Courthouse in Texas
by Johnny Stucco
Inside a modern monster,
a 19th Century beauty is crying to come out.
County has technically had five courthouses. Four of them built
prior to 1870. The fifth (and current) courthouse dates from 1895,
although you'd never know it. Looking like a cross between the Battleship
Texas and and a geometrically-challenged Mexican pyramid, the
Titus County Courthouse is one you'll never forget.
|The 1895 Titus
County courthouse today
Photo courtesy Terry
Jeanson, December 2006
Sometimes, facts need facing. Some buildings are just plain ugly.
To borrow a phrase from Susan DuQuesnay Bankston, some buildings are
so ugly "they'll wrinkle your pants if you walk in front of them."
The current Titus County Courthouse is one of these. Calling it "The
Ugliest Courthouse in Texas" is not done to be cruel - nor is it just
our opinion. The words spring involuntarily from the lips of most
first-time viewers. We've even heard it from several Titus Countians,
and in fact, its ugliness is sometimes bragged about.
Why are we writing about it? For one thing it's three hours to quitting
time and for another, people love an ugly-duckling story (even if
it's in reverse).
The building started out as a rather above-average building when it
was first built in 1895. If you think of courthouses as schoolgirls,
then the 1895 courthouse was the girl next door. Pretty, but not fancy.
It was a composite of typical contemporary designs. It wasn't a "wedding-cake"
courthouse and it wasn't ostentatious.
Postcard circa 1909, courtesy THC
primary purpose of a courthouse isn't to look good. It's to provide
a place for justice to be administered and to keep juries out of the
rain. And while we're on the subject of inclement weather, we'd like
to say that in Texas, it was a major factor in courthouse design.
After the first six or eight towers were blown off their moorings,
some counties got smart and voluntarily dismantled them before disaster
struck. By the time the Great Depression made it's appearance, many
courthouses in Texas had already been altered to the Moderne style
- which was in vogue at the time. Efficient and modern streamlining
= good. Ornamentation and decoration = bad. The Federal Government
needed to create make-work projects and what better place to start
a make-work project than in the center of town?
All across Texas Beaux-arts and Victorian masterpieces were dismantled
or destroyed to make way for the clean, sleek lines of Moderne and
Art Deco. Here in Titus County, however, the courthouse wasn't razed.
County commissioners figured it was easier and less costly to remove
just enough of the old so it could be covered by the new.
Titus County Courthouse after the 1940 remodeling
Photo courtesy TXDoT, 1940
view of the Titus County Courthouse in the 1940s
Photo courtesy THC
1940 the courthouse received the first of several remodelings. It
was new and shiny and people just knew that they would get used to
it - given enough time.
County Courthouse and square in the 1940s
Postcard courtesy rootsweb.com/
Then, in the early 1960s, when
the country was in the throes of "urban renewal" fever, another remodeling
took place. This nearly windowless design was completed by 1962 and
had all the success of an operation performed to correct bad plastic
surgery. A third remodeling was done in 1990 and by then this architectural
Frankenstein was gaining a statewide reputation.
County Courthouse after the 1962 remodeling
Photo circa 1965, courtesy THC
Wilde once said "The one thing worse than being talked about - is
not being talked about" and so we're happy that Titus County has its
distinctive landmark. Perhaps the next time a make-work project is
needed, County Commissioners can peel off the layers of progress and
reveal a hardly-used beauty.
The current Ector County Courthouse encasing the 1938 courthouse
Postcard courtesy THC
second ugliest courthouse in Texas? Our survey isn't complete,
but according to exit polls, the Ector
County Courthouse of Odessa is a front-runner.
Coincidentally, it is another "severely improved building" - an 1938
design encased under a new facade
Book Hotel Here > Mount
© John Troesser
by Bob Bowman ("All Things Historical")
"... The bell will soon ring again across Mount
Pleasant’s courthouse square.
... After the county’s ill-fated experience with aluminum siding in
the sixties, the metal skin was removed in the 1990s and the building
was restored to its 1940s appearance--much to the relief of everyone.
If you’re interested in buying a brick for the bell tower, get in
touch with Claude Alexander at 903-572-2897." [ more