman’s face in the sandstone column capitals, making her look ugly after she rejected him. This is a very photogenic courthouse and has made the backdrop for many movies including the 1967 Bonnie and Clyde. 101 West Main Street in Waxahachie. co.ellis.tx.us.

Picturesque doesn’t begin to describe Fayette County Courthouse, located at 246 West Colorado Street in La Grange. This 1891 Romanesque Revival courthouse included an open atrium with gorgeous natural lighting, a fountain cast iron sculptures and tropical plants. The atrium was enclosed, then later restored to its historic appearance in 2005. co.fayette.tx.us. 

The Harris County Courthouse at 301 Fannin Street in Houston occupies an entire city block called Courthouse Square. It is a neoclassical, six story building with a magnificent dome roof and Corinthian columns and is made with Texas pink granite and St. Louis brown brick. It was remodeled to its 1910 appearance in 2011. harriscountytx.gov.  

Standing prominently near the square, the Hopkins County Courthouse at 118 Church Street in Sulphur Springs is a site to behold. It was completed in 1895 in the Romanesque Revival style. The entrances are on the northwest and southwest angles, facing the public square instead of in the center of it, giving it a unique design. It’s made with red granite with contrasting sandstone trim. Go shopping or grab a bite to eat in the square, then spread out a blanket in the lawn as you look out at the courthouse. hopkinscountytx.org. 

The McLennan County Courthouse at 501 Washington Avenue in Waco is truly a work of art. On top of the courthouse’s fantastic dome includes eight ornamental metal eagles that originally included eyes that lit up. It also has sculptures of the Goddess Themis at the top of lantern, and Lady Justice and Lady Liberty on the lower roof. The neoclassical structure was built in 1901 and includes Kenesaw marble, stained-glass art pieces, and Corinthian columns. The courthouse also has a unique history, as it is the place where Clyde Barrow of the Bonnie and Clyde duo stood trial in 1930. co.mclennan.tx.us. 

The Presidio County Courthouse was designed in 1886 in a Second Empire style with Italianate details. The courthouse, which is located at 300 Highland Street in Marfa, was rededicated in 2002. Fun fact: the Lady of Justice sculpture on top holds a shot-out scale, which was filled with bullets from a cowboy who claimed, “There is no justice in Presidio County.” co.presidio.tx.us.

Located at 400 North Walnut Street in Clarksville, the Red River Courthouse is a hodge-podge architectural design. It was built in 1885 with a part Victorian, part Gothic, and part Italian Renaissance style, known as a “Late 19th Century Debatable.” It has turrets and buttresses made of mellow yellow stone from a quarry near Honey Grove, and it has a hand-painted gold sign above the judge’s bench that says “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness.” It has exterior columns, light fixtures, and an impressive clocktower. co.red-river.tx.us

Make sure to snap photos of your favorite historic courthouses on your trip!