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Texas | Architecture | Courthouses

TARRANT COUNTY COURTHOUSE
County Seat - Fort Worth, Texas
Tarrant County

& The Horse Fountain on the Courthouse Square

Tarrant County has had six courthouses:
1849 & 1856 (in Birdville), 1860, 1876, 1881 and 1895.
See Tarrant County Courthouse History

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Fort Worth TX - 1895 Tarrant County Courthouse
Southeast corner of the 1895 courthouse
On the left is the 1958 addition

Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September 2006

The Present Tarrant County Courthouse -
Fort Worth, Texas

Date - 1895
Architect - Gunn & Curtis
Style - Renaissance Revival
Material - Red granite
Addition - 1956.
Restoration - 1983
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1969
See Historical Marker
Tarrant County Courthouse History

Formed in 1849, Tarrant County was officially organized in 1850 with Birdville as the county seat, the first settlement in Tarrant County, which was formed around Camp Bird in 1848. The county was named for Edward H. Tarrant, a military commander, Texas Ranger and Indian fighter who was responsible for the removal of most of the Indians who lived in the Tarrant County area. Southwest of Birdville, at the confluence of the Clear Fork and the West Fork of the Trinity River another camp was formed in 1849, named Camp Worth after Mexican War hero General William Jenkins Worth. The camp was officially given the name Fort Worth. The town of Fort Worth built up around the military outpost after it was abandoned in 1853.

The county’s first courthouse, a wood frame structure, was built in 1849 in Birdville followed by a second in 1856. The second courthouse was thought to be a Greek Revival, square plan antebellum style building. The second courthouse, apparently, was never completed due to an election held in 1856 to move the county seat to Fort Worth. Fort Worth won by a slim margin and the county records were moved to a temporary courthouse there. The election results were declared invalid and another election was held in 1860. This time, Fort Worth won by a landslide with 548 votes. A non-existent site at the center of the county received 301 votes and Birdville received 4 votes.

Construction on the county’s third courthouse, the first in Fort Worth, began in 1860, but disruption caused by the Civil War kept it from being completed until 1866. The stone courthouse is depicted in a street drawing of Fort Worth, ca. 1866, as a square building with three bays on each side, a hipped roof and a hexagonal tower with a conical cupola and a spire. Its design was typical of antebellum style courthouses. This courthouse burned on March 29, 1876. Most of the county records were lost in the fire in spite of repeated requests to install a fire-proof vault in the courthouse.

In 1876, construction began on the county’s fourth courthouse. Built by contractors Thomas & Warner, it was a two-story, octagonal, Italianate style building with protruding wings, a dome and a central tower. The buildings details included arched windows and doors, corner quoins and a balustrade around the central tower.

The county’s fifth courthouse, built in 1881, was essentially a remodel of the 1876 building. Architect James J. Kane, who designed the 1886 Bosque County courthouse, removed the building’s dome and added a third floor with a new central tower, giving the courthouse a look that resembled a Second Empire style building. In 1893, the growing wealth and population of the county, in addition to its escalating crime problem, prompted the County Commissioners Court to vote to spend $500,000 for the construction of a new courthouse. The final cost came to $408,840 and it outraged citizens to the extent that they voted the entire Commissioner’s Court out of office.

Construction on the sixth courthouse began in 1893 with the former courthouse being demolished the following year. The new courthouse was completed in 1895. Built in a Renaissance Revival/Beaux-Arts style out of Texas pink granite with a steel frame, it was designed by Kansas City architects Frederick C. Gunn and Louis S. Curtiss and built by the Probst Construction Company of Chicago. This monumental courthouse, with a height measuring 194 feet, is often compared to the Texas Capitol building. It has a raised basement and four stories with a domed central tower, ornate front entrance pavilion and domed side pavilions. The building’s details, especially on the upper floors, include columns, pediments, balustrades and entablatures.

The 1895 courthouse retained its original appearance until the 1950s when a Civil Courts Building, designed by Fort Worth architect Wyatt C. Hedrick, was completed in 1958, attaching it to the west side of the courthouse, destroying much of the stonework and entry stairs. The white, limestone addition with louvered windows and four bas-relief sculptures of a winged Lady Justice, was considered one of the ugliest buildings in downtown Fort Worth, referred to as the “hemorrhoid to the west” and “a space age refrigerator.” In 1983, the 1895 courthouse received a $9 million renovation which removed false ceilings, restored floors, courtrooms and stairwells and re-opened the rotunda. A 1988 remodeling of the 1958 Civil Courts Building, by architect George C.T. Woo, covered the structure in synthetic stucco that was painted to match the stone of the 1895 courthouse. Many buildings were added to the Tarrant County courthouse complex over the years to the west of the 1895 courthouse, including the Criminal Justice Building (1918), the Criminal Courts Building (1962), The Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center (1990) and to the southeast, the Family Law Center (2005.) A new Civil Courts Building being built to the east of the 1895 courthouse should be completed in 2015. In 2012, a $4.5 million restoration was completed on the clock tower of the 1895 courthouse followed by the demolition of the 1958 west side addition in 2013. Two of the winged Lady Justices from the 1958 addition will be attached to the new Civil Courts Building. A restoration of the original west side entrance to the 1895 Tarrant County courthouse should be completed by the end of 2014.

Terry Jeanson
July 10, 2014.
Sources: The Handbook of Texas Online, The Birdville Historical Society at www.birdvillehistory.org, The Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Historic Sites Atlas at http://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/shell-county.htm and the Texas National Register Program Narrative at http://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/shell-desig.htm, Architecture in Fort Worth – Downtown Fort Worth at www.fortwortharchitecture.com/downtown.htm, Newspaper article from the Fort Worth Democrat, Issue of April 1, 1876, Newspaper article from The Fort Worth Star-Telegram – “Couthouse’s future to look like its past” by Anna M. Tinsley, May 31, 2007, Newspaper article from The Fort Worth Star-Telegram – “Historic Tarrant County Courthouse about to get some breathing room” by Steve Campbell, April 23, 2013, The People’s Architecture: Texas Courthouses, Jails, and Municipal Buildings by Willard B. Robinson, 1983, and The Courthouses of Texas by Mavis P.Kelsey Sr. and Donald H. Dyal, 2nd edition, 2007.
Tarrant County courthouse old photo, Fort Worth, Texas
The 1895 Tarrant County Courthouse as it appeared in 1939
Photo courtesy TXDoT
Fort Worth TX - 1895 Tarrant County Courthouse East entrance
Courthouse east entrance
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September 2006
Fort Worth TX - 1895 Tarrant County Courthouse front
Front entrance pavilion
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September 2006
Tarrant County courthouse tower, Fort Worth Texas
Clock tower of the 1895 courthouse.
A $4.5 million restoration on the tower was completed in 2012.
TE Photo, May 2004
Fort Worth TX - 1895 Tarrant County Courthouse pediment
Pediment detail over the front entrance
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September 2006
Fort Worth TX - 1895 Tarrant County Courthouse courtroom
"One of the former district courtrooms on the fourth floor. It was in this courtroom that attorneys Chris Marshall and John J. Edwards were shot to death by George Lott on July 1, 1992. Lott also injured two judge's and another attorney. Lott was executed in1994." - Terry Jeanson
Fort Worth TX - 1895 Tarrant County Courthouse skylight
Looking up into the rotunda at the skylight
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September 2006
Fort Worth TX - 1895 Tarrant County Courthouse rotunda  skylight
Plaster details around rotunda skylight
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September 2006
Fort Worth TX - 1895 Tarrant County Courthouse stairwell
Courthouse stairwell
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September 2006
Fort Worth TX - 1895 Tarrant County Courthouse stairwell detail
"During construction, a worker inserted an oven spring into one of the balusters in an east side stairwell. One of the bailiffs pointed this out to me, but it looks so natural, that I would have never noticed! " - Terry Jeanson
Fort Wort Texas Tarrant County Courthouse reflection
Reflection of the courthouse in the city administration building
TE Photo, May 2004
Fort Worth TX - 1895 Tarrant County Courthouse historical marker
Tarrant County Courthouse historical marker at the front entrance
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September 2006
Historical Marker Text
TARRANT COUNTY COURTHOUSE
Designed by firm of Gunn & Curtis and built by the Probst Construction Company of Chicago, 1893-1895. This red Texas granite building, in Renaissance Revival style, closely resembles the Texas State Capital with the exception of the clock tower. The cost was $408,840 and citizens considered it such a public extravagance that a new County Commissioners' Court was elected in 1894.
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark - 1969.
Fort Worth TX - 1876 Tarrant County Courthouse
Picture of the 1876 Tarrant County courthouse hanging on the wall in the 1895 courthouse
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September 2006
Fort Worth TX - 1881  Tarrant County Courthouse
Also hanging on the wall in the 1895 courthouse is a picture of the 1881 Tarrant County courthouse
Photo courtesy Terry Jeanson, September 2006
Tarrant County Courthouse Square
Horse Fountain
Photos courtesy Sam Fenstermacher, July 2003
Fort  Worth TX - The horse fountain on the courthouse square
Horse Fountain
Photos courtesy Sam Fenstermacher, July 2003
Fort  Worth TX - Tarrant County courthouse square  Horse Fountain Gargoyle
Photos courtesy Sam Fenstermacher, July 2003
Fort  Worth TX - Tarrant County courthouse square  Horse Fountain Gargoyle
Photos courtesy Sam Fenstermacher, July 2003
Fort  Worth TX - Tarrant County courthouse square  Horse Fountain Gargoyle
Gargoyles
Photos courtesy Sam Fenstermacher, July 2003
More Gargoyles
Fort  Worth TX -  Horse atop the horse fountain on the courthouse square
The horse atop the Horse Fountain
Photos courtesy Sam Fenstermacher, July 2003
Fort  Worth TX - Tarrant County courthouse square  Horse Fountain

The Horse Fountain in 1939
Photo courtesy TXDoT
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