This was our one hundred-forty-third Courthouse in Texas to visit. That means we are at 56.3% of our goal with 43.7% left to go. We noticed the state of Texas right in the middle of the street.
The third county established after the birth of the Republic of Texas, Montgomery County was organized in 1837, cut from neighboring Washington County. The county was named for Montgomery, the county’s largest settlement at the time, which was named for early settler and veteran of the battle of San Jacinto, Andrew Jackson Montgomery. Montgomery was a descendant of Revolutionary War general Richard Montgomery. Montgomery County would later be divided to create Grimes, Madison, San Jacinto, Walker and Waller counties.
The town of Montgomery served as the first county seat and the first courthouse, a two-room log structure, was built there in 1838. This courthouse was replaced by a two-story building of hand-hewn lumber in 1842. In 1855, a large Greek Revival-style brick building was completed and served as the county’s third courthouse.
When the railroad arrived in Montgomery County in the 1870s, it bypassed the town of Montgomery. The town of Willis, north of present day Conroe, was established on the railroad and in 1874, an election moved the county seat to Willis. However, when the Houston and Texas Central was built through Montgomery in 1880, the county seat was returned there. In 1881, Houston lumberman Isaac Conroe opened a sawmill at the center of the county near the future junction of the I&GN and the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway. He later moved his sawmill to the railroad junction and it served as a station on the I&GN Railroad. A town developed at the junction, named Conroe’s Switch, and the county seat was moved there in 1889. The town was renamed Conroe in the 1890s. A residence donated by Isaac Conroe served as a temporary courthouse until a permanent brick structure was built in 1891.
The 1891 courthouse in Conroe, the fourth courthouse for the county, was designed by Houston architect Eugene T. Heiner in the Second Empire style that he employed in many of his previous Texas county courthouses, most notably the 1888 Austin County courthouse, the 1888 Falls County courthouse and the 1888 Walker County courthouse. Heiner also designed a separate jail at the same time and it stood until 1931 when it burned down. Fires in 1901 and 1911 near the courthouse square destroyed much of the business district, but the courthouse survived. In 1922 the courthouse grounds became the scene of communal violence when a 19-year old black mill worker, Joe Winters, was accused of raping a young white girl and was burned alive. The 1891 courthouse stood until it was demolished for the construction of the present courthouse in 1936.
The 1936 Montgomery County courthouse was designed by Austrian-born Houston architect Joseph Finger, who is probably best remembered for designing the 1939 Houston City Hall and other buildings in Houston. Finger also designed the 1952 Harris County courthouse with his architectural partner, George W. Rustay, but died before it was completed. The design of the 1936 courthouse reflected many of the Art-Moderne style courthouses already built in Texas during the 1930s which consisted of a large central masses with flanking blocks. The ornamentation on the 1936 courthouse is sparse, consisting of carved stripes in the limestone, stars and stylized eagles and the county name over the east and west side entrances. In place of a clock tower, a small, square, numberless clock sits in the middle of the central mass at the roofline. This courthouse was built with a jail on the top floor which was used until 1965 when the courthouse was remodeled. It was at this time that the 1936 courthouse was surrounded by two-story brick additions with a parking garage beneath them. Columned porticoes were also added to the east and west side entrances. The 1936 courthouse is still in service today with a sky bridge connecting the north side of the 1965 addition to the courthouse annex across West Davis Street.