The Courthouses of Navarro County, Texas


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The Courthouses of Navarro County
by W. P. Murchison
Originally published in "The Navarro County Scroll", Vol. XX, 1975
Reprinted with permission of the Navarro County Historical Society

A courthouse is a building, owned by a county, where court is held, where county business is transacted, and where county records are kept.  Since its creation 130 years ago, Navarro County has had a number of such buildings.  The cornerstone at the front entrance of our present courthouse refers to six courthouses, the first of which was at the home of W. R. Howe, in present Ellis County.  While the stone does not list them, I might mention that court has also been held in the McKinney Tavern in Cedar Hall, in Thomas J. Haynes' carpenter shop, in I. Baum's Third Avenue building and at several other temporary places.  With all due respect to the corner-stone, in order to give a true picture, I would omit these temporary make-shift locations and list only those buildings which were honest-to-goodness courthouse, and I would list the number at five.  The W. R. Howe home was a 3-room log cabin used as a private residence; furthermore, Ellis County was detached from Navarro County after three years, so I would not list the Howe home as a full-fledged courthouse.   The five courthouses, I would describe, are as follows:

No. 1, 1848 - 1853
The first courthouse was a log cabin, 16 x 17 feet, located at the southeast corner of West First Avenue and North Twelfth Street, designated on the official map as Block 13 lot 4.  The door faced west, there were no windows.  The judge sat in one corner, the clerk in the opposite corner  with a table on which there was a Bible.   There were no files, and the clerk kept the records in his pocket or at home, and when the jury deliberated they went outside under an old Postoak tree.  Judge John L. Miller described it as having cracks big enough to throw a wolf through.  As described on page 34, Daybook 1848, County Court, it was intended only as a temporary courthouse square.  It was built by J. A. Johnson, who happened to be sheriff at the time, at a cost of $100.00.  Besides court sessions, it was used for school classes, church meetings, and lodge meetings.  After being abandoned, the logs were taken out to the Fred Gray farm south of Corsicana and used for a corn crib.  The site of this original courthouse is now used by the Chick Reed Real Estate Agency.

No. 2, 1853 - 1855
Built on the present courthouse square, this was a frame 40 x 46 foot two story building with a cupola on top and was built by Thomas J. Haynes at a cost of $4,000.00.  Like other buildings at the time, the staircase was on the outside.  County records were kept on the first floor which included a reception area.  Courtroom was on the second floor.  This building was burned by arsonists November 14, 1855 to destroy indictment records.  As a result, all district court records were destroyed, but fortunately, most of the county clerk records, being on the first floor, were saved, thus preserving land titles.  County stock brand records go back to Aug. 17, 1846, but most of the records go back no further than 1850.  There are no District Court records prior to November 27, 1855.

No. 3, 1857 - 1880
The third courthouse was was a two-story brick building, approximately the same size as the previous building which had burned.  The building contract was for $10,000.00 was made with Thomas J. Haynes, also, but the actual construction was done by J. M. Riggs.   This building was used as a social center, for public meetings,  school, church services and dances, and a few of the rooms were rented to single men of the town.   After the Civil War, it was the governing center for Union occupying troops.   Corsicana citizens saw many sad things happen during the reconstruction period.   As population and business boomed during the '70's, the County Commissioners decided to meet the times by building a new courthouse which was started in 1880.

No. 4, 1881 - 1905
The next courthouse was probably the most beautiful and ornate of them all.  The architect was the well-known F. E. Ruffini of Austin and the contractor was the Texas Building Association Contractors, also of Austin. (Commissioners Court Minutes 1880 - 1882 up to page 79).  On May 10, 1880 the County Commissioners made a contract with these two Austin firms which called for building by nine stages, with consultation and settlement after each stage.  When the building was finished September 7, 1881, the total cost to the County was $43,500.  Original plans called for Corsicana red brick, but the architect persuaded a change to cream colored brick, made at Austin.  It was a most attractive looking building, but beauty is only skin deep.  The building was too small for the expanding times, and the shifting Corsicana soil treated the foundation like it has our streets, and the building was condemned about 23 1/2 years later.

No. 5, 1905 to Date
This is the courthouse which we are using at present.  As described on page 520 Vol. 6, Commissioner Court Minutes, a contract was made Saturday April 15, 1905 with the low bidder, General Supply & Construction Company of Fort Worth for $128,900.  The architect was J. E. Flanders of Dallas.  In order to vacate the courthouse square, the official location was moved to 111 W. Third Ave.  in a 100 x 125 foot building belonging I. Baum.  The present courthouse is 160 x 110 feet, with a basement and three stories, with a clock dome on top, made of re burnet granite and gray bricks with tile roof, comprising 40 rooms.  With special ceremonies, the two cornerstones were laid November 20, 1905, courthouse personnel started moving in, and the building was completed about the end of 1905.  Furniture and fixtures ran the cost up to approximately $175,000.  Being well planned, this building has afforded adequate space and facilities.  The building was renovated in 1964, when it was air-conditioned, central-heated, elevators added, and generally refurbished at a cost of $350,000, twice the original cost but a good example of inflated times.  This courthouse is serving the people of Navarro County very well.

 


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