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Texas | Architecture | Courthouses

NEWTON COUNTY COURTHOUSE
County Seat - Newton, Texas
Newton County

Newton County has had three courthouses:
1848 - Burkeville
1853 - Newton
1902-03 - Newton

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TX - Newton County Courthouse
Newton County Courthouse
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson December, 2012

THE COURTHOUSES OF NEWTON COUNTY

By Terry Jeanson

When Newton County was organized in 1846, separated from the eastern part of Jasper County, the town of Quicksand (also called Quicksand Creek) was made the county seat and county officials held their first meetings at the home of Josephus S. Irvine, an early Texas settler and veteran of the battle of San Jacinto. It was soon discovered that Quicksand was not at the center of the county.

A new county seat was selected with the founding of the town of Newton, but a bill passed in the state legislature that moved the county seat to Burkeville instead in 1848.* It was here that the county’s first courthouse was built on land donated by the town’s founder, John R. Burke. The courthouse was a two story wood frame building with a front porch and second story balcony.

A land title dispute at the site of the courthouse in Burkeville led county officials to move the county seat to Newton, the geographical center of the county, in 1853.* The county’s second courthouse was built in Newton that year by Major John Moore, the first county clerk of Newton County. It was a two story wood frame building with a hipped roof. The upper floor of this courthouse was rented by the Masonic Lodge for $50.00 a year. In 1855, an election moved the county seat back to Burkeville but county officials refused to leave Newton and in 1856 the state legislature ruled that Newton should remain the county seat.

Fifty years later, Newton County’s third and current courthouse was built in 1902-03 on the same land as the previous courthouse. It was built from brick made on nearby Caney Creek in the Second Empire style with a sloping, pressed metal roof (containing round and arched dormers and triangular pediments,) a truncated clock tower and corner quoins with a bracketed cornice and bracketed balconies over the entrances. The architects of this courthouse, Martin & Moodie (sometimes spelled Moody,) also designed the 1899 McCulloch County courthouse in Brady and the 1901 Irion County courthouse still standing in the former county seat of Sherwood. In 1929, a bell and clock were installed in the tower of Newton‘s courthouse. The interior of the courthouse was altered over the years, including the addition of false walls to create more office space and closing off the upper balcony of the courtroom to add heating and air conditioning vents. In 1936-37, an annex and jail addition was built onto the south side of the courthouse and the brick exterior of the building was covered in stucco.

On August 4, 2000, an electrical fire in the attic led to the destruction of the courthouse. By the time the smoke was seen billowing from the clock tower, it was already too late to save the building. All that remained was the four outer walls and some interior walls on the first floor. The courthouse sat abandoned for six years before restoration work began with grants from the Texas Historical Commission and other donations totaling around six million dollars. The courthouse was going to be restored to its 1937 condition, the date of the last addition to the building. Continuing problems with architects and contractors led to even more delays. The new clock tower, manufactured in Utah, was installed on May 20, 2009. The restoration was completed in 2012 and the courthouse officially reopened at a rededication ceremony on the courthouse square on December 8, 2012.

*The Texas Historical Commission’s County Atlas lists the dates of construction for the first two courthouses as ca.1846 and 1859.

Sources: Historical and biographical information from The Handbook of Texas Online. Courthouse history from the Texas Historical Commission County Atlas at http://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/shell-desig.htm, The Courthouses of Texas by Mavis P. Kelsey & Donald H. Dyal and the Newton County Historical Commission.
TX - Newton County Courthouse
Newton County Courthouse
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson December, 2012

The Present Newton County Courthouse

Built in 1902, The brick building appears older than it is. The Second Empire Style had fallen out of favor at the time of its construction. It's still one of the handsomest courthouses in East Texas.

Architect - Martin and Moodie
Style - Second Empire
Material - Brick

The County was named for American Revolutionary Hero Sgt. John Newton.
TX - Newton County Courthouse
"The front of Newton County Courthouse. Painters are putting the final touches on the roof the day before the rededication."
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson December, 2012
Newton County Courthouse, Texas old photo
Newton County Courthouse as it appeared in 1939
Photo courtesy TXDoT
TX - Newton County Courthouse Reconstructed Clock Tower
"The reconstructed clock tower with open belfry was placed onto the roof of the courthouse on May 20, 2009."
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson December, 2012
TX - Newton County Courthouse Staircase
Looking at the north entrance and staircase in the restored courthouse.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson December, 2012
TX - Newton County Courthouse Restored District Courtroom
"The restored district courtroom. Some of the original wooden planks (with a few burn marks) were reused in the courtroom floor."
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson December, 2012
TX - Newton County Courthouse Restored District Courtroom Balcony
"District courtroom balcony showing part of the pressed metal ceiling."
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson December, 2012
TX - NewtonCounty Courthouse Judge's Bench
"The judge’s bench in the district courtroom. The bench was reconstructed using photos of the original."
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson December, 2012
TX - Newton County Courthouse Staircase
"Spiral staircase behind the judge’s bench. Hidden behind a false wall for years, it survived the fire and was restored. The stairs lead to the commissioner’s courtroom on the third floor."
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson December, 2012
TX - Newton County Courthouse 1929 Memorial Bell
"The 1929 memorial bell and one of the clock faces survived the fire and are on display on the north side of the courthouse."
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson December, 2012
1848 First Newton County courthouse, Burkeville, TX
"The first Newton County courthouse, built in 1848 in Burkeville. Photo from the Newton County Wall of History on the east side of the courthouse."
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson December, 2012
Burkeville TX Site of First Courthouse Centennial Marker
"Site of First Newton County Courthouse"
Centennial Marker in Burkeville.
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson December 2007
Newton TX - 1853,  Second Newton County Courthouse

"The second Newton County courthouse, built in 1853 in Newton. Photo from the Newton County Wall of History on the east side of the courthouse."
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson December, 2012

Courthouse Fire

"On August 4, 2000, an electrical fire in the attic led to the destruction of the courthouse. By the time the smoke was seen billowing from the clock tower, it was already too late to save the building. All that remained was the four outer walls and some interior walls on the first floor. The courthouse sat abandoned for six years before restoration work began..." - Terry Jeanson

Newton County Courthouse on fire
The courthouse on fire
Photo courtesy KJAS Radio
Newton County Courthouse before restoration
Newton County Courthouse two years after fire
Photo courtesy Lou Ann Herda, Ed.D, June 2002
Newton County Courthouse, Newton, Texas 2004
Newton County Courthouse before restoration
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, September 2004
See Newton, Texas
Newton County
More Texas Courthouses

Related Topics:

Texas
Texas Town List
Texas Counties
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