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Texas | Buildings | Courthouses

Johnson County Courthouse
County Seat - Cleburne, Texas

Johnson County has had six courthouses:
1854 in Wardville
1858 and 1860 in Buchanan
1869, 1883 and 1913 in Cleburne

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THE COURTHOUSES OF JOHNSON COUNTY

Johnson County was officially organized in 1854, formed from parts of Ellis, Hill and Navarro counties. It was named for Colonel Middleton Tate Johnson, a Texas Ranger and member of the Republic of Texas Congress. The town of Wardville served as the first county seat. In 1854 the county’s first courthouse, a 14’ x 14’ log cabin, was built there by William O’Neal. In 1856, the county seat was moved to Buchanan and a 16’ x 16’ wood courthouse was completed there in 1858. The county’s third courthouse was built in 1860, this time a two-story wood frame building. In 1867, the western portion of Johnson County was organized into Hood County and Johnson County needed a new, centralized county seat. The site of Camp Henderson, which was established in the area during the Civil War for its crossroads location and ample water supply, was chosen as the new county seat. It was renamed Cleburne after Confederate general Patrick Ronayne Cleburne. The courthouse from Buchanan was moved to Cleburne and used until 1869. The fourth Johnson County courthouse, and the first one in Cleburne, was a square, two-story brick building with a T-hallway inside, built by Joseph W. Anderson in 1869. The county outgrew this courthouse by 1880 and it was replaced by a new, elaborate, Second Empire style courthouse in 1883.

The county’s fifth courthouse was completed on October 6, 1883 and stood where the current 1913 courthouse stands today. Designed by Wesley Clarke Dodson and built by Lee Slaughter, the three story courthouse was built of red brick and stone with a four-story clock tower. Dodson designed many Texas courthouses similar to this one, including the courthouses in nearby Hill, Hood and Parker counties (still standing) and the courthouses in Anderson, Houston, Hunt and Kaufman counties (no longer standing.) The cost of construction was $44,685. On April 15, 1912, the same day that the RMS Titanic sank, the 1883 courthouse burned down. City Marshal Abe B. Bledsoe, filling in for his brother, Fire Chief Baylor Bledsoe, who was out of town, was the sole casualty. He died while fighting the fire when part of the roof collapsed on him. A stone from this courthouse with the carved date of 1883 sits at the east side entrance of the 1913 courthouse.

In 1912, the commissioners court hired the Dallas architectural firm of Lang and Witchell to design the county’s sixth and current courthouse. Charles Erwin Barglebaugh, who worked with Lang and Witchell on the 1910 Harris County courthouse, also assisted in designing this courthouse. Barglebaugh trained under architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Construction began in 1912 and was completed by the end of 1913. This courthouse was similar to two earlier courthouses Lang and Witchell designed for Cooke County and Scurry County (later drastically altered) in 1911. The architects utilized the Prairie School style of architecture inspired by architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis H. Sullivan. The dominant features included a focus on horizontal lines, flat or hipped roofs and a disciplined use of ornamentation.

The 1913 courthouse was closed in 2005 for exterior and interior restoration work, which included restoring the original paint scheme on the walls and restoring the original height of the district courtroom. County offices were moved at that time to the 1918 Cleburne High School on South Buffalo Street which was renovated into the Guinn Justice Center in 2004. The exterior restoration of the 1913 courthouse was completed in 2007 and the courthouse was rededicated on December 1, 2007. The interior restoration was completed by March, 2008. Both buildings continue to serve the county.

- Terry Jeanson,
May 19, 2012
Sourcess: Historical information from The Handbook of Texas Online. Courthouse history from the Texas Historical Commission County Atlas at http://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/shell-desig.htm, “The Courthouses of Texas” by Mavis P. Kelsey Sr. & Donald H. Dyal and The Cleburne Times-Review, Volume 103, No. 76, “County Courthouse Fire 100 Years Later,” by Matt Smith, April 15, 2012.
Cleburne TX - Johnson County Courthouse
Johnson County Courthouse
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, February 2008

Present Johnson County Courthouse
County Seat - Cleburne, Texas

Date - 1913
Architect - Lang and Witchell with Charles E. Barglebaugh
Location - On the square
Style - Classical Revival with Prairie-style details
Materials - Elgin brick, concrete and pink granite
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark
Restored in 2008

Johnson County Courthouse Tower

"The ornate geometric patterns that decorate the tower are repeated in the interior. I understand that these are Prairie-style elements which was popular in the early 20th Century. Numerous examples of this architectural influence can be seen in nearby Fort Worth. A good example is the Texas and Pacific Railroad building." - Sam Fenstermacher
Right: Photo courtesy Sam Fenstermacher, 4-04
Johnson County Courthouse  Tower
Skylight of Johnson County Courthouse, Cleburne, Texas
Johnson County Courthouse Skylight
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, 2005
Cleburne TX - Johnson County Courthouse Architecural details
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, February 2008
Cleburne TX - Johnson County Courthouse Architecural details
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, February 2008
Cleburne TX - Johnson County Courthouse Architecural details
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, February 2008
Cleburne TX - Johnson County Courthouse cornerstone
Johnson County Courthouse cornerstone.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, February 2008
More Texas Cornerstones
Johnson County Courthouse, Cleburne Texas vintage photo
Johnson County Courthouse as it appeared in 1939
Photo courtesy TXDoT
 Cleburne Texas Johnson County Courthouse vintage postcard
Johnson County Courthouse
1930s postcard courtesy Paula McMichael Athey
Cleburne TX - Johnson County Courthouse mural
A mural in Wright Plaza, just south of the courthouse, has renderings of three of the Johnson County courthouses. The 1883 courthouse (left) and the 1913 courthouse (right,) both built in Cleburne, and the 1854 courthouse (center) built in the first county seat of Wardville.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, February 2008
Cleburne TX - Johnson County Courthouse mural
Rendering of the current Johnson County courthouse
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, February 2008
1883 Johnson County Courthouse
County Seat - Cleburne, Texas

"Second Empire style building designed by famed Texas courthouse architect Wesley Clarke Dodson. It burned down on April 15, 1912. (The date on the plaque in the picture is incorrect.)" - Terry Jeanson

Cleburne TX - 1883 Johnson County Courthouse by W.C. Dodson
1883 Johnson County courthouse designed by W.C. Dodson.
Photo courtesy THC
Cleburne TX - 1883 Johnson County Courthouse old post card
1883 Johnson County Courthouse
1910 Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/%7Etxpstcrd/
Cleburne TX - 1883 Johnson County Courthouse  stone
"While the rest of the country was waking up to the news about the sinking of the Titanic, the citizens of Cleburne were dealing with their own catastrophe as they witnessed the burning of the 1883 Johnson County courthouse. This stone is all that remains." - Terry Jeanson
More Texas Pitted Dates
Cleburne TX - 1883 Johnson County Courthouse plaque
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, February 2008
Cleburne TX - 1883 Johnson County Courthouse  mural
Rendering of the 1883 Johnson County courthouse.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, February 2008
Cleburne TX - 1869 Johnson County log cabin courthouse
"Rendering of the 1854 log cabin that served as the first Johnson County courthouse in the first county seat of Wardville. It still stands at the Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum west of Lake Pat Cleburne. Burned by arson in May of 2007, it was restored and reopened in December of 2007." - Terry Jeanson
Cleburne Tx - Johnson County Centennial Marker

Johnson County Centennial Marker
2nd and Hillsboro Street, Cleburne City Park, Cleburne
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, October 2009
More Texas Centennial Markers

Cleburne TX - Johnson County Courthouse restoration
Johnson County courthouse undergoing restoration
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September 2006
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