County Seat - Decatur
County Population (2000) 48,793
Architect J. Riely Gordon
Designation National Register Listing - 1976
Texas Historic Landmark - 1963
The first known
inhabitants of Wise
County were probably Wichita Indians. When the Coronado expedition
came through the area of present Decatur in 1540, there were several
Indian villages between the Trinity and Red rivers. The history of
white settlement in Wise
County began with Sam Woody who moved to Deep Creek in 1854, and
his original log cab remains as a historic site today in what is now
Wise County was officially established by The Texas Legislature on
January 23, 1856 with land drawn mostly from Cooke
County, and was named in honor of Henry A. Wise, a United States
Congressman from Virginia who had supported the annexation of Texas.
The location of the county seat of Wise
County was selected by a county election and, although the town
was originally named Taylorsville early town pioneer Colonel Absolam
Bishop petitioned to change the town's name to Decatur
after becoming disappointed with President Zachary Taylor. Decatur
remains the seat of Wise
County government to the present.
as it appeared in 1940
The present courthouse
is the forth constructed in the county. The third courthouse was destroyed
by fire on January 8, 1895. The burning of the third courthouse set
off a controversy over the location of the county seat. An election
was held in November of 1895 to see if the new courthouse should be
constructed at a new location. Voters confirmed by a wide margin that
was to remain the county seat.
Plans for a courthouse were accepted from several architects, but
on May 10, 1895 the contract was awarded to San
Antonio architect J. Riely Gordon who agreed to also superintend
the project for a fee of 5% of construction cost. The contract for
construction was awarded to J.A. White who had the lowest bid of $95,000.
Construction was to begin before June 1, 1895. In January of 1897,
the building was completed and received by the commissioners court
for a cost of about $110,000.
The Wise County Courthouse is one of several designed by architect
J. Riely Gordon in Texas in the last years of the nineteenth century.
This courthouse is often compared to the Ellis
County Courthouse in Waxahachie
Texas. Like that building, the Wise County Courthouse is based
on the cruciform plan and the Romanesque Revival architectural style
which were both used with great success by J. Riely Gordon in Texas.
used on the courthouse exterior include Texas granite in two colors
and terra cotta used extensively in the friezes, turrets and dormers.
Marble wainscots, stone flooring of contrasting color tiles, and oak
doors and trim accent the interior. A winding cast iron staircase
in the building's center provides access to the upper floors. Good
natural ventilation and lighting are provided by a glass skylight.
The interior of the Wise County Courthouse was remodeled in 1960,
but the exterior of the building still retains most of its original
details. The building's exterior was sandblasted several years ago
in an effort to clean it up and modern plate glass windows and entrance
doors were installed. These minor changes while not in keeping with
the history of the building do little to detract from this charming
old courthouse and the surrounding town square. Anyone who's a fan
of old Texas
county courthouses or the architectural works of J. Riely Gordon
should certainly consider a trip to come and see this grand old building.
Wise County on the Web - http://www.wisecounty.com/
The Handbook of Texas Online. http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/WW/hcw14.html,
Texas Historical Commission, Texas Historic Sites Atlas., 2003.
Copyright © 2004 Sam
All rights reserved
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