The Dewitt County Courthouse, located in the county seat of Cuero and completed in 1896, survives as one of the finest examples of Richardsonian Romanesque architectural designs in Texas, inspiring a particular affinity for its characteristics as well as its unusual history among architects, historians, and courthouse enthusiasts across the state. The three-story structure, comprised of rusticated Pecos and Leon sandstone in hues of light brown and red, features polished granite columns, granite steps and a six-story clock tower. Its Richardsonian style, formulated by the Louisiana-born and French-trained architect Henry Hobson Richardson, rose to national popularity in the late 19th century and was considered a modern, distinctly American break from the prevailing European classicism once dominating architectural design. Bold, massive details in rustic stone, wide and low semicircular-arched doorways, deep set porches, and a variety of colored stonework distinguish the movement, all characteristics found in the Dewitt County courthouse details.
The courthouse was designed by Texas-born and Austin-based architect Arthur Osborn Watson who, together with his partner Jacob L. Larmour, was responsible for a half-dozen Texas county courthouses, the Gothic Revival All Saints Episcopal Chapel of Austin, and numerous homes and institutional buildings in the state’s capital. Curiously, although Watson completed the designs for the Dewitt courthouse he never finished its construction, abdicating any responsibility for its completion in November of 1895. His construction superintendent, Paul Helwig, submitted a written report to the Dewitt County Commissioners Court the following month, stating that the building had reached the stage where an immediate continuation of the work was imperative in order to secure the integrity of the building’s structure. Shortly after submitting his report, Helwig resigned from the project.
Within the month, the county entered into a new contract for the completion of the courthouse with prominent Houston architect Eugene T. Heiner, a leader in developing the architecture profession in Texas and, along with Watson, considered one of the founding fathers of the Texas Society of Architects. Heiner completed the project and the county accepted their new courthouse on May 20, 1896.
A dramatic interior renovation in the 1950s, courtesy of the design studio of San Antonio architect Ralph Haywood Cameron, removed much of Watson’s original materials and design. Cameron, considered one of the state’s leading architects during the first half of the 20th century, created an impressive body of work worthy of its own preservation and restoration. However, the decision was made to return the Dewitt County Courthouse to Watson’s original design. Cameron’s work had done little to change the exterior but the courthouse interior required a significant amount of work and financing to return it to its 1896 iteration. In fact, the Dewitt County courthouse restoration project truly became a labor of love when a lack of funding resulted in Cuero volunteers hand-painting more than three hundred pressed-metal panels fabricated/manufactured for reconstruction of the courtroom ceiling. If you gain access to the attic, you will see hundreds of handwritten dedications on the back side of the tiles.
“Participant ages ranged from eight to eighty,” County Treasurer Peggy Ledbetter reported. “We added our own little piece of history to the courthouse.”
DeWitt County Courthouse
Monday - Friday 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.