Fort Davis, Jeff Davis County seat, has actually served as center of government for two counties since its establishment. In 1875, Presidio County completed organization, selecting Fort Davis as its seat. By 1880, the first courthouse was built, an adobe structure designed by Welsh stonemason William Jenkins. The U-shaped adobe building, including courtyard, provided the basics for county business. A hand-dug well was located at the courtyard’s center and a massive gate completed the courtyard walls. A jail occupied an underground room with narrow window slits at the top of the wall where six iron rings were installed for chaining prisoners. A trap door in the guard room provided access to the underground cells.
By the 1880s, Fort Davis lost much of its appeal to county citizens due to the dramatic changes occurring throughout the Trans-Pecos, particularly after the railroad bypassed the county seat in favor of new towns like Marfa and Valentine to the south. Marfa became a likely location for conducting county business, taking charge of the county seat before building a new courthouse in 1886. Citizens of Fort Davis, unhappy with the decision, petitioned the state legislature and were granted independent county status in 1887, carving out Jeff Davis County from the northern portion of Presidio County. Despite acquiring a county to call their own, Jeff Davis county citizens were still financially obligated to contribute funds to the complete the Marfa courthouse, a determination made by state courts that didn’t sit well with local taxpayers.
Jeff Davis County continued to occupy its original adobe courthouse until the structure, in need of constant repair, was deemed unusable. In May of 1910, the County Commissioners Court hired Dallas architect L. L. Thurmon to design a new courthouse. Thurmon’s plan illustrated the Classical Revival style made popular during the turn of the century. The style’s signature columns, stately facades, and spacious rotundas were drawn from ancient Roman architecture and were designed to express elegance, distinction, and dignity. Thurmon employed a building construction technique for the Jeff Davis courthouse that distinguished it, however, from other similar Classical Revival buildings. Using formed, poured concrete with insets of local stone to create a polychromatic effect on the exterior walls, Thurmon created an appearance unique to the Fort Davis courthouse. In fact, the local stone used appears to be unique to the Fort Davis area as well. Identified by geologists as pink ryelite tuff, the rock is of volcanic origin, containing particles of volcanic glass.
Thurmon also incorporated a Beaux-Arts style clock tower into the design, installing a Seth Thomas Clock that was one of only a handful of manually operated clocks still existing in the state until improper winding damaged a gear. The repair was addressed during the courthouse’s restoration, courtesy of the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, when an automatic rewind system was installed to eliminate the need for county personnel to climb to the clockworks level of the clock tower dome to rewind the clock. Today, the clock mechanism functions as it did historically, sans human intervention, via the action of gravity on suspended weights. Thanks to the area’s relaxed atmosphere and cool temperatures, making Fort Davis one of the state’s favorite getaway destinations, time still appears to pass at a much slower rate here than the restored courthouse clock indicates.