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Titus County

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Texas | Architecture | Courthouses

County Seat - Mount Pleasant, Texas

The Ugliest Courthouse in Texas

Inside a modern monster,
a 19th Century beauty is crying to come out.

by Johnny Stucco

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Titus County has technically had five courthouses. Four of them built prior to 1870. The fifth (and current) courthouse dates from 1895, although you'd never know it. Looking like a cross between the Battleship Texas and and a geometrically-challenged Mexican pyramid, the Titus County Courthouse is one you'll never forget.
1895 Titus County courthouse, Mount Pleasant, Texas
The 1895 Titus County courthouse today
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, December 2006
Sometimes, facts need facing. Some buildings are just plain ugly. To borrow a phrase from Susan DuQuesnay Bankston, some buildings are so ugly "they'll wrinkle your pants if you walk in front of them." The current Titus County Courthouse is one of these. Calling it "The Ugliest Courthouse in Texas" is not done to be cruel - nor is it just our opinion. The words spring involuntarily from the lips of most first-time viewers. We've even heard it from several Titus Countians, and in fact, its ugliness is sometimes bragged about.

Why are we writing about it? For one thing it's three hours to quitting time and for another, people love an ugly-duckling story (even if it's in reverse).

The building started out as a rather above-average building when it was first built in 1895. If you think of courthouses as schoolgirls, then the 1895 courthouse was the girl next door. Pretty, but not fancy. It was a composite of typical contemporary designs. It wasn't a "wedding-cake" courthouse and it wasn't ostentatious.
Mount Pleasant Texas - Titus County Courthouse Texas before remodelling
The 1895 design
Postcard circa 1909, courtesy THC
The primary purpose of a courthouse isn't to look good. It's to provide a place for justice to be administered and to keep juries out of the rain. And while we're on the subject of inclement weather, we'd like to say that in Texas, it was a major factor in courthouse design. After the first six or eight towers were blown off their moorings, some counties got smart and voluntarily dismantled them before disaster struck. By the time the Great Depression made it's appearance, many courthouses in Texas had already been altered to the Moderne style - which was in vogue at the time. Efficient and modern streamlining = good. Ornamentation and decoration = bad. The Federal Government needed to create make-work projects and what better place to start a make-work project than in the center of town?

All across Texas Beaux-arts and Victorian masterpieces were dismantled or destroyed to make way for the clean, sleek lines of Moderne and Art Deco. Here in Titus County, however, the courthouse wasn't razed. County commissioners figured it was easier and less costly to remove just enough of the old so it could be covered by the new.
Mount Pleasant Texas - Titus County Courthouse Texas after remodeling
Titus County Courthouse after the 1940 remodeling
Photo courtesy TXDoT, 1940
Mount Pleasant Texas - Titus County Courthouse Texas
Another view of the Titus County Courthouse in the 1940s
Photo courtesy THC
In 1940 the courthouse received the first of several remodelings. It was new and shiny and people just knew that they would get used to it - given enough time.
Titus County courthouse and square, Mount Pleasant, Texas, 1940s
Titus County Courthouse and square in the 1940s
Postcard courtesy rootsweb.com/
Then, in the early 1960s, when the country was in the throes of "urban renewal" fever, another remodeling took place. This nearly windowless design was completed by 1962 and had all the success of an operation performed to correct bad plastic surgery. A third remodeling was done in 1990 and by then this architectural Frankenstein was gaining a statewide reputation.
Mount Pleasant Texas - Titus County Courthouse Texas after 1962 remodeling
Titus County Courthouse after the 1962 remodeling
Photo circa 1965, courtesy rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
Oscar Wilde once said "The one thing worse than being talked about - is not being talked about" and so we're happy that Titus County has its distinctive landmark. Perhaps the next time a make-work project is needed, County Commissioners can peel off the layers of progress and reveal a hardly-used beauty.
Ector County Courthouse,  Odessa, Texas
The current Ector County Courthouse encasing the 1938 courthouse
Postcard courtesy THC
The second ugliest courthouse in Texas? Our survey isn't complete, but according to exit polls, the Ector County Courthouse of Odessa is a front-runner.

Coincidentally, it is another "severely improved building" - an 1938 design encased under a new facade.

© John Troesser

Titus County Courthouse Update

The Bell Tower

by Bob Bowman
("All Things Historical")
Bob Bowman
In the mid-1890s, as Titus County completed its fifth and present courthouse at Mount Pleasant, county officials hung a large bell in a tower atop the building.

As it tolled the hours and half-hours, the bell became a beloved fixture in the town. From the bell’s sounds, people set their clocks, opened their businesses and planned their schedules.
Mount Pleasant Texas - Titus County Courthouse Texas before remodelling
The 1895 Titus County Courthouse
Postcard circa 1909, courtesy THC
But in 1940, the county removed the bell tower to add a fourth floor and in the sixties slapped an aluminum skin on the courthouse, earning it the title of “the ugliest courthouse in Texas.”
Titus County courthouse and square, Mount Pleasant, Texas, 1940s
Titus County Courthouse after the 1940 remodeling
Postcard courtesy rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
Although the bell no longer rang out the hours and half-hours, it was placed behind a glass case on the first floor of the courthouse.

But, thanks to Claude Alexander and the Titus County Historical Commission, the bell will soon ring again across Mount Pleasant’s courthouse square.

To build a new, free-standing bell tower and an electronic operating system to ring the bell, the Commission and others are putting together a $60,000 pot. County officials are putting up 42% of the cost, the City of Mount Pleasant is paying 20%, and the remaining funds are coming largely from engraved bricks.

To understand the bell tower project and the part that brick sales has to do with it, one must first know a little history of the Titus County courthouse.

The first courthouse was a log house built in 1847 on the present courthouse square. The second courthouse was built in the early 1850’s and the third came in the heels of the second in 1859 and lasted only eight years.

The fourth courthouse was built after 1867, but burned just after midnight on September 21, 1895. Local legend has it that a county employee was trying to cover up something and did so by burning down the whole building.

Luckily, the county had just finished a two-story fireproof vault. The county clerk and a helper had carried an armload of records into the vault after closing time on September 20, and all the remaining records were to be moved into the vault the next morning.

The county’s records prior to 1895 were destroyed, but individuals who had personal copies of deeds re-filed them with the county.
Mount Pleasant Texas - Titus County Courthouse Texas after 1962 remodeling

Titus County Courthouse after the 1962 remodeling
Photo circa 1965, courtesy rootsweb.com/

After the county’s ill-fated experience with aluminum siding in the sixties, the metal skin was removed in the 1990s and the building was restored to its 1940s appearance--much to the relief of everyone.

If you’re interested in buying a brick for the bell tower, get in touch with Claude Alexander at 903-572-2897.

All Things Historical
November 15, 2005 Column
(Distributed by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman of Lufkin is a past president of the Association and the author of more than 30 books about East Texas.)

Titus County Courthouse fire of 1895

"The Titus County Courthouse fire of 1895 was not set by a employee to cover anything up. It was set on fire to break one of the Belcher boys out of jail for murder. They where my 4th great grandfather and 4th great uncle. They both ran to Oklahoma after that. This story has been in our family for a long time. My mother knows the names of the two who ran to Oklahoma.... I hope you can find this correction useful on the courthouse fire of 1895." - Respectfully, Sgt, Edward B. Carter, Platoon Leader, Delta Co., 2nd Battalion, 19th Regiment, April 24, 2017

Mount Pleasant, Texas
Titus County
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