Texas has 254 county courthouses. Many are historic landmarks that turn the abstract concept of law into handsome sights. Many of the state’s most beautiful courthouses are in North Texas. These five are certainly worth your time.
An unusual structure comprising Second Empire, Romanesque Revival, and Italianate styles, the eclecticism of the Denton County courthouse rewards the studious eye. It stars an eight-sided clock tower and four corner balconies, and its various colors range from gray sandstone from Mineral Wells to limestone mostly from a nearby quarry, and eighty-two red granite columns from Burnet County.
The building houses the free Courthouse-on-the-Square museum, which tells the story of 19th-century life in the Denton area and hosts monthly lectures. Fantastic shops surrounded the courthouse, too — Recycled Books and Music, for instance, and Jupiter House Coffee.
The courthouse was completed in 1896; renovations were completed in 2004. Town and county founder John B. Denton’s final resting place is marked at the southeast corner of the courthouse lawn.
In 1890, when county officials wanted to make a statement about the area’s cultural and economic importance, they commissioned “Old Red,” the enormous Dallas courthouse. The Richardson Romanesque-style building, which stands on land Dallas founder John Neely Bryan donated, is an undeniably large mass of Pecos red sandstone and Texas red granite (Arkansas blue granite trims the exterior).
The courthouse, completed in 1893, cost $300,000, only to be criticized in the 1940s as an “architectural monstrosity” and “a decayed monument to the grandiose and ornate taste of the 1890s.” Make up your own mind by gazing at the building’s intricacies — the four faces of the 90-foot-tall clock tower, for instance, or the perched terra cotta wyverns — then go inside to visit the Old Red Museum of Dallas County History and Culture, which explores Dallas’s past through touch screens, mini theatres, and more.
The Tarrant County courthouse sits on a high bluff overlooking the Trinity River, near the location of the city’s original military fort. At first, Tarrant County commissioners hoped their impressive, four-story Renaissance Revival structure would one-up Dallas’s courthouse. By its 1895 completion, however, the Tarrant County courthouse had gone over budget to $408,380, and the commissioners were voted out of office.
The building’s exterior pink granite walls come from the same quarry as the State Capitol, and the two-hundred-foot tower is made of copper-covered iron. Inside, painted glass domes adorn the ceiling beneath the two wings and the central tower. Tragedy struck the courthouse in 1992 when attorney George Lott opened fire on the fourth floor; he was later found guilty and executed. The building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
On US Highway 180, travelers circling the center of the “Peach Capital of Texas” see a familiar beacon: Weatherford’s Parker County courthouse. This Second Empire-style building, constructed from locally quarried limestone, deserves a closer look than it gets from a car.
Completed in 1886 at a cost of $55,555.55, the building contains one of the largest courtrooms in Texas, multiple paintings, and a decorative wood floor that uses intersecting lines to identify the county’s precise center. Though impressive from a distance, the bell tower’s steep climb from the mansard roof can be best appreciated while standing up close. The building was restored in 2003.
Thousands attended the July 4, 1895 barbeque picnic to celebrate the laying of the Ellis County courthouse cornerstone. By the next election, however, when the cost of the nine-story, 23,000-plus square foot courthouse had reached $175,000, citizens voted every county commissioner and the county judge out of office.
Completed in 1897 and constructed entirely out of Texas materials — 160 carloads of Burnet County red granite, 100 carloads of Pecos red sandstone, and other materials — the Ellis County courthouse, a Richardson Romanesque building, features four arched corner entrances carefully oriented toward north, east, south, and west.
Itinerant German stonemasons carved the exterior ornamentation, which includes 21 fanciful faces. Legend says they’re stonemason Harry Herley’s depictions of Mabel Frame, supposedly a local girl who spurned his love.