This was our twenty-eighth Courthouse in Texas to visit. That means we are at 11% of our goal with 89% left to go. As I was photographing the car and courthouse, I noticed a policeman staring at the car. As I was finishing up, he headed over to the car. Since I was illegally parked, I assumed he was going to ask us to move or perhaps even write us a ticket. However, he started gushing over the car and started giving us other suggestions of places in Fort Worth that would be a great backdrop for the car. When we started the engine, we thought he might have had just a little too much fun listening to the sound. We left ticketless and headed to Weatherford.
Formed in 1849, Tarrant County was officially organized in 1850 with Birdville as the county seat, the first settlement in Tarrant County, which was formed around Camp Bird in 1848. The county was named for Edward H. Tarrant, a military commander, Texas Ranger, and Indian fighter who was responsible for the removal of most of the Indians who lived in the Tarrant County area. Southwest of Birdville, at the confluence of the Clear Fork and the West Fork of the Trinity River another camp was formed in 1849, named Camp Worth after Mexican War hero General William Jenkins Worth. The camp was officially given the name Fort Worth. The town of Fort Worth built up around the military outpost after it was abandoned in 1853.
The county’s first courthouse, a wood frame structure, was built in 1849 in Birdville followed by a second in 1856. The second courthouse was thought to be a Greek Revival, square plan antebellum style building. The second courthouse, apparently, was never completed due to an election held in 1856 to move the county seat to Fort Worth. Fort Worth won by a slim margin and the county records were moved to a temporary courthouse there. The election results were declared invalid and another election was held in 1860. This time, Fort Worth won by a landslide with 548 votes. A non-existent site at the center of the county received 301 votes and Birdville received 4 votes. Legend has it that some Fort Worth boys went to Birdville the night before the election and stole all their whiskey (traditionally used to bring out the vote) and brought it to Fort Worth. With plenty of whiskey in Fort Worth and none in Birdville, Fort Worth won in a landslide.
Construction on the county’s third courthouse, the first in Fort Worth, began in 1860, but disruption caused by the Civil War kept it from being completed until 1866. The stone courthouse is depicted in a street drawing of Fort Worth, ca. 1866, as a square building with three bays on each side, a hipped roof and a hexagonal tower with a conical cupola and a spire. Its design was typical of antebellum style courthouses. This courthouse burned on March 29, 1876. Most of the county records were lost in the fire despite repeated requests to install a fire-proof vault in the courthouse.
In 1876, construction began on the county’s fourth courthouse. Built by contractors Thomas & Warner, it was a two-story, octagonal, Italianate style building with protruding wings, a dome, and a central tower. The buildings details included arched windows and doors, corner quoins and a balustrade around the central tower.
The county’s fifth courthouse, built in 1881, was essentially a remodel of the 1876 building. Architect James J. Kane, who designed the 1886 Bosque County courthouse, removed the building’s dome, and added a third floor with a new central tower, giving the courthouse a look that resembled a Second Empire style building. In 1893, the growing wealth and population of the county, in addition to its escalating crime problem, prompted the County Commissioners Court to vote to spend $500,000 for the construction of a new courthouse. The final cost came to $408,840 and it outraged citizens to the extent that they voted the entire Commissioner’s Court out of office.
Construction on the sixth courthouse began in 1893 with the former courthouse being demolished the following year. The new courthouse was completed in 1895. Built in a Renaissance Revival/Beaux-Arts style out of Texas pink granite with a steel frame, it was designed by Kansas City architects Frederick C. Gunn and Louis S. Curtiss and built by the Probst Construction Company of Chicago. This monumental courthouse, with a height measuring 194 feet, is often compared to the Texas Capitol building. It has a raised basement and four stories with a domed central tower, ornate front entrance pavilion and domed side pavilions. The building’s details, especially on the upper floors, include columns, pediments, balustrades, and entablatures.
The 1895 courthouse retained its original appearance until the 1950s when a Civil Courts Building, designed by Fort Worth architect Wyatt C. Hedrick, was completed in 1958, attaching it to the west side of the courthouse, destroying much of the stonework and entry stairs. The white, limestone addition with louvered windows and four bas-relief sculptures of a winged Lady Justice, was considered one of the ugliest buildings in downtown Fort Worth, referred to as the “hemorrhoid to the west” and “a space age refrigerator.” In 1983, the 1895 courthouse received a $9 million renovation which removed false ceilings, restored floors, courtrooms and stairwells, and re-opened the rotunda. A 1988 remodeling of the 1958 Civil Courts Building, by architect George C.T. Woo, covered the structure in synthetic stucco that was painted to match the stone of the 1895 courthouse. Many buildings were added to the Tarrant County courthouse complex over the years to the west of the 1895 courthouse, including the Criminal Justice Building (1918), the Criminal Courts Building (1962), The Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center (1990) and to the southeast, the Family Law Center (2005.) A new Civil Courts Building being built to the east of the 1895 courthouse should be completed in 2015. In 2012, a $4.5 million restoration was completed on the clock tower of the 1895 courthouse followed by the demolition of the 1958 west side addition in 2013.