Bordered on the north by the Colorado River, McCulloch County encompasses nearly a thousand square miles of the geographical heart of Texas. Nearly thirty-one years after its official organization in 1856, McCulloch would see its first courthouse, built on its designated courthouse square in the county seat of Brady. After a call for bids, county commissioners selected John McDonald of Austin, the sole bidder, to build a two-story stone building to serve the county business. McDonald’s construction services proved to be inadequate as cracks began appearing in the walls before the second story was even finished. In 1880, less than two years after McDonald considered the building complete, impending structural failure required the installation of iron bars through the length of the building in order to prevent the walls from collapsing.
The county continued to use the courthouse in its compromised state for almost twenty years until county commissioners judiciously approved the bid for a new courthouse from William Martin and Peter Moodie, reliable builders based in Comanche, Texas. Three projects were scheduled to be completed: the demolition of the failing courthouse, the construction of a new courthouse, and the installation of a fifty-foot windmill alongside the new building on the courthouse square.
On September 29, 1899 the local Masonic Lodge laid the cornerstone and by May of 1900 the new courthouse was move-in ready. Designed in the Romanesque Revival style, the McCulloch County courthouse featured flanking turrets, rusticated native sandstone walls, a pressed metal clock tower (designed to hold clockworks but none were ever installed), and highly decorative arched windows and entryways. The builders oriented the courthouse to the cardinal points, creating an impressive face to those approaching from Brady’s main thoroughfares. The building could be entered from all four directions through pairs of wood and glass transom doors.
The interior spaces were designed to impress as well. The District Courtroom, with its ornamental metal ceiling rising two stories above the courtroom floor, was probably the largest interior space in the county. An early resident of Brady, Mrs. Houston L. Braly, recalls the new courthouse and surroundings in a 1967 interview for the local newspaper The Brady Herald.
“The walls of the wide halls on the first floor were lined with benches and seemed always to be filled with people resting and visiting,” Braly recalls. “With all doors open on four sides, it was always cool in the summer time. Coal oil lamps on the wall were always ready to light for a cool meeting place on a summer night or a warm one in the winter. In the early days there were lectures, piano recitals, and magic lantern shows. A huge green pine tree graced the halls at the Christmas season…The well and the windmill ensconced on the plaza were a great satisfaction to the businessmen of the town – no more water barrels outside the back door. Water troughs were now set up alongside the hitching racks around the outer edge of the courthouse lawn.”
By the early 1960’s, calls for replacement and demolition of the historic courthouse were quelled by a citizen-led campaign to preserve the 1899 structure, culminating in its designation as a Texas Historical Landmark in 1967.
In 2004 the restoration began, ending in a rededication of the McCulloch County courthouse on September 5, 2009. In addition to repairs and historically sensitive upgrades, the ornamental ceilings featured in the courtrooms were restored to their original appearance. Water troughs and hitching racks, however, were allowed to remain in memory.
McCulloch County Courthouse