The first Navarro County courthouse, located in the county seat of Corsicana, consisted of red cedar and post oak logs. The structure, built in 1848, was chinked, clapboard sided and then whitewashed and is believed to survive today on private lands. The second courthouse, built in 1853, consisted of a two-story frame structure with an outside staircase and a cupola. Two years later arsonists, determined to destroy indictment documents, set fire to the building. They were only partially successful. District records and land titles, stored on the first floor, survived. Courthouse number three, also a two-story frame structure, served the county until 1880, functioning as a social center as well as a courthouse and, at the end of the Civil War, a governing center for Union troops.
By the 1870’s Navarro County required a larger, more modern courthouse to conduct its business, contracting well-known Austin architect F. E. Ruffini to design a Second Empire style courthouse with grand ornamentation to reflect the county’s expanding wealth. Ruffini employed cream-colored bricks and stone trim to highlight an ornate central clock tower detailed in sheet metal. Unfortunately, after 23 years of use, the building’s unstable foundation required the county to condemn the structure and contract for its demolition.
In 1905, the fifth Navarro County courthouse was completed, designed by Dallas architect J. E. Flanders in the Classical Revival style with Beaux-Arts influences. The structure features red Burnet granite, buff brick, terra cotta details, three stories, forty rooms, a tile roof, an open clock tower and a pediment that is capped with a copper repousse Lady Justice. The interior houses a central open vertical atrium accented by complimenting steel stairs and scagliola columns rising from the second to the fourth floor. Scagliola, a unique finish developed in Italy and not found in any other Texas courthouse, is made up of layers of tinted plasters that convincingly imitates marble. In fact, during the evaluation of the building by a structural engineer, he expressed concern that the foundation might not be sufficient to support such heavy marble columns when in fact they are hollow. The vertical rise of the atrium terminates in an elaborate coffered ceiling and stained glass panels illuminated by clerestory windows located in the bell tower.
It was an appropriately extravagant courthouse for a county that would soon boast of containing at least twenty-one millionaires by the 1950s, made wealthy during the oil boom of the 1920s. The discovery of the Powell oilfield generated over 550 wells in and around the county seat and produced over a quarter of a million barrels of oil per day. It wasn’t the first remarkable period of good fortune for the county. An early boom in the first part of the 1900s meant electric trolleys in the county seat by 1902 and a rapid population boom. By the start of the Second World War, the county seat was home to five banks, three movie theaters, three hospitals, three hotels, a refinery, and two oil pumping stations.
For the rest of Texas, however, Corsicana may be best known today for the singular product produced by the local Collin Street Bakery, in business since the 1950s. The bakery manufactures and ships thousands of fruitcakes every year, as familiar an arrival during the holiday season to homes across the state as Santa.