Linden, Cass County seat, is home to the longest serving county courthouse in the state. Completed in 1861, the current Cass County courthouse has been in service almost as long as the county has been in existence, established in 1846, the year of statehood.
Before the construction of the 1861 courthouse, a frame structure milled from local lumber cut at a nearby “saw pit”, courtesy most likely of local slave labor, served as Cass County’s first courthouse. Useful but not fireproof, the lumber building served the county for eight years until officials saw the need for a new courthouse. Cass County Chief Justice Charles Ames designed the new courthouse himself, loosely basing his drawings and specifications on the Greek Revival brick courthouse in nearby Harrison County, completed in 1850 and known informally at the time as “Little Virginia” for its ante bellum charm. “Little Virginia”, however, succumbed to the wrecking ball by 1889. With “Little Virginia” and others of the period like it also destroyed, the Cass County Courthouse remains as the only functioning ante bellum courthouse in the state today.
Ames specified that the new courthouse should have ceilings twelve feet high, tongue and groove flooring, four fireplaces with brick chimneys, sixteen windows on the first floor, eighteen windows on the second floor, a hipped roof painted a lead color, and a square cupola twenty-three feet high with a zinc-covered dome, a spire, and a gold-leafed wooden ball. Exterior walls were to be of brick, produced from locally-available clay, and constructed thirty-one and a half inches thick at foundation and twenty-four inches thick at the top. Almost a half-million bricks (some were used to construct a jail) were ordered from local artisan J. Thomas Veal who fired the bricks at his brick plant located just south of Linden.
The new courthouse acquired a steel vault in 1889, installed on the ground floor and the first of several modifications. The vault included steel walls, floors, a ceiling supported by cast iron columns, and shutters on the vault room’s outside windows. A 1900 addition followed, including two stories added to the east side of the courthouse that matched the original design. A cyclone on May 13, 1908 made its own modifications to the courthouse, lopping off the cupola and leaving an uprooted tree in its place. Surrounding Linden and a number of its citizens weren’t so lucky.
Sixteen years after a major renovation and expansion in 1917, the courthouse experienced its most dramatic make-over, primarily due to a catastrophic fire in 1933 that gutted the interior courtroom and completely destroyed the third floor and roof. The rebuild featured the popular elements of modern design, by the 1930’s the dominating movement in architecture. This would also be the chosen period for the courthouse restoration, completed with assistance from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. The restored courthouse, rededicated in 2012, features much of its 1930s character. Yet, despite over one hundred and forty years of changes, somewhere inside the repairs and remodeling the original courthouse remains intact. The evidence can be seen today in most of the window openings and some fireplaces, and most notably along one wall of the County Clerk’s office, where architects left an exposed remnant of the original faux mortar joint pattern and bricks that comprised the Cass County courthouse of 1860.
Cass County Courthouse
Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.