Tarrant County, TXGenWeb

1876 Court House Fire


Early Records Lost

Most of Tarrant County's early records were destroyed by a courthouse fire in 1876. The following is an abstract of an article appearing in the Fort Worth Democrat, Issue of April 1, 1876 [Saturday]

Wednesday morning between 4 and 5 o'clock, the Court House was discovered to be on fire and burning rapidly. Mr. Joel Hancock, constable of precinct No. 8, Mr. G. W. Roy, constable of precinct No. 2 and another person were sleeping in the office of Chief Justice Morris in the south-west upper corner of the building, and were the first to discover the fire and give the alarm. The city was soon aroused and the Hook & Ladder Company and citizens were on hand, but the fire had made such headway that it was impossible to check the progress. The fire originated in the southeast corner of the building but it is not known whether it was the first or second floor. According to Mr. Hancock, Mr. King and others who were first on the scene, it is believed that it originated in the lower room - the office of the clerk of the District Court, the records of which were totally destroyed. Court was in session, and Mr. Miller, a deputy, who had been writing up the minutes of the court, had left the courthouse about two o'clock, carefully putting out all lights and pouring water on the fires in the courtroom fire places. The books and papers of the District Court, which were being used, were a complete loss. The records and papers of the surveyor's office, those of the sheriff's office and a portion of those of the Chief Justice's office were saved. The loss to the county, in its records, is incalculable, as is that of the parties who had causes in litgation in court, as the papers and minutes were destroyed. A few days ago, Judge Cummings had moved his library into the office of the Chief Justice and it was burned. His loss will be about eight hundred dollars. Capt. Greene lost a number of books and papers. Justice Morris's docket being destroyed, he will lose a thousand dollars or more. The Presbyterian Church had been using the Courthouse as a place of worship and their fine organ, seats, and Sabbath School Library, were a total loss, amounting to about four hundred and fifty dollars. Time and time again, the Democrat has called the attention of the County Court to the unsafe condition of the court records, and urged the necessity of a fire-proof vault for their security. Communications from citizens on this subject have been published [in the paper] and grand juries have recommended it, but no action has ever been taken. The warning has fallen on indifferent or unwilling ears. The experience of the thirty odd counties in the State whose records have been destroyed in the last ten or twelve years, has profited us nothing, and we can only lock the stable after the horse has been stolen. The burned building has cost the county very little except for repairs. It was erected by the citizens of this place, headed by Capt. E. M. Daggett, many years ago, when the county seat was removed to this place from Birdville. The Courthouse was of stone and its huge solid walls that now stand blackened and charred, can be utilized in erecting a new temple of justice. Had the records been saved, the loss would have been slight, as better workmanship and modern improvements used in rebuilding would compensate for the loss incurred.

The surviving records, housed in the office of the Chief Justice [county judge] are those having to do with estates of deceased persons. Follow this link for information pertaining to those Early Probate Records that escaped the flames.

This page was last modified 4 Sep 2002.

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