County seat - Decatur,
by Sam Fenstermacher
County Seat - Decatur
County Population (2000) 48,793
Architect J. Riely Gordon
Designation National Register Listing - 1976
Texas Historic Landmark - 1963
first known inhabitants of Wise County were probably Wichita Indians. When the
Coronado expedition came through the area of present Decatur in 1540, there were
several Indian villages between the Trinity and Red rivers. The history of white
settlement in Wise County began with Sam Woody who moved to Deep Creek in 1854,
and his original log cab remains as a historic site today in what is now Cooke
Wise County was officially established by The Texas Legislature
on January 23, 1856 with land drawn mostly from Cooke County, and was named in
honor of Henry A. Wise, a United States Congressman from Virginia who had supported
the annexation of Texas. The location of the county seat of Wise County was selected
by a county election and, although the town was originally named Taylorsville
early town pioneer Colonel Absolam Bishop petitioned to change the town's name
to Decatur after becoming disappointed with President Zachary Taylor. Decatur
remains the seat of Wise County government to the present.
County Courthouse today|
Photo courtesy Sam Fenstermacher, March, 2004
The courthouse as it appeared in 1940
Photo Courtesy of TXDoT
present courthouse is the forth constructed in the county. The third courthouse
was destroyed by fire on January 8, 1895. The burning of the third courthouse
set off a controversy over the location of the county seat. An election was held
in November of 1895 to see if the new courthouse should be constructed at a new
location. Voters confirmed by a wide margin that Decatur was to remain the county
Plans for a courthouse were accepted from several architects, but
on May 10, 1895 the contract was awarded to San Antonio architect J. Riely Gordon
who agreed to also superintend the project for a fee of 5% of construction cost.
The contract for construction was awarded to J.A. White who had the lowest bid
of $95,000. Construction was to begin before June 1, 1895. In January of 1897,
the building was completed and received by the commissioners court for a cost
of about $110,000.
The Wise County Courthouse is one of several designed
by architect J. Riely Gordon in Texas in the last years of the nineteenth century.
This courthouse is often compared to the Ellis
County Courthouse in Waxahachie Texas. Like that building, the Wise County
Courthouse is based on the cruciform plan and the Romanesque Revival architectural
style which were both used with great success by J. Riely Gordon in Texas.
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used on the courthouse exterior include Texas granite in two colors and terra
cotta used extensively in the friezes, turrets and dormers. Marble wainscots,
stone flooring of contrasting color tiles, and oak doors and trim accent the interior.
A winding cast iron staircase in the building's center provides access to the
upper floors. Good natural ventilation and lighting are provided by a glass skylight.|
The interior of the Wise County Courthouse was remodeled in 1960, but the
exterior of the building still retains most of its original details. The building's
exterior was sandblasted several years ago in an effort to clean it up and modern
plate glass windows and entrance doors were installed. These minor changes while
not in keeping with the history of the building do little to detract from this
charming old courthouse and the surrounding town square. Anyone who's a fan of
old Texas county courthouses or the architectural works of J. Riely Gordon should
certainly consider a trip to come and see this grand old building.
Wise County on the Web - http://www.wisecounty.com/
of Texas Online. http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/WW/hcw14.html,
Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas., 2003.
Copyright © 2004 by Sam Fenstermacher
All rights reserved