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Texas | Architecture | Courthouses

Dignity, Decorum and Justice
Mark Texas' Courthouse Histories,
Except for the Fights, Arsons, Thefts, etc

by Bill Morgan
(Bill Morgan recalls the more interesting stories, characters, incidents, trips, facts, trivia and what-not he picked up during his on-going odyssey among the courthouses of Texas, the state that has twice as many landmark courthouses as its nearest challenger and that is not a Texas brag, just a Texas fact.)

Editor's Note: Bill Morgan, retired Texas newspaperman, famed courthouse artist and courthouse aficianado has probably spent more hours studying the exterior of courthouses than most judges have spent studying the crown moulding or lighting fixtures of their courtrooms.

The 1910 Harris County Courthouse, Houston, Texas
The 1910 Harris County Courthouse in Houston
1939 Photo courtesy TXDoT

There's nowhere better to get a feel of Texas' heritage than the nearest courthouse, whether it's in the middle of Houston (pop. 1,603,524), Mentone (pop. 50 estimated) or any of the state's other 252 county seats. The county courthouse is often magnificent, the county history is often scandalous.

First, the magnificent. Simple arithmetic proves that Texas has more old courthouses than any other state. The state's 254 counties are home to more than 210 standing current or former courthouses that date from 1861 to the late 1930s. Georgia has the second-most counties in the USA with 159. So Texas has 5l more antebellum to pre-World War II courthouses than the No. 2 state has total courthouses. That's the end of that argument.

Proving the scandalous part might require a few more details. After chasing around Texas courthouses since the late 1980s, I have the details. A sampling of examples:

How about the dog that ate all the evidence at a theft trial, while the participants duked it out in a fist fight? Or the bull that butted down a courthouse? Want to know the names of the horses whose votes carried more than one election? Incidentally, the horses' names were spelled correctly, while at least ten, maybe as many as 14, Texas county and county seat names are misspelled? Have you heard about the town that won a county-seat election because it allowed pigs to roam its streets?

Time out for another Texas brag - the Texas Legislature created more counties (54) in one day (August 21,1876) than there are in 19 other entire states. Did you know that wars were fought over where courthouses would be built? Or that arson was an effective way to move a county seat from one town to another - just burn 'er down and set up shop down the road? And a few less-than-scholarly Texans thought a courthouse-leveling fire would eliminate indictments, get rid of incriminating cattle brands or make other nagging felonies and misdemeanors go away.

The list goes on, so let's dispense with the roll call and get into a few particulars. A disclaimer: these tales only scratch the surface. There are enough to fill a book - I know because I filled a book I called Old Friends: Great Texas Courthouses with these and dozens of other equally improbable tales of a state coming of age.


Page 2
Animal Rites - All right, who ate the pig's ears?

One Man, One Vote (Maybe Two)
Anybody Got a Match?
What's in a Name?
The Artists in Brick, Stone and Mortar



Texas grew up riding horses and herding cattle, so it's not surprising that farm and ranch critters played a big role in the building of the ornate courthouses of the late 1800s ... Page 2


Bill Morgan
June 9, 2005

More Texas Courthouses
Recommended Book
Old Friends: Great Texas Courthouses

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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