Williamson County
Historical Commission

contact Wayne Ware (512) 863-2202

 

Williamson County Courthouse
view Historic Georgetown Square

Our County Courthouse

Shortly after Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836, settlers began establishing county governments and the need for centralized meeting places became apparent. The Texas county seat and its central courthouse filled this role, becoming the symbol of independent self-government in Texas.

 Williamson County followed this trend by petitioning to become a county in 1848, choosing Georgetown as the county seat, and constructing its first of five courthouses in 1849. Williamson County’s first courthouse, along with those of other early counties, was a place to conduct legal and social business.

 As the population and wealth of many Texas counties increased in the late 1800s, the need for larger structures resulted in a courthouse boom throughout the state. Williamson County led the charge with the construction of an elaborate Victorian courthouse in 1878.

 The current courthouse, constructed in 1911, has had a tumultuous past, surviving three major renovations and many modifications including the demolition of its key architectural features in 1966.  With the assistance of the Texas Historical Commission and the dedication of preservation-minded county citizens and officials, the fifth courthouse of Williamson County has been returned to its original 1911 splendor, once again becoming a focal point of the county.



 

COURTHOUSES OF WILLIAMSON COUNTY

Historical Narrative by Clara S. Scarbrough 1980

 Williamson County's present Greek Revival Courthouse was envisioned in the summer of 1909 when the County Court concluded that the 30-year-old Victorian Courthouse built in 1877 was no longer safe. County Judge J. E. Lawhon and his commissioners met Sept. 9, 1909, and ordered an election for Dec. 14 to vote $100,000 in bonds to build the present structure. The corner­stone was laid Oct. 6, 1910 with Georgetown Masonic Lodge in charge of the elaborate ceremonies. The older structure had been demolished the previous May. In Nov. 1910, Richard Critz became the County Judge. He and his commissioners oversaw most of the construction and participated in selecting materials and furnishings. The building and furnishings cost about $120,000.

 The 4-story building of beige brick with limestone trim is in the heart of the Town Square Historic District which includes the Courthouse and all buildings facing it on all four sides. The triple arched stone entryways lead to galleries on four sides and above these passageways are sets of four Ionic columns reaching to the upper floors. The large copper dome is topped by a figure of Justice and large clock faces are inset on each side of the dome. Cornices around the dome are finished in dentil stonework.

 Originally, this structure had massive, carved marble pediments above each of the porticoes. The roofline around all four sides was encircled by a balustrade. Once spoken of as the "centerpiece" of downtown Georgetown, the facade was ordered changed in 1965 when a few of the baluster railings became loosened. The entire balustrade and the elaborate marble pediments were removed and eventually destroyed, and were replaced by the plain beige brickwork now seer The majestic building is conspicuously visible from the two major highways through Georgetown, the Interstate 35 and State Highway 29.

 Inside the Courthouse, note the terrazzo floors made of bits of marble and granite, cemented and polished: the curved stairways with iron grille railings, the stately rotundas, the fine woods--mostly oak--in doors and trim, and the County and District Courtrooms.

 Historical markers are found on the Courthouse lawn and indoors, and in the rotundas, courtrooms and offices are numerous photographs and paintings of the men who held county offices. Many of these men distinguished themselves in state offices such as governor, justices of the Supreme, Civil and Criminal Courts, as attorney general and assistant attorney general, and other state offices. Besides those you see in the photographs, we should note that County Judge C. L. Chance and District Judge Wm. S. Lott, now serving, will riot have their portraits hung until their terms of service are over.

 Williamson County was organized in 1848 and it took most of that year to set up the government in what was not even a village at that time. Green­leaf Fisk was elected the first "Chief Justice," the title for County Judge until 1866. Until late 1848 or early 1849, the County Court met under the live oak tree at the corner of 9th and Church streets (then named Locust and Red streets) where the site of the county seat was chosen. The first Court­house was a 16-foot square log house directly across the street east of the pre-sent structure. The log house was used until May 1851. The first jail was a wagon turned upside down over the prisoner with a guard perched on top. In Dec. 1850, a tiny 12-foot square double log jail was built behind the log Courthouse, 5 feet below ground level, 7 feet above, for $399.75.

 In May 1851, the Court bought a small frame residence on the southeast corner of the same block where the log Courthouse stood, at Church and 8th streets (then called Red and Oak streets). It was about 14 by 30 feet in size.

 Even before this 1851 purchase, the Commissioners Court planned for a stone building to be erected on the "Common" or "Public Square," as it was generally called at that time. In 1854, plans for a 2-story, 50-foot square stone structure were drawn (for $5) and a contract let. Walls were to be 2 feet thick; a hipped roof was chosen. The project seemed in constant trouble, but the completed building was finally accepted in 1857. Within 6 weeks, major repairs were required--braces to support the roof: Apparently the building was already unsafe, and almost continuously the commissioners had to make other corrections, until the building was abandoned in 1877. A public well was locate on the Square, at least by 1866, possibly earlier, and there was also a public privy which the commissioners decreed must be kept unlocked. After this ruling, several individuals asked and were granted permission to build small private privies or place tents on the grounds of the Courthouse.

 

In 1877, architects Preston and Ruffini (the latter an internationally known Italian architect) drew plans for a handsome Victorian courthouse, which was quickly built and ready for use Sept. 2, 1878. Hitching posts and side­walks were added around the structure in 1881, and water troughs for horses built in 1888. A sewage system was installed in 1894. Shortly before this Courthouse was built, a new jail was put up (1875) on the northeast corner of the Square, which served until the present jail was constructed in 1888-89.

 The 1877 Courthouse was replaced by the present one.

 Nearly all downtown streets have been renamed, some of them since the 1920s. Originally, Austin Avenue was Brushy Street, west of the Courthouse; Main Street to the east remained the same; north of the Square was San Gabriel Street (now 7th), and south was Oak (now 8th) Street. Present Church Street was Red Street and was on the eastern boundary of the town of Georgetown in 1848, and the south boundary of town was present 9th Street, in 1848 called Blue Street but shortly after renamed Locust.

 In 1912 a Boston humanitarian gave a water fountain to the City of Georgetown in his campaign of kindness to dumb animals. It was installed in the center of Brushy Street (Austin Avenue) opposite the northwest corner of the Square. The fountain furnished water for horses and dogs. In May 1922 it was moved near a stable on Ninth Street. The Georgetown Heritage Society has permission of the City and of the County Court to have it moved back to the Square area in the near future. ( note: the fountain is now on the courthouse grounds)

 

Rentals of the historic
Williamson County Courthouse

The Williamson County Courthouse has rooms and spaces available for rentals: the Commissioners' Courtroom, the District Courtroom, a Conference Room and Rotundas on all three floors. These are available for special events and meetings Wednesday through Saturday from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm.

To obtain more detailed information on renting the Williamson County Courthouse for your special event, please contact Mickie Ross at mross@williamsonmuseum.org
or 512-943-1670. 
(for tours of the courthouse call Mickie Ross)

              for questions on courthouse rentals or tours click here



Historic Courthouses of Williamson County

  Photographic policies prohibit reproduction - please contact the Williamson Museum for reproduction rights.  Your interests and the preservation of the materials will be assured by the observance of these policies and procedures.

To inquire about the use or purchase of any of these photographs please contact the museum at 512-943-1670
 

click on thumbnail image for an enlarged view

  
1850-1855


1878 to 1910


   
1878 to 1910
 


1910-1911
 

       
      1960
 

 circa 1960 and 2007

click on thumbnail image for an enlarged view


Williamson County Courthouse
2005  before restoration
view historical plaques

as of 05


Williamson County Courthouse
10-1-2007    
after restoration


  Williamson County
Courthouse Dome (before)
2005


adding the new Copper Cladding
video of the
Courthouse Statue Removal
 


restoration fence 2005
 


Christmas 2005

 

   view other Williamson County history pages