Columbus, seat of Colorado County, saw the first of three courthouses constructed in 1847, in all likelihood a wood frame structure with wood siding and built on the courthouse square. Local folklore suggests that, prior to 1847 and the construction of the first permanent courthouse, Colorado County court was held under an oak tree near or on the public square, a common feature of many of the state’s courthouse creation stories. Rented rooms, as opposed to oak tree shade, more than likely served the courts before a permanent courthouse could be constructed. Documentation does, however, record in detail the election of the county’s first District Judge in 1837, Judge Robert M. Williamson, noting that he was a Battle of San Jacinto veteran and known as “Three-Legged Willie” due to his leg prosthesis.
Colorado County’s second courthouse, completed in 1855 and constructed of masonry with a stucco exterior, featured two stories and a hipped roof. In 1860, a wooden picket fence was installed around the square in order to keep livestock from grazing across the courthouse grounds.
By 1889, the county had outgrown their courthouse and proceeded to secure noted Houston architect Eugene Heiner to design a new building. Heiner had recently completed two other courthouses for the state, one in Bellville for Austin County and the Wharton County courthouse in Wharton.
Heiner’s three story brick courthouse for Colorado County was completed in 1891 and typifies the late 19th century Victorian style, popular at the time for its imposing profiles. The original design included a tall clock tower rising from the center of a hipped roof but a 1909 hurricane dispensed with the tower and damaged most of the roof. The resulting repairs modified the design with a more fashionable early 20th century Italian Renaissance Revival dome that continues to crown the courthouse today. The copper dome features alternating windows and festooned panels around the base and a glass skylight at the top. In 1953, the dome was closed off during the installation of acoustical ceilings, due in part to complaints about the dome’s poor conditions. According to a report published at the time in the Weimer Mercury, “…some pieces of glass have fallen from the dome into the court room recently and there has been fear that somebody might be injured.” During a 1979 repair and restoration project, the acoustic tile ceilings were removed and the dome glass repaired. The red tile roof, however, suffered considerable damage during a 1981 storm “of tornadic force”, which, despite repairs, may have been instrumental in the collapse of a large portion of the plaster ceiling above the District Courtroom in 2006, on a day in which court was supposed to be in session but, through fortunate coincidence, the trial on the docket had been rescheduled. An investigation revealed that water damage combined with improper attachment of the plaster lath to the wood framing had caused the structural failure.
A final restoration, completed in 2014 by way of the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, assisted in returning most of the details in the Colorado County courthouse to their 1910 iteration The restored courthouse provides the epicenter of the Columbus town square where, together with the surrounding Victorian homes and period commercial buildings, visitors may admire one of the more prominent historic districts in the state.
Colorado County Courthouse
Monday - Friday 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.