This was our twentieth Courthouse in Texas to visit. That means we are at 7.9% of our goal with 92.1% left to go.
Johnson County was officially organized in 1854, formed from parts of Ellis, Hill, and Navarro counties. It was named for Colonel Middleton Tate Johnson, a Texas Ranger and member of the Republic of Texas Congress. The town of Wardville served as the first county seat. In 1854 the county’s first courthouse, a 14’ x 14’ log cabin, was built there by William O’Neal. In 1856, the county seat was moved to Buchanan and a 16’ x 16’ wood courthouse was completed there in 1858. The county’s third courthouse was built in 1860, this time a two-story wood frame building. In 1867, the western portion of Johnson County was organized into Hood County and Johnson County needed a new, centralized county seat. The site of Camp Henderson, which was established in the area during the Civil War for its crossroads location and ample water supply, was chosen as the new county seat. It was renamed Cleburne after Confederate general Patrick Ronayne Cleburne. The courthouse from Buchanan was moved to Cleburne and used until 1869. The fourth Johnson County courthouse, and the first one in Cleburne, was a square, two-story brick building with a T-hallway inside, built by Joseph W. Anderson in 1869. The county outgrew this courthouse by 1880 and it was replaced by a new, elaborate, Second Empire style courthouse in 1883.
The county’s fifth courthouse was completed on October 6, 1883 and stood where the current 1913 courthouse stands today. Designed by Wesley Clarke Dodson and built by Lee Slaughter, the three-story courthouse was built of red brick and stone with a four-story clock tower. Dodson designed many Texas courthouses like this one, including the courthouses in nearby Hill, Hood and Parker counties (still standing) and the courthouses in Anderson, Houston, Hunt and Kaufman counties (no longer standing.) The cost of construction was $44,685. On April 15, 1912, the same day that the RMS Titanic sank, the 1883 courthouse burned down. City Marshal Abe B. Bledsoe, filling in for his brother, Fire Chief Baylor Bledsoe, who was out of town, was the sole casualty. He died while fighting the fire when part of the roof collapsed on him. A stone from this courthouse with the carved date of 1883 sits at the east side entrance of the 1913 courthouse.
In 1912, the commissioners court hired the Dallas architectural firm of Lang and Witchell to design the county’s sixth and current courthouse. Charles Erwin Barglebaugh, who worked with Lang and Witchell on the 1910 Harris County courthouse, also assisted in designing this courthouse. Barglebaugh trained under architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Construction began in 1912 and was completed by the end of 1913. This courthouse was similar to two earlier courthouses Lang and Witchell designed for Cooke County and Scurry County (later drastically altered) in 1911. The architects utilized the Prairie School style of architecture inspired by architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis H. Sullivan. The dominant features included a focus on horizontal lines, flat or hipped roofs and a disciplined use of ornamentation.
The 1913 courthouse was closed in 2005 for exterior and interior restoration work, which included restoring the original paint scheme on the walls and restoring the original height of the district courtroom. County offices were moved at that time to the 1918 Cleburne High School on South Buffalo Street which was renovated into the Guinn Justice Center in 2004. The exterior restoration of the 1913 courthouse was completed in 2007 and the courthouse was rededicated on December 1, 2007. The interior restoration was completed by March 2008. Both buildings continue to serve the county.