The 1891 Hood County courthouse, designed in the French Empire style and located in the county seat of Granbury, stood relatively intact for over seventy-five years until one afternoon nature struck. The 1968 tornado that severely damaged the courthouse’s three-story clock tower was a random anomaly among the list of culprits responsible for Texas courthouse destruction. Hood County Commissioners Court proposed removing the damaged tower and leveling the roof but, fortunately, historically-minded heads prevailed. Hood County News Tablet publisher Norma Crawford spearheaded a successful, grassroots effort to save the clock tower, perhaps the first act of historical preservation that led to a complete revitalization of not only the courthouse but much of Granbury’s courthouse square and surrounding commercial blocks, now listed as a National Historic District.
Hood County, originally part of the 1823 San Felipe de Austin and the 1834 Viesca municipalities, was formed in November of 1866, thirty years after state independence from Mexico. With the first courthouse construction still a year away, Hood’s first county judge, Judge Abe Landers, often held court in the kitchen of his friend Dr. D. K. Turner in nearby Stockton where both he and Turner resided. Fond of conducting the county’s legal business according to his own terms, Judge Landers once halted a grand jury session in order to resolve the disruption of loose goats in the streets, only to reconvene the session at the local saloon. Turner, a character in his own right, had a penchant for resolving quarrels at gun point around the courthouse square, behavior that eventually led to his murder at his own home during dinner.
The county’s first courthouse was completed in 1867; a one-story log building that proved inadequate rather quickly, requiring a supplemental stone building nearby. A two-story stone courthouse soon replaced the log structure, housing the county records, including documentation of the numerous pending charges of forged documents, cattle rustling, and land fraud. On March 5, 1875, perpetrators across the county received a reprieve when the entire building and all records burned. The identity of the arsonist was never determined. A quick rebuild on the foundations prevented moving the county seat to nearby Thorp Spring. It also meant Hood County citizens received a courthouse of poor construction and it was demolished to make room for the 1891 edifice still standing today.
The current three-story limestone Hood County courthouse was designed by Wesley Clarke Dodson, a Waco architect responsible for a dozen Texas courthouse designs completed in the late 1800’s, a period considered “the golden age” of Texas courthouse architecture. Dodson incorporated a clock tower into the handsome design, installing a Number 16 Seth Thomas clock and bell at a cost of $1,465.
Repairs to the clock tower after the 1968 damage included significant reinforcement and alterations to the interior of the courthouse structure, disrupting the integrity of Dodson’s overall design and presenting a challenge to the architects performing the dramatic restoration completed by 2012. Using county funds, monies raised by the Hood County community, and with major funding from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, Dodson’s 1890 vision was resurrected and updated. In the district courtroom, the ornamental painting of faux masonry hand painted on the plaster walls along with the ornamental band across the top matching the stair railing are unique among Texas courthouses. Hidden within the original, completely-restored design, a 21st century steel support structure, an electrical network, a fire suppression system, and geothermal heating and cooling system make this historical, hundred-plus year old icon fully functional for the modern age. The Number 16 Seth Thomas clockworks from 1890, however, are still wound by hand.