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Kaufman County’s First Three Court Houses

On April 17, 1851, the townsite of Kaufman was deeded by Francis A. Tabor to special commissioners who had been appointed to lay out the county seat of Kaufman County. The first lots were sold shortly after that. The building in which the church is located is an architectural monument.

The county government moved to the new town in November 1851 and soon arranged for a place to hold court. G. R. Paschal was paid by the county commissioners for having repaired a building in which to hold court in November 1851. By February 1852, a building existed which was clearly designated to be the courthouse since the commissioners provided that certain elections would be held “at the Court House in the Town of Kaufman.”

This first courthouse was not on the courthouse square; instead, it was on the southwest corner of Washington and Mulberry Streets. The one-room frame structure measured twenty by thirty feet had two windows, and was heated by a single fireplace. Not surprisingly, this structure soon became too small for the needs of the county; moreover, beginning in 1856, the courthouse required frequent and expensive repairs. Consequently, the commissioners arranged to have plans drawn for a new courthouse in October 1858.

Bids for the construction of the new courthouse were received in January 1859. Hugh Yarbrough of Tyler had the best bid, and the contract was made final in August 1859. The brick for the building was made in Kaufman, while the lumber probably was from Henderson County.

By April 1861, the second courthouse of Kaufman County was complete. It was a two-story brick building forty-four feet square. The courtroom was upstairs, while four offices were downstairs. The northeast corner room was for the County Clerk, the southeast was for the District Clerk, and the two western rooms were for the Sheriff and the County Surveyor, but were reserved for juries during District Court.

On April 12, 1861, the county commissioners voted to accept the courthouse for $5,800, which was $525 less than the contract price. Chief Justice Cary Cobb thought the building was worth even less than that. He argued that the foundation, bricks, mortar, roof timbers, shingles, and lumber used in the stairway were all of inferior material. In fact, the commissioners had earlier declared that the brick was unsatisfactory. Despite Cobb’s protest, the commissioners upheld the price of $5,800 and moved into the courthouse on May 20, 1861.

Almost immediately, Cobb’s worst fears came true. In August 1861, after only three months of use, the courthouse roof was leaking. In November 1861, the commissioners set aside $150 to buy iron to brace the building. These efforts were unsuccessful, so the courthouse was abandoned in November 1862. A special committee, after examining the building, found that it was unsafe for public use on December 9, 1862.

The old wooden courthouse still stood, but it had been sold to M.G.L. Morris in June 1861; consequently, the county government had no place to go when the brick courthouse was abandoned. For a few months, the offices of Dr. W. H. Pyle were rented. The county was fortunate that M.G.L. Morris had never paid his note on the old courthouse, for on May 21, 1863, the note was canceled, and the county got the wooden courthouse back. After some repairs were made to the building, the county officials moved to it in July 1863.

The wooden courthouse, the county’s first, continued its second life throughout the rest of the Civil War, but by June 1868, it was unsuitable for use. The Presbyterian Church, which then stood on the southwest corner of Houston and Barnes streets, was rented for holding court from August 1868 to October 1870. The Methodist Church, which was in the same location as the present one, was used for District Court in February 1871 and for Grand Jury in June 1871. The wooden courthouse was sold again in May 1870 and burned on April 17, 1883, when it was housing a blacksmith shop.

During the time that the courts were being held in the churches, the county was building its third courthouse. In July 1869, James Brown, a carpenter in Kaufman, was awarded the contract to build a new courthouse. Although the courthouse was used for court purposes after June 1871, it was not completed until August 27, 1872. This third courthouse was a large, two-story frame building and was fifty feet square. Inside, on the first floor, there were four twenty by twenty-foot offices for the County Judge, County Clerk, commissioner’ Court, Sheriff, and Tax Assessor and Collector. The single upper room was the courtroom.

Although this two-story courthouse was the largest one that the county had had so far, it soon proved to be too small. Further, because the courthouse was wooden, fires were constant threats. In 1875, a brick office for the County Clerk was built on the square next to the courthouse. The Clerk’s Office suffered the same fate that the brick courthouse had; it soon cracked and had to be braced. The commissioners also had two offices built in the upper story of the courthouse in 1878 to relieve the crowded conditions downstairs.

The concern for fires continued, and after an election in September 1885 determined that Kaufman would remain the county seat, the commissioners voted, in December 1885, to build a new, fireproof, stone courthouse. The architectural firm of Dodson and Dudley of Waco designed the new building, and the firm of Aubrey, Solon, and Laude was awarded the construction contract. The frame courthouse was moved to the lot at the corner of Cherry and Washington streets, beside the jail, in March 1886 and was used there while the new courthouse was under construction. In July 1887, the new courthouse was accepted, and the frame courthouse, Kaufman County’s third, was demolished.

by Justin M. Sanders from Kaufman County History Vol II

Old Stone Courthouse

Judge J. E. Dillard, by instruction of the county commissioners, advertised for sealed bids to erect a stone courthouse for Kaufman County. “The building is to be constructed out of good stone, each stone being personally inspected by the architect Mr. Dunson of Waco. The building is to be 98 x 114 feet. The outside walls are to be 60 feet high. From the ground to the top of the tower will be 124 feet. The base of the walls will be six feet wide, laid in cement and gravel two feet thick. The foundation stones will be six feet long and one foot thick and laid crossways. The foundation will be of the best quality blue limestone up to the first water table, about four feet. The walls, in and outside, all the way to the roof, will be of good stone two feet thick. The cornerstones will be of White Kaoline – a beautiful rock susceptible to a fine finish. The stairways are to be of iron, except those in the tower. There will be three stories – county and district courtrooms, clerk’s offices, and a grand jury room. The building will be a facsimile of the Weatherford courthouse save for the corners and height of the tower, which will be six feet higher than the Weatherford courthouse tower. In the tower, there will be a place for a clock, but as yet, the court will not buy a clock. The building is to be completed by October Ist, 1887. After that date, if the building is not completed according to contract and specifications, a forfeit of fifteen dollars a day will be deducted from the cost.”

The commissioners’ court convened and opened the sealed bids ranging from $67,965.00 to $87,000.00. The low bidder did not accompany his bid by a bond; hence the next lowest bidder was given the $69,569.00 contract to Aubrey, Solan and Laude.

On July 9, 1887, the new courthouse was accepted, and county officers were ordered to move into it. This grand old stone building was to serve the county for over seventy years.

The clock, as mentioned in the specifications, was never installed, at least one that had worked. The dome with the artificial clocks was removed around 1900 after being struck by lightning several times. The Confederate monument of General Robert E. Lee was erected in 1911 with funds raised by the Daughters of the Confederacy.

The old stone building was torn down early in 1955, and the way was made for a modern two-story building. The Confederate monument base and statue were removed for its protection while the old building was being torn down. The monument was polished and replaced in the courtyard of the new courthouse.

Groundbreaking ceremonies were conducted in March of 1955 at the new Kaufman County Courthouse site. Former County Judge Fred W. Bankhead, who was the County Judge when the new building was authorized and the contract let in late December of 1954, turned the first shovel of dirt. During the planning stage, members of the Commissioners’ Court were Oscar Garner, L. E. Bragg, 0. C. Phillips and Harvie Easterly, presided over by Judge Bankhead.

by Marie Reasonover from Kaufman County History Vol II

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