In 1856, a small group of settlers who had established a community known as Burleson along the banks of Sulphur Creek, petition the Texas legislature to create a new county, called Lampasas after the nearby river. The region’s springs, considered “medicinal” by many pioneers, had attracted a population of around six hundred settlers by the mid-1800s, most of them still camped in tents or living in the wagons that first brought them to the area. The legislature responded and the Burleson community was designated the county seat, changing its name to Lampasas in a nod to its new county.
Lampasas County, however, proved to be a difficult place to live despite its official designation. Lawlessness was rampant, made worse by Native American hostilities and the onset of the Civil War. By the 1870’s conditions had improved, due in large part to the arrival of the railroads and a thriving cattle industry, requiring an expanded presence of law and order. Lampasas had built its first courthouse by 1871, only to see it destroyed by arson on Christmas Eve of that year, losing all of its county records in the blaze. For the next few years officials rented locations for conducting the county business, once again suffering a major loss of county records in a catastrophic flood on September 27, 1873.
“I was sitting in my office in the courthouse,” County Clerk A. P. Anderson recalled in an interview that year, “which was a wooden building located southeast of the present jail. Although I noticed it was raining very hard, I did not suspect any flood or high water until I saw the water come in at my window. The water seemed to come in a large wave. I didn’t think the water would be any higher, but I grabbed some records and put them up on a high shelf, not realizing that they and the building would be washed away.”
Another decade passed before county commissioners voted to construct a new, permanent courthouse. By June of 1883, the Waco firm of Dodson & Dudley had been hired to design the building with W. C. Dodson as lead architect. Dodson had arrived in Texas from Alabama in 1866, settling in Waco in 1877 before forming a partnership with William W. Dudley in 1882. In addition to the Lampasas County courthouse, Dodson and Dudley are responsible for designing a number of notable courthouses around the state.
Dodson’s Second Empire style courthouse for Lampasas is a native limestone construction featuring mansard roofing with diamond-shaped tin shingles and a central bell and clock tower with four clock faces. The cornerstone was laid on September 6th, 1883 and the entire building completed by May of 1884.
Despite its solid construction, the Lampasas County courthouse succumbed to continuous flood damage, requiring repairs after major floods in 1913, 1916, 1936, and 1957. The most dramatic alteration occurred after the 1936 flood. The impressive courthouse ceiling was dropped to accommodate reinforcing steel trusses, designed to mitigate structural shifting.
Restoration began in the 1980’s as funding from the Texas Historical Commission helped to return many of the architectural details to their original design. Further funding, courtesy of the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, assisted in using updated structural techniques to stabilize and halt any further flood damage to the integrity of the building. A major restoration was completed in the first decade of the 21st century, over one hundred and twenty years after the courthouse’s construction, culminating in a rededication ceremony on March 2, 2004.
Lampasas County Courthouse