Symbols of prosperity and progress for an ever-growing state, Texas courthouses were once seen by locals as a proud icon of their county's development. These structures helped to lure settlers and merchants from abroad in hopes of expanding the county's population, economy and influence. In many ways each county considered itself its own country, as counties competed for people as well as a "claim to fame." To meet the rapid growth of some counties, numerous Texas courthouses played many roles, serving not only as a place to settle legal issues but as dancehalls, churches, meeting places and schools.
The dawn of the railroad age brought more growth to the state. The railroad played a pivotal role in the development of Texas and many times would either make or break a county. If the railroad would miss a county, the county would develop much slower, and once bustling communities sometimes became ghost towns. Competition between towns for county seat were often as commonplace as the illegal activities surrounding their establishment. Voter fraud, courthouse arson, record theft and small local battles occurred frequently during many a county's early history.
The Texas Legislature enacted a bill in the 1800s stating that with a petition consisting of only 150 names, a county could be created. Although this was done to encourage more settlement and organization in a sparsely populated state, it also made it easier for counties to be created with fictitious names. Castro and Haskell are counties that owe their creation in part to the names of animals and weary travelers.
The Texas courthouse boom of the late 1800s helped to bring in famous architects from Europe and the eastern United States. Architects such as J. Riely Gordon, W.C. Dodson, Alfred Giles, A.N. Dawson and Oscar and Frederick Ruffini became famous around the state. With these architects came designs such as Second Empire, Romanesque Revival, Renaissance Revival, Texas Renaissance Revival, Classical Revival and Beaux Arts. More modern designs such as Art-Deco and Contemporary followed later in the 20th century. These styles reflected the character of not only the designer, but the people of the county as well, since most architects were hired by the ballot of local residents who favored one style over another.
Today these landmarks represent the past and the present. Much history rests in these courthouses as well as the people and events surrounding them. Stories abound about the courthouses across the states' 254 counties and 266,807 square miles. These stories add to the unique flavor called Texas History. Today many county residents still have a deep felt love and admiration for their courthouses, so much so that several counties have raised money to help rebuild or renovate their beloved capitals. An excellent example of "Texas Pride" at work concerns the rebuilding of the Hill County courthouse, which was recently rebuilt for 10 million dollars of public and private money. The original structure was destroyed by a tragic fire in 1993 and the new Hill County capital was dedicated by Governor George Bush in 1999. Governor Bush recently introduced the Courthouse Preservation Initiative which allocates government funds to rebuild and protect these symbols of justice, freedom and Texas heritage.
Below is a brief overview of Texas Courthouses and how they have helped to shape the state.
"Retired" means that the site is no longer known as the primary county courthouse. Some courthouses are abandoned, others are museums, while some are still home to other county offices and others are privately owned.