The Classical Revival Franklin County courthouse, completed in 1912 and designed by Dallas architect L. L. Thurman, replaced an earlier red brick courthouse recalled fondly by local resident Colonel Dan Bolin:
“Most all of us remember the old courthouse that stood in the center of the square” Bolin recalled. “Mr. W. J. Carter of Mount Pleasant, brother-in-law of C. C. Vaughn of this town, was awarded the contract…Mr. Carter burned his brick near the northeast corner of our city’s beautiful park; while his brick were drying they were spread out all over where the park is now situated…”
The park, or public square, has played a major role alongside the county courthouse in the civic livelihood of Franklin County residents. The brick courthouse was completed at its center in 1878 and its replacement on the northwest corner, insuring that the square continued to serve as social central.
A published description of the square after completion of the new 1912 courthouse lacked the idealized attributes of an urban civil society, however, revealing instead the rural, Dickensian characteristics of northern Texas during the turn of the 19th century:
“A bunch of hogs wallowed in the waste water around the wells on the public square. Mischievous boys would pour high-life [probably beer] in to make life interesting for the hogs. Cows, calves, and horses – everyone kept plenty of each – were allowed to run at large. There was no city scavenger or street cleaner. The refuse from the grocery store was piled out the back door. Papers and trash were swept out of the front of the stores into the street. Many times on a windy day, the papers and trash would begin to blow and no less than three or four teams attached to wagons would run away at the same time.”
But the new courthouse, with its two-story limestone exterior, temple-fronted portico, Doric columns, central clock tower, and a dome in red copper patina, ultimately inspired a more civil use of the square. By the 1920s, county seat Mount Vernon was sponsoring pubic marble tournaments along the grassy areas of the square and had installed a fountain at its center. During the onset of World War II, the square served as gathering place for donated scrap iron in a program designed to aid the war effort. A World War I memorial was installed on its north side. A night watchman’s post, a tiny, glass-enclosed kiosk for use during inclement weather, was constructed on the southwest corner of the public square, designed to suggest a New England lighthouse. The odd structure was removed after the night watchman, a Mr. Hale, died inside and was found the next morning. Later in the 50’s, local merchants held drawings for cash every Saturday afternoon on the courthouse square and by the 1970s a grounds beautification plan had been implemented, including a new gazebo.
Today, the courthouse square continues to serve as Mount Vernon’s gathering place and its one hundred-plus year old courthouse has received a complete restoration courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission’s Historic Courthouse Preservation Program.
Franklin County Courthouse
Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.