This was our sixty-third Courthouse in Texas to visit. That means we are at 24.8% of our goal with 75.2% left to go.

Although settlement in this area of Texas began in the early 1830s, Rusk County wasn’t organized until 1843, cut from Nacogdoches County to the south. It was named after a veteran of the Texas Revolution, signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and Texas political leader General Thomas Jefferson Rusk. Early area settlers such as General James Smith (the namesake of Smith County) and William B. Ochiltree (the namesake of Ochiltree County) donated land for the creation of the county seat of Henderson, named for their friend and the first governor of the state of Texas, James Pinckney Henderson.

The county’s first courthouse was of log construction built in 1843. This structure was demolished for the building of the second courthouse in 1850. The contractors were Cadawaller W. Chaney, Joseph D. Johnson and John Henderson. On August 5, 1860, during a devastatingly hot and dry summer, a fire nearly destroyed the entire business district in Henderson and damaged the courthouse. The fire was blamed on a pro-Union abolitionist named Green Herndon who was implicated by a Black woman who confessed that Herndon had hired her to start the fire. A mob tied Herndon to a horse and dragged him around the square until he died then hung him from a tree and shot bullets into his lifeless corpse. The 1850 courthouse was subsequently repaired, but the building was finally destroyed by fire in March of 1878. That year, the construction of the third courthouse began. Built at the highest elevation in the original townsite, it dominated the surrounding landscape and could be seen for miles. Designed by Austin architect F.E. Ruffini, it was a red brick and stone, Second Empire style building with an Italianate style clock tower. The courthouse had chimneys, an elaborate cornice, pediments at the roof line over the entrances, balconies over the central entrances on each side and pilasters between each bay of windows which had segmented and round arches in contrasting colors. Ruffini designed a similar looking courthouse for Gregg County in 1879. He would go on to design several more Texas courthouses until his death in 1885.

By the late 1920s, the third courthouse was deemed too small and unsafe so it was decided to construct a new one. To alleviate traffic around the courthouse square, the fourth courthouse was built two blocks north of it on top of a small hill. When the 1878/79 courthouse was demolished, it left a large open intersection at the conjunction of North and South Main streets and East and West Main streets (an unusual distinction in the state’s courthouse squares.) The fourth and current courthouse was constructed in 1928 and designed by Dallas architect Arthur E. Thomas with his architectural partner Corneil G. Curtis and associate architect A.C. Gentry. The concrete and brick courthouse is in the Classical Revival style (the style of this courthouse is also referred to as Texas Renaissance) with Art-Moderne style details. This four story building of stepped massing has a parapet roof and a raised basement and the main entrances lead up to the second floor. Each entrance is surrounded with smooth concrete with a panel over the entrance that has a pair of carved gargoyles looking at each other with a wreath and empty shield between them. The building’s modest ornamentation includes brick pilasters between each bay of windows with carvings in their capitals and festoons on the spandrels between the second and third floor windows.

An oil boom more than tripled Henderson’s population between 1930 and 1933 and in 1936, an addition in the same architectural style and detail was added to the west side of the courthouse, designed by the building’s original architect, Arthur E. Thomas. Although the interior has received modern renovations over the years, the exterior remains virtually unchanged and this courthouse continues to serve the county today.