Beaux Arts Courthouses of Texas

By Liz Carmack, Sr. Communications Specialist

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Named for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the premier French school of architecture, the Beaux Arts architectural style was popular from about 1880-1930.  This massive, heavy style reflected the accumulated wealth of the Industrial Revolution through its formal symmetry, Italian Renaissance form, and classical Greek and Roman decorative elements such as columns, pediments, porticos and balustrades.
Beaux Arts interiors are typically lavish with high, vaulted or coffered ceilings, arched openings, grand staircases and central domes, often visible from an interior atrium.
The style often was used in the design of public buildings, such as government offices, libraries and courthouses. In Texas, several county courthouses are Beaux Arts in design or include Beaux Arts elements. In addition to the courthouses of Bee, Cooke and Navarro counties featured here, other counties with Beaux Arts courthoues include Coryell, Fort Bend, Hale, Hardeman, Harris, Hays, Jones, Kerr, Kinney, McLennan, Sabine and Williamson.

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.

Bee County Courthouse, 1913 — Beeville (above)

Designed by architects William C. Stephenson and Fritz W. Heldenfels, the Bee County Courthouse is a fine example of Beaux Arts style with its grand entry portico, symmetrical façade and clock tower dome. 
The three-story courthouse’s load-bearing walls are sheathed in tan-gray brick. Horizontal cast stone resembling limestone encircles the building just below the first- and second-story windows and above its third-story. 
Rising above its red clay hipped roof are a central, beehive dome that houses its clockworks and a statue of the Goddess of Justice. Stephenson himself sculpted the 14-foot statue. She carries a torch of knowledge in her right hand and a staff with the scroll of records in her left.

The building’s rotunda features marble wainscoting and floors of original ceramic mosaic tile laid in decorative patterns, including a large “B” as the focal point on the ground floor. 
The courthouse was rededicated in 2006 following restoration work and improvements to safety and accessibility. The project was funded in part by $4.03 million in grants from the Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) Historic Texas Courthouse Preservation Program (THCPP).
 

Cooke County Courthouse, 1912 – Gainesville



Dominating the Gainesville skyline, the Cooke County Courthouse’s octagonal clock tower is capped by a copper dome at the intersection of its cruciform plan. The rectangular building uses a three-bay configuration on each of its four elevations. Two-story, stylized Ionic columns that frame recessed window bays distinguish all four of the building’s façades. Its partial basement and first -floor level façades are of dressed stone and include arched window headers and entry door openings accessed through a gallery of arched openings. On the second and third levels, the roof parapet fascia and tower are faced with brick. Symbolic motifs in the building’s ornamental plaster include medallions of stylized eagles and the scales of justice. 

Its central atrium contains grand staircases and features black and white marble, capped by a Sullivanesque plaster and stained glass detailed dome.  
Designed by the firm Lang & Witchell, the building cost $152,000 to construct. While designed in Beaux Arts style, it has some Prairie Style features and influences from famed Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, particularly its ornamental plaster and stained glass.

Following interior and exterior restorations, funded in part by a grant of more than $3.7 million from the THC’s THCPP, Cooke County rededicated its courthouse in 2011.


Navarro County Courthouse, 1905 – Corsicana

 

Navarro County’s red Burnet granite and buff brick courthouse, designed by James E. Flanders, cost $128,900 to construct and is the county’s fifth. The four-story building, which includes a basement, features pedimented entryways with freestanding, Ionic columns. A copper statue of Lady Justice stands atop its open clock tower, above a French clay tile roof.

Its central vertical corridor opens to all levels and terminates at the top with an elaborate coffered ceiling and stained glass ceiling panels. The third and fourth floors offer an excellent view of the second floor’s Lone Star design in terrazzo tile.
The large columns throughout the interior, and rising up through the full height of the atrium, resemble marble but they are not. This courthouse is one of only five U.S. buildings to use the Italian scagliola technique, according to the THC. The technique mimics a marble finish using layers of tinted plaster. 

The county rededicated its courthouse in 2016 after an extensive restoration. The work included reinstating the missing copper Lady Justice statue, restoring the district courtroom to its original two-story height, conducting a significant restoration of trim and molding — from gold leaf application on the proscenium arch and balconies to the paneling on the judges’ bench — and painstaking hand polishing of the scagliola columns. The work was funded in part through more than $5.5 million in grants from the THC’s THCPP.