KAUFMAN COUNTY’S FIRST THREE COURT HOUSES
On April 17,1851, the townsite of Kaufman was deeded by Francis A. Tabor to special commissioners who had been appointed to lay out the county seat of Kaufman County. The first lots were sold shortly thereafter. The county government moved to the new town in November, 1851 and soon made arrangements for a place to hold court. G. R. Paschal was paid by the county commissioners for having repaired a building in which to hold court in November, 1851. By February, 1852, a building existed which was clearly designated to be the court house, since the commissioners provided that certain elec- tions would be held “at the Court House in the Town of Kaufman.”
This first court house was not on the court house square, instead, it was on the southwest corner of Washington and Mulberry Streets. The one-room, frame structure measured twenty by thirty feet, had two windows, and was heated by a single fireplace. Not surprisingly, this structure soon became too small for the needs of the county; moreover, beginning in 1856, the court house required frequent and expensive repairs. Consequently, the commissioners arranged to have plans drawn for a new court house in October, 1858.
Bids for the construction of the new court house were recieved in January, 1859. Hugh Yarbrough of Tyler had the best bid, and the contract was made final in August, 1859. Brick for the building was made in Kaufman, while the lumber probably was from Henderson county.
By April, 1861, the second court house of Kaufman County was complete. It was a two story brick building forty-four feet square. The court room was upstairs, while four offices were downstairs. The northeast corner room was for the County Clerk, the southeast was for the District Clerk, and the two western rooms were for the Sheriff and the County Surveyor, but were reserved for juries during District Court.
On April 12,1861, the county commissioners voted to accept the court house for $5,800 which was $525 less than the contract price. Chief Justice Cary Cobb thought the building was worth even less than that. He argued that the foundation, bricks, mortar, roof timbers, shingles, and the lumber used in the stairway were all of inferior material. In fact, the commissioners had earlier declared that the brick was unsatisfactory. Despite Cobb’s protest, the commissioners upheld the price of $5,800 and moved into the court house on May 20, 1861.
Almost immediately, Cobb’s worst fears came true. In August, 1861, after only three months of use, the roof of the court house was leaking. In November, 1861, the commissioners set aside $150 to buy iron to brace the building. These efforts were not successful, so the court house was abandoned in November, 1862. A special committee, after examining the building, found that it was unsafe for public use on December 9, 1862.
The old wooden court house still stood, but it had been sold to M.G.L. Morris in June, 1861; consequently, the county government had no place to go when the brick court house was abandoned. For a few months, the offices of Dr. W. H. Pyle were rented. The county was fortunate that M.G.L. Morris had never paid his note on the old court house, for on May 21,1863, the note was cancelled, and the county got the wooden court house back. After some repairs were made to the building, the county officials moved to it in July, 1863.
The wooden court house, the county’s first, continued its second life throughout the rest of the Civil War, but by June, 1868, it was unsuitable for use. The Presbyterian Church, which then stood on the southwest corner of Houston and Barnes streets, was rented for holding court from August, 1868 to October, 1870. The Methodist Church, which was in the same location as the present one, was used for District Court in February, 1871 and for Grand Jury in June, 1871. The wooden court house was sold again in May, 1870, and burned on April 17, 1883 when it was housing a blacksmith shop.
During the time that the courts were being held in the churches, the county was building its third court house. In July, 1869, James Brown, a carpenter in Kaufman, was awarded the contract to build a new court house. Although the court house was used for court purposes after June, 1871, it was not completed until August 27, 1872. This third court house was a large, two-story frame building and was fifty feet square. Inside, on the first floor, there were four twenty by twenty foot offices for the County Judge, County Clerk, Commissioners’ Court, Sheriff, and the Tax Assessor and Collector. The single upper room was the court room.
Although this two-story court house was the largest one that the county had had so far, it soon proved to be too small. Further, because the court house was wooden, fires were constant threats. In 1875, a brick office for the County Clerk was built on the square next to the court house. The Clerk’s Office suffered the same fate that the brick court house had; it soon cracked and had to be braced. The commissioners also had two offices built in the upper story of the court house in 1878 to relieve the crowded condi- tions downstairs.
The concern for fires continued, and after an election in September, 1885 determined that Kaufman would remain the county seat, the commissioners voted, in December, 1885, to build a new, fireproof, stone court house. The architectural firm of Dodson and Dudley of Waco designed the new building, and the firm of Aubrey, Solon, and Laude were awarded the construction contract. The frame court house was moved to the lot at the corner Cherry and Washington streets, beside the jail, in March, 1886 and was used there while the new court house was under construction. In July, 1887, the new court house was accepted, and the frame court house, Kaufman county’s third, was demolished.
by Justin M. Sanders from Kaufman County History Vol II
Copyright Kaufman County Historical Commission 1984
OLD STONE COURTHOUSE
Judge J. E. Dillard, by instruction of the county commissioners, advertised for sealed bids to erect a stone courthouse for Kaufman County. ” The building is to be constructed out of good stone , each stone being personally inspcted by the architect Mr. Dunson of Waco. The building is to be 98 x 114 feet. The outside walls are to be 60 feet high. From the ground to the top of the tower will be 124 feet. The base of the walls will be six feet wide, laid in cement and gravel two feet thick. The foundation stones will be six feet long and one foot thick and laid cross ways. The foundation will be of the very best quality of blue limestone up to the first water table, about four feet. The walls, in and outside, all the way to roof, will be of good stone two feet thick. The corner stones will be of White Kaoline – a very beautiful rock, susceptable of a fine finish. The stairways are to be of iron, excepting those in the tower. There will be three stories – county and district court rooms and clerk’s offices and grand jury room. The building will be a facsimile of the Weatherford courthouse save the corners and height of tower, which will be six feet highter than the Weatherford courthouse tower. In the tower there will be a place for a clock, but as yet the court will not buy a clock. The building is to be completed by October Ist 1887. After that date, if the building is not completed according to contract and specifications, a forfeit of fifteen dollars a day will be deducted from cost.”
The commissioners court convened and opened the sealed bids ranging from $67,965.00 to $87,000.00. Low bidder did not accompany his bid by a bond, hence the next lowest bidder was given the contract in the amount of $69,569.00 to Aubrey, Solan and Laude.
Plans were soon underway for a beautiful new courthouse on the square at Kaufman. The old courthouse was to be moved to an adjoining vacant lot by Mr. John Bryant of Dallas for $450.00. Court will be held in it while the new courthouse is being built. In the March 25, 1886 issue of the Kaufman Sun “Mr. John Bryant of Dallas took hold of the old courthouse Saturday and moved it to the middle of the street. By this evening he will have it located on the jail block, just in front of the jail, where it will remain until the new courthouse is completed, then it will be removed to the poor farm and remodeled into a county hospitol.” In August of 1884 the old jail had been moved to the county farm and a brand new stone jail was built.
On July 9, 1887 the new courthouse was accepted and county officers ordered to move into it. This grand old stone building was to serve the county for over seventy years.
The clock as mentioned in the specifications was never installed, at least one that had works. The dome with the artificial clocks was removed around 1900 after being struck by lightning several times. The Confederate monument of General Robert E. Lee was erected in 1911 with funds raised by the Daughters of the Confederacy.
The old stone building was torn down early in 1955 and way was made for a modern two story building. The Confederate monument base and statue were removed for its protection while the old building was being torn down. The monument was polished and replaced on the court yard of the new courthouse.
Ground breaking ceremonies were conducted in March of 1955 at the site of the new Kaufman County Courthouse. Former County Judge Fred W. Bankhead, who was the County Judge when the new building was authorized and the contract let in late December of 1954, turned the first shovel of dirt. Members of the Commissioners’ Court during the planning stage were Oscar Garner, L. E. Bragg, 0. C. Phillips and Harvie Easterly, presided over by Judge Bankhead.
by Marie Reasonover
from Kaufman County History Vol II
Copyright Kaufman County Historical Commission 1984