The first Rains County courthouse, completed in 1870, consisted of a simple log structure. It was replaced two years later with a two-room frame building constructed in the center of the courthouse square, located in the county seat of Emory. A few days before Thanksgiving in 1879, the lumber courthouse burned to the ground, taking all the county records with it. Officials reoccupied the older log structure in order to continue conducting county business. Thomas M. Alfred, County Clerk at the time of the fire, recalled a busy week immediately after the conflagration as citizens crowded into the temporary quarters to reestablish their legal documents.
A third courthouse, completed in 1884, featured two-stories and the installation of a fire-proof steel vault. Constructed by Hunsucher and Dunyan Contractors who used bricks composed of red clay and sand manufactured next to the construction site, the courthouse served the county until arsonists struck in 1908. Although the steel vault preserved the county records, a $1000 reward was offered for the capture and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the fire.
The county constructed another courthouse soon after the fire, officially accepting the building on April 2, 1909. Designed by the Bryan Architectural Company of St. Louis, Missouri, the Rains County courthouse was built in the shape of a two-story Maltese cross and reflected the Classical Revival style popular during the first decade of the 20th century. The exterior is composed of Ginger brick, a light, cream-colored brick material manufactured in the Rains County community of Ginger by the Fraser Brick Company. The courthouse design originally called for the main entrances to face the cardinal directions but several reasons for the alternative placements included a mistake by the builders and the alignment of the entrances to the location of the existing surrounding streets. What may also be likely regarding the placement of the entrances was the decision to incorporate the steel vault from the previous courthouse into the new design. The vault remained in its original location after the fire and the 1909 courthouse was built around it, allowing only three entrances for the new building and perhaps determining their placement.
The historic steel vault featured two doors that open into the northwest and northeast offices. Two windows were also located along the north wall of the vault. Sliding steel doors and steel louvers covered the windows although the windows were usually opened before air conditioning was installed to help provide ventilation for county employees working within the vault.
The vault walls, ceiling and floor were constructed of steel plate and were once decoratively finished with painted stenciling on the columns, beams, and sliding shutters. During a restoration of the historic courthouse, financed through a grant from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program and completed in 2010, the vault received special attention. Pitting and rusting had occurred throughout the vault’s structure and approximately fifty percent of the original decorative painting had been covered in later, non-historic over-painting. The County was awarded supplemental funding by the Texas Historical Commission for restoration of the vault and the surviving stenciling was cleaned and conserved and, where over-painted, replicated. Elsewhere in the courthouse, the original decorative pressed tin ceilings were recovered behind non-historic renovations. The courthouse dome featured a wooden spire four inches in diameter and approximately one hundred and sixty three inches tall. Composed of Longleaf yellow pine, the spire had not survived the decades well. The base was severely rotted and the tip had broken off. But both the County and the Texas Historical Commission were determined to see it restored. A new spire, constructed out of structural grade redwood, replaced the damaged antique, restoring the dome to its original appearance.