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Texas | Architecture | Courthouses

LEON COUNTY COURTHOUSE
County Seat - Centerville, Texas

Leon County has had three courthouses: 1847, 1858, and 1886.

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Leon County Courthouse, Centerville Texas
Leon County Courthouse
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, December, 2008

Leon County Courthouse
- Centerville, Texas

Date - 1886
Architect - William Johnson
Style - Renaissance Revival
Material - Brick

The 1886 Courthouse stands next to the Leon County Jail on the square. A misunderstanding between county commissioners and the contractor resulted in the cost being almost double of the estimate.
The 1858 Courthouse burned in 1886 and was replaced.

Only the 1886 courthouse is still standing. The front side of the Courthouse faces Saint Mary's (Texas 7.)

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Leon County Courthouse & jail, Centerville Texas
"Southwest corner of the courthouse. The bushes, a pine tree and other foliage were removed during restoration. The building at the far right in this picture is the old 1913 county jail."
- Terry Jeanson, December, 2008 photo

1886 LEON COUNTY COURTHOUSE

PHOTOGRAPHER’S NOTE
A framed invitation in one of the offices of this courthouse reads, “In 1887, Leon County had a new courthouse! In 2007, 120 years later, Leon County dedicates their restored courthouse!” The celebration on July 1, 2007 brought to a close a seven year effort to restore this historic building.

During my first visit to Centerville in August of 2005, I discovered the courthouse closed to visitors and in poor condition. A woman at the Chamber of Commerce informed me that the building was condemned. The outer brick walls were being supported by steel beams to keep them from bulging outwards any further and the front entrance portico was badly deteriorated. The building is now in pristine condition and is once again open to serve Leon County citizens.

Built during the “golden age” of courthouse construction, the box-shaped building does not have the grand features of other Texas county courthouses of that time and reflects an earlier era of Texas county courthouse design. This in no way deters from the building’s appeal, but only enhances its uniqueness among the collection of the state’s historic county courthouses. The style, referred to as Renaissance Revival or Greek Revival, is characterized by repetitive features, especially around the windows. Although architect William Johnson’s name is on the building’s cornerstone, other sources, including the Texas Historical Commission, credit Houston architect George Edwin Dickey for the building’s design. It was built on the same plot of land as the previous courthouse which burned down in November of 1885. Some of the bricks from the former courthouse, which were locally made, were used in the current courthouse.

The interior restoration of the courthouse is probably more impressive than the exterior. I was fortunate enough to meet Leon County Judge Byron Ryder during my visit and he gave me a short tour and informed me about some of the building’s features. The ceilings, which had never been lowered, are 16’ high on the first floor and 20’ high in the courtroom. (The judge also said that the attic is very large, but he has never personally been in it.) Just about every inch of wood on the interior is original and has been restored, including the staircase, the floors, the wainscoting and the ceiling. The wooden wainscoting has been restored to its original dual color scheme and the building’s many fireplaces have also been restored, although no longer functional. According to the Centerville News (7/4/2007,) the courthouse was restored to its 1906 condition, which included jury boxes on each side of the courtroom." Judge Ryder explained that this was done so that the jury could sit on the shady side of the courthouse, depending on the time of day. Some of the modern additions to the courtroom include removable cushions for the wooden benches in the gallery and a thick sheet of bulletproof glass behind the judge’s bench which sits over the front entrance. Additional and updated restrooms, along with the building’s first elevator, have also been installed. There are also two steel vaults displayed in the courthouse which survived the fire that destroyed the 1858 building. Judge Ryder has one of them in his office which he uses as his personal filing cabinet. A hand-painted sign in the glass transom over the judge’s office door (which says “Tax Collector”) has also been restored along with other transoms in the front offices.

Judge Ryder said that the main reason the courthouse never received a modern overhaul was simply that the county could never afford it, which was actually beneficial during their restoration efforts. Before leaving, I asked him if he thought that the restoration of the courthouse was worth all the time and expense. He did not hesitate to say, “Yes!” It was pretty obvious from what I witnessed during my visit that everyone was pretty happy with the results and very proud of their historic courthouse. - Terry Jeanson, December, 2008

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Leon County Courthouse, Centerville Texas
Leon County courthouse after restoration
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, December, 2008
Leon County courthouse, Centerville, Texas
Leon County courthouse as it appeared in 1939
Photo courtesy TXDoT
Leon County Courthouse portico, Centerville Texas
Leon County Courthousethe front entrance portico before restoration (left, August, 2005) and after restoration (right, December, 2008.)
- Terry Jeanson
Leon County Courthouse main staircase, Centerville Texas.
Courthouse main staircase.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, December, 2008
Leon County Courthouse district courtroom Judge's bench, Centerville Texas
"The judge's dais, with a thick sheet of bulletproof glass in the window behind the judge's chair. The district courtroom on the second floor has a twenty foot high ceiling."
- Terry Jeanson, December, 2008 photo
Leon County Courthouse Judge's bench, Centerville Texas
The judge's bench before restoration
TE Photo, 2001
Leon County Courthouse jury box, Centerville Texas
Restored jury box on the east side of the district courtroom.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, December, 2008
Jury box in Leon County Courthouse, Centerville Texas
The jury box before restoration.
TE Photo, 2001
Leon county courthouse vault, Centerville Texas
"One of the steel vaults, saved from the previous courthouse, still contains books and documents from the early days of Leon County."
Terry Jeanson, December, 2008
Leon County Courthouse columns, Centerville Texas
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, December, 2008
Leon County courthouse cornerstone
The Courthouse Cornerstone.
TE photo, 2000
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