Building the Denton County Courthouse


In 1981 the Texas Historical Commission approved a grant to the Denton County Historical Commission for the purpose of preparing a preservation plan for the old Denton County Courthouse. Members of the Denton County Historical Commission were concerned about deterioration of the courthouse, constructed between 1895 and 1897, and they wanted a professional plan that would set priorities for repairs without damaging the historical qualities of the building. That building, known locally as the Courthouse on the Square, was in 1981 the only structure in the county listed on the National Register of Historic Places; in addition, it was an official Texas Historic Landmark and a Texas Archaeological Site.

The terms of the grant required the Denton County Commissioners Court to match the state grant on a two-for-one ratio. The court did so by unanimous vote, and the Denton County Historical Commission employed the San Antonio preservation architectural firm of DeLara-Almond to prepare the plan. Firm partner Killis Almond carried out preliminary studies for the preservation plan in the winter of 1981-1982, and he suggested that the Denton County Historical Commission could aid his work if it could prepare a historical record of the construction of the courthouse.
At that time, I was serving as vice-chairman of the Denton County Historical Commission and agent for the commission in the preparation of the preservation plan. In addition, I was responsible for the Denton County Archives, the depository for old county records and private collections relating to the history of Denton County, housed in the Courthouse on the Square. I asked David Strother, then the Denton County archivist, to compile all references to the construction of the old courthouse from the Minute Books of the Denton County Commissioners Court and other county records. In the early spring, Strother carried out that task and sent the extracts to Almond, who used them in his final preservation plan; that plan was presented to the Denton County Commissioners Court in August 1982.

In the meantime, a number of people read the collection of extracts that Strother had compiled, and everyone who read them encouraged the Denton County Historical Commission to publish them so that they would be available to a wide audience. I thereupon suggested to Strother that he search for other sources to augment the records he had already found. Strother found useful articles in the Pilot-Point Post-Mirror and a smaller amount of information in Dallas papers, but unfortunately for history, the only known copies of newspapers printed in the city of Denton while these events were taking place burned before World War II. In legal records Strother found summaries of the lawsuit that J. R. Gordon, the first architect for the courthouse, brought against the county. Bank records that might have been useful for describing the marketing of the bonds for the courthouse seem to have disappeared, but they would, in all probability, add little to the material already available.

Thus Strother was able to add material to extracts from the Minute Books of the Denton County Commissioners Court, but the basic narrative still moves through that record. The extracts are presented here in their original phrasing, beginning with the entry of October 5, 1894, when the Commissioners Court first began to study the safety of the older courthouse; the last entry shows the final payment to the architect, W. C. Dodson, in 1897.

Through these materials the reader can see the late nineteenth century as it once lived and can see how the most treasured building in the county came to be, step by step. Strother has also contributed a brief narrative summarizing events. It is printed here as the Introduction.

Bullitt Lowry
Chairman, Denton County Historical Commission