The Moderne Courthouses of Texas

This style of architecture was influence by industrial designs of planes, ships and railroad engines.

By Liz Carmack, Sr. Communications Specialist

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Inside the entryway to the Jack County Courthouse

Moderne architectural style, sometimes called Art Moderne, was popular from about 1925 to 1940. A conscious break from the traditional architectural styles that preceded it, Moderne style was influenced by advancements in the industrial design of planes, ships, automobiles and railroad engines. Buildings designed in this style have an overall emphasis on horizontal lines and feature smooth surfaces and rounded corners with modest ornamentation.

A flat roof is another distinctive detail of Moderne style buildings, and they usually include a small ledge, called coping, that caps the parapet wall at the roofline. They also often feature aluminum or stainless steel detailing, bands of casement, corner or ribbon windows and prominent masonry coursing, all arranged horizontally. 

The beauty of Moderne style is expressed in the details and materials used. While at first a building constructed in this style may appear to be a simple box, a close look reveals it can be quite ornate. 

Interiors often feature tall marble wainscots and terrazzo floors with complementary colors and designs. Interior details also include aluminum railings, light fixtures and hardware, and architectural woodwork, all with simple but elegant detailing. 

In addition to the Jack, Gregg and Rusk county courthouses featured here, at least another three dozen courthouses across the state were built in this style, including those in Andrews, Chambers, Comanche, Falls, Kimble, Liberty, Moore, Ward and Yoakum counties.

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.

Gregg County Courthouse; 1932 – Longview

Wichita Falls architects Voelcker & Dixon designed the seven-story Gregg County Courthouse in Moderne style with Art Deco features. The third courthouse for Gregg County, the building is faced with cream-colored brick and limestone trim. When it first opened in 1932, it housed a jail on its top three floors. 

During the 1950s and 1980s, two annexes were constructed to the courthouse using the same brick and similar massing. The first annex, constructed in 1958, was designed by Smith, Warder & Yost to the east of the original building. Another annex was completed to its west in 1982.

Jack County Courthouse; 1940 – Jacksboro

The 1940 Jack County Courthouse is constructed of cast-in-place concrete sheathed in Texas limestone. It features fluted pilasters alternated with recessed, vertically ranked windows and marble spandrels. The marble is “bookmatched,” meaning it was quarried and cut so that the grain of the marble is mirrored or symmetrical. Doors at the building entries are hollow bronze, topped with metal ornamentation on the west side and carved limestone on the east. The courthouse has a flat roof, with a single-story utility penthouse.

Wichita Falls architects Voelker & Dixon designed the courthouse, which includes four levels — three floors and a raised basement that serves as the main entry floor.

Its interior includes several original decorative features, including light fixtures, stone- and wood-paneled wall veneers, decorative moldings, door hardware, duct covers and aluminum cashier window screens.

Rusk County Courthouse; 1928 – Henderson

The Rusk County Courthouse was built in 1928 at a total cost of $146,149. The building features three floors, including a basement. Its exterior is constructed of cream brick with a grooved finish and sandstone around the doors, windows and pediments. 

Exterior ornamentation includes carved lions, flowers, leaves and geometric designs as well as Romanesque swag wreaths on bronze panels set above windows. The exterior of each entrance is flanked by Gothic light fixtures, while blue leaded glass chandeliers hang in each entryway.