The late Archer County pioneer Cora Hill, born in 1884, recalled in a 1970’s interview the joys of the annual Fourth of July Archer County courthouse dance. Participants from around the county arrived for the celebration days in advance while locals setup long wooden tables across the courthouse lawn to accommodate the myriad picnic baskets of food they brought with them. On festival day activities began early and lasted all day, culminating with a dance in the courthouse that ended at midnight.
The Archer County courthouse, site of the dance, was an eclectic, two-story, native stone design drawn from the Romanesque Revival style popular in courthouse architecture of the late 19th century. Fort Worth architect Alonzo N. Dawson created the winning design for the courthouse, no small feat considering there were twenty-five competitors for the job. Dawson, architect for dozens of Texas churches, residences, and government buildings over the course of his career, would follow the Archer County courthouse project (completed in 1892) with the massive, seven-story Fort Worth City Hall in 1893. Dawson’s Archer County courthouse featured brown, quarry-face sandstone, chiseled from a nearby quarry and pulled into Archer City courtesy of mule-driven sleds. The rocks were cut and shaped by hand. The roof had a convex curvature with bull’s-eye windows surmounting each of the building’s corner pavilions. A massive octagonal tower with four clock faces rose from its center, terminating in a cupola. The dramatic structure, rising from the twilight of a 19th century Archer City, must have provided a magical place to dance.
It also proved impractical to restore to its original design. In 2000, with its courthouse in serious need of repair, Archer County applied for and received grant money from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. The Archer County courthouse had undergone a major remodeling in 1925in which the roof and tower were removed to make room for a third floor. Then, in the 1960’s a “modernization” compromised the original design in a far more dramatic way. Lay-in acoustical ceilings were installed, windows were removed and their openings sealed with dissimilar stone. Newly installed windows elsewhere were aluminum. Interior plaster walls were covered with plywood paneling by gluing the paneling directly onto the original plaster. The stairs, wood with brass details, were impregnated with permanent asphaltic adhesive. The historic wood flooring was covered with plywood then layered in carpet or vinyl tile. An elevator was installed, cutting through the original Commissioners Courtroom and County Judge’s office. It was a transformation of major proportions. Citizens were content to pay their water bill or apply for a trailer license in the remodeled courthouse but the alterations inspired little dancing.
Because the century-worth of changes had altered the integrity and structure of the original courthouse design so significantly, the decision was made to restore the courthouse to its 1925 iteration, leaving the structure with three stories and no clock tower but fine historic finishes, reproduced light fixtures, paint colors, and a restored courtroom and balcony. Architects and conservators, using historic photographs, documentation, and evidence of original features as they began to appear during demolition, accomplished the task and by 2005 the Archer County courthouse was rededicated during a festive ceremony. If Cora Hill had still been around she might have even celebrated with a two-step.