Texas Over Time: The McLennan County Courthouse, Waco, Texas.

September 19, 2019 geoff_hunt

 

By Geoff Hunt, Audio and Visual Curator

Texas has changed quite a bit over the years, as is readily seen in our vast photograph and postcard collections. To help bring some of those changes to life, we’ve created a “Texas over Time” blog series that will illustrate the construction and renovations of buildings, street scenes, and more. Our collections are especially strong on Waco and Baylor images, but look for some views beyond the Heart of Texas, too.

McLennan County Courthouse (left) on Washington Avenue, and businesses across the street. Fred Gildersleeve image, circa 1910. Gildersleeve-Conger collection; recent photo of same by G.H.

 

The McLennan County Courthouse, located on Sixth and Washington Avenue, Waco, Texas, was completed in 1902, and is the fourth purpose-built structure in the city to serve this purpose. It was built not far-removed from a time when the county’s population had grown from about 500 residents in the 1850’s to nearly 60,000 by its year of completion. The county’s first courthouse, a two-story log cabin, was completed in 1852, and was located on the southwest corner of the Waco city square at Third Street. Just prior on April 14, 1851, Judge R.E.B. Baylor [co-founder of Baylor University] held the 1st session of the 3rd Judicial District Court to be held in McLennan County, in a privately owned school house near the banks of the Brazos River near Washington Avenue. In 1858, a brick, two-story structure was completed, and located in the center of Waco’s square. In 1877, the third courthouse, a three-story building with bell tower, was built at Second Street and Franklin Avenue. It served the county until the 1890’s when it had already proved too small. As a result, Waco’s largest structure at the time, the five-story Provident Building, had room enough to temporarily serve as a courthouse until 1902, when the current structure was completed.

Today’s McLennan County Courthouse on Washington Avenue was designed by the James Riely Gordon Company of Dallas, and its architect was W.C. Dodson of Waco. The contractor was Tom Lovell of Denton, Tx. The county’s former district clerk, C.L. Middlebrook, in the The Texas Bar Journal of October 1970, described the courthouses architecture as “French Renaissance Revival with American touches added…[and]…numerous carvings inside and outside of the building show the influence.” Additionally, atop the courthouse’s dome stands Themsis, the “Greek personification of justice.” The building is further decorated with justices, scrolls, columns, and various intricate carvings throughout. Indeed, McLennan County has came a long way from using a school house for official legal proceedings as the county’s population in 2018 was estimated at 254,607.

McLennan County Courthouse, image by Clogenson, 1902. General Photo Files, The Texas Collection; recent photo of same by G.H.

 

 

Fred Marlar took this photograph in about 1953-1954, from the top of the Alico Building looking down on the McLennan County Courthouse on Washington Avenue. Bird’s Eye Views, Fred Marlar Papers, The Texas Collection.
McLennan County’s first courthouse as depicted in an 1852 sketch. It was once described by Clarence Hubby as: “a story and a half frame structure with large cedar posts to support it. There was really nothing of beauty about it, but it served the small population of McLennan County well.” Photo from Waco-Public Buildings, McLennan County Courthouse, General Photo Files, The Texas Collection.
The design of this second McLennan County Courthouse (as photographed in about 1870) on the Waco square, featured doors on the upper floors that had no steps or barriers and went straight to the ground below! Consequently, in about 1870, the Police Court stated that “two men had been killed by falling out of said door, and whereas bannisters have been put-up across the same..in order that future similar casualties may not occur…” (See second floor door, on right side of this building in image.) Photo from Waco-Public Buildings, McLennan County Courthouse, General Photo Files, The Texas Collection.
Pictured in about 1901-02, is the third building to serve as McLennan County Courthouse and was completed in 1877. It was once located on Second and Franklin Avenue in Waco. The county offices temporarily moved to the Provident Building when this structure proved too small by the 1890’s. A few years later in 1906, it was offered for sale and bought by the Crow family of Waco, and they operated the facility as Crow Brothers Steam Laundry for several years. Photo from Champe Carter Eubank Photo Album, The Texas Collection.

 

Works Cited:

“The Four Courthouses of McLennan County 1852-1902,” Term Paper, Alan McGuire Mayfield, Dec. 14, 1978.

The Bench and Bar of McLennan County 1849-1976,” McSwain, Betty Ann McCartney, editor, Texian Press, Waco, Texas, 1976.

The Texas Bar Journal, McLennan County Courthouse, C.L. Middlebrook, Oct. 1970.

 

 

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