I began this tour in May 2001, one of the first courthouses we read
about was the 1890 Hill County Courthouse, gutted by fire on New
Years Day 1993. This courthouse became the impetus for the Great
American Legends Tour.
Famed architect W. C. Dodson designed this edifice, which
was a conglomerate of Second Empire, Classical Revival, and Italianate
features. Kind of a Texas hodge-podge. Northeast snooties gave the
tallest building in Hill County mixed reviews. A writer for the
Saturday Evening Post called it a "monstrosity," while one at Harper's
said it was "an outstanding cathedral." Townfolks were simply proud
three-story limestone structure has a tower in the middle that shoots
up seven stories. There are also Corinthian columns and mansard
roofs, and a clock inside that 70-foot tower. Even if you were miles
away, you could see if it was time to feed the dog.
county seat of Hillsboro is close to a busy highway (I-35), it still
retains that small-town charm. But back in 1853 when Hill County
was created from Navarro County, Indians, bear, antelope, buffalo,
wild horses, and deer made up most of the population.
Since the animals didn't threaten the settlers too much but the
Indians did, a fort was built about fifteen miles west of present-day
Fort Graham, built in the late 1840s, helped keep the more
hostile Indians at bay and served as a scouting and reporting station.
Major Ripley Arnold, who founded Fort
Worth back when it was just a camp, was supervisor of the fort.
Now, he was a tough one. Once, when a soldier stole a pig from a
nearby farm, he had the fella tied up in front of the officers'
quarters for hours with pig guts around his neck. Arnold later got
into some kind of trouble and met his Maker after having a close
encounter with several bullets. The fort was dismantled not long
Both Hill County and Hillsboro
are named for Dr. George W. Hill, a pioneer Navarro County settler
who served both as a congressman and as Secretary of War for the
Republic of Texas. He was a surgeon with a degree from Transylvania
University who married a gal named Slaughter. (hmmm) Not long after
the county was established, the first courthouse, 12' X 12', was
constructed of elm poles, clapboard, and dirt floors. It took the
county five tries to build a courthouse that they could be proud
By 1890, Hillsboro's population had grown to 2000. There were six
churches, a new courthouse, many cotton gins (cotton was definitely
king), an opera house, two weekly newspapers, and the railroad shipped
cotton, livestock, grain, and wool. A person could also take the
stage to Whitney for a dollar.
courthouse underwent many changes over the next hundred years, meeting
the needs of a changing community. Although it still looked pretty
nice on the outside, the interior had lost much its Victorian-era
charm. Then, on the night of January 1, 1993, the courthouse caught
fire, and not even firefighters from more than fifteen companies
could save it. The grand clock tower, the roof, and the third floor
collapsed as onlookers cried. The impressive district courtroom
was gone. Records dating back hundreds of years were either lost
or badly damaged. An important part of Hill County history went
up in smoke.