The Renaissance Revival Courthouses of Texas

This style of architecture was popular in the last half or the 19th century.

By Liz Carmack, Sr. Communications Specialist

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The Renaissance Revival style, popular in America during the last half of the 19th and the early 20th centuries, is a celebration of the forms and motifs inspired by the 16th century Italian Renaissance. Buildings of this style generally are constructed in stone and typically have low pitched, hipped roofs with broad, overhanging and bracketed eaves and often with a dome or cupola.

Their symmetrical facades can be highly decorative. Windows, doors and porches are often flanked by columns and capped by arches or ornamental lintels. Window trim and size often change from floor to floor, with smaller, less elaborate windows on the upper stories. Decorative horizontal bands, called “stringcourses,” of brick or rusticated stone also often divide the ground or first floor from the upper floors of Renaissance Revival buildings.

The courthouses of Colorado, Leon and Milam counties – featured here – are designed in this style, as are those in Anderson, Bandera, Bell and about a dozen other counties across the state. Over time, some of them have been significantly altered from their original style.

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of photo essays highlighting architectural styles of Texas county courthouses. Photos are by Laura Skelding and text is by Liz Carmack. Thanks to the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation program for its assistance with this series.

Colorado County Courthouse; 1891 – Columbus (above)

The Colorado County Courthouse was completed in 1891. Architect Eugene T. Heiner designed the building.

The brick, three-story courthouse has a cruciform floor plan. Rusticated cornerstones accent its smooth exterior brick wall, and typical of its Renaissance Revival style, it has rusticated limestone bands or stringcourses wrapping the walls horizontally. Coupled inset panels and single recessed panels vertically link the windows.

Following a 1909 hurricane that damaged the roof and slender clock tower, a more classical Roman dome was designed in copper to crown the building. Acoustic ceiling tiles covered the stained glass skylight for decades, but the dome underwent restoration work in 1953, and again in 1979, when the tiles were removed and the glass repaired.

The county rededicated its courthouse in 2014, after it was restored to its 1910 appearance. The project was funded in part by a grant from the Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program (THCPP).

Leon County Courthouse; 1886 – Centerville

The Leon County Courthouse, designed by William Johnson, was constructed in 1886 on the site of the county’s 1856 courthouse. The two-story, rectangular building features a restrained Renaissance Revival style with a brick exterior and two-pane-over-two-pane windows with iron sills. Stringcourses of brick wrap the building at the base of its first and second story windows. Stilted brick arches span all doors and windows. This style of arch is semi-circular in shape with two vertical portions at the “springings,” or the bases on either side of the arch.

The south entrance of this petite courthouse features a small portico that includes paired iron columns with pedestals and modified Corinthian capitals. It is topped by a wooden balcony rimmed by a decorative iron rail. 

Restoration of the courthouse was completed in 2007 with grant assistance from the THC’s THCPP. It included restoring the district courtroom on the second floor to its early 20th century luster with ceiling fans, bare bulb fixtures, original benches and black walnut trim. 

Leon County rededicated its courthouse in 2007.

Milam County Courthouse; 1892 – Cameron

Designed by Larmour and Watson, the 1892 Milam County Courthouse has a cruciform floor-plan. A decorative tower with four clock faces caps the three-story, limestone building. Atop the tower stands a statue of the Goddess of Justice.

According to its National Register of Historic Places listing, the courthouse is an outstanding example of Renaissance Revival design. It has four projecting center pavilions emphasized by a portico and a triangular pediment. The building is divided horizontally into three sections by cut stone stringcourses. Rusticated limestone emphasizes its ground floor. Its middle section encompasses two stories and is tied together with pilasters of cut stone with Corinthian capitals and smooth shafts supported on pedestals. The top, or terminal section of the building, features a wide continuous lintel entablature, capped with a cornice.  

The window designs vary and include paired windows spanned by Roman arches with pronounced sculptured keystones and triple windows spanned by lintels contained within panels defined by pilasters, or columns.

Restored in 2002 with grant assistance from the THC’s HTCPP, the project included restoring limestone facades and porticos, replacing aluminum windows with wood to match the original, and reconstructing cornice and roof pavilions.

Milam County rededicated its courthouse in 2002.