This was our thirty-sixth Courthouse in Texas to visit. That means we are at 14.2% of our goal with 85.8% left to go. Joyce was born in Brownwood, but raised here in Comanche.
Typical of Texas, Comanche County has had several courthouses and two of them remain on the square in Comanche. The current Art Deco structure was designed by the late Wyatt Hendrick of Fort Worth whose architectural achievements receive recognition even today. The three-story building, begun in 1939 and dedicated in the fall of 1941, was built with very substantial W.P.A. funding plus local bond money. Its external appearance remains little changed aside from a few additions to meet A.D.A. requirements. Limestone from a local quarry was used and some material from the razed 1891 courthouse went into interior walls. The heroic-sized cut stone eagles that accent the north and south entrances were made on site by the late Elmer Webb, a Comanche stone cutter.
The little log structure that served Comanche County at Cora, its original county seat, is on the southwest corner of the square. It has been on five different sites between 1856 and 1983. The west room reputedly was Comanche’s courthouse between 1856 and 1858. Later the one room was moved and placed with another log structure to become a double pen cabin with its typical dog trot center hall. For many years this building, used as a residence, was on a knoll beside the road slightly removed from the old Cora town site and overlooked the Leon River.
Local citizens raised funds in 1938 to move the building to a new location about four miles south of Comanche. There it overlooked Lake Eanes, the city-owned water supply with its adjoining park. Deterioration set in as years passed. About 1961, Burks Museum in Comanche received permission to move the building to their private museum grounds and repair it. As Mr. and Mrs. A. P. Burks aged, the privately owned museum was sold. The Comanche Historical Commission wrestled possession of Cora out of the sale transactions and relocated it to the square. Under the auspices of the Old Cora Commission restoration work was completed during 1984 with an historical marker for Cora dedicated in 1986 public ceremonies as a Texas Sesquicentennial event. New, serious, very substantial restoration efforts continue in 2002-2003 involving a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation with other funding still needed. The plans afoot include extensive changes to the entire south side of Comanche’s square.
Comanche County has had five different courthouses. Briefly listed they are the log cabin at Cora and a picket construction log courthouse built at Comanche about 1859. This cabin built of logs set upright in a trench and placed tightly together “burned on the night of March 15, 1862” according to Commissioners Court minutes.
Afterward, the county had no formal edifice until it commissioned a two-story structure built by the new contracting firm of Martin, Byrne, & Johnston and completed in 1876. This building, set in the middle of the square with a north and south orientation, was of locally made red brick with cut stone trim. It served until the close of the 1880s.
When the railroad finally approached Comanche and economic times improved, Austin architects, Lamour & Watson, were commissioned to design Comanche County’s handsomest public structure. This impressive three-story building with its tower, striking clock, and clear-sighted Statue of Justice was a landmark between 1891 and 1939. It was razed and the space used to build the new Art Deco structure. A remarkably similar building, almost a twin to the 1891 Comanche Courthouse, can be seen in Cameron today where Milam County has done a beautiful restoration of their 19th century courthouse.
The battered Statue of Justice, meticulously repaired by Cliff Conway, can be seen in the main hall of Comanche’s courthouse. Incidents over time have left her without her scales that are thought to have been lost in a windstorm and were missing by 1908. Subsequent damage after her removal from the razed 1891 building includes a missing forearm, hand, and the symbolic Sword of Justice. There are some bullet holes courtesy of a long-ago target shooter. Most unusual is the absence of the traditional blindfold that may allow Comanche’s Justice to look carefully at any issue with both eyes. A well-preserved example of the same statue can be seen on the Coryell County courthouse at Gatesville today.