Rains County Courthouse

Rains County Courthouse

1st Courthouse

Building Completion Date: 1871
County Seat: Emory
Present Status: Gone. Burned 1879
Building Materials/Description: Log cabin

2nd Courthouse

Building Completion Date: 1884
County Seat: Emory
Present Status: Gone. Burned 1908
Building Materials/Description: 2-story brick

3rd Courthouse

Building Completion Date: 1908
County Seat: Emory
Present Status: Existing. Active.
Architect: Andrew J. Bryan
Architectural Style: Beaux Arts
General Contractor: Falls City Construction Co., Louisville Kentucky
Building Materials/Description: 2-story, brick, concrete, sim. to Fisher, Henderson, $35,000

National Register Narrative

Rains County Courthouse, Emory

The 1909 Rains County Courthouse is a two-story Classical Revival building in Emory, Rains County, Texas. The building has a cruciform plan, with two-story projecting wings at each corner. Located in the center square of Emory, the county seat of Rains County, the building sits on a raised site surrounded by large oak and pecan trees, and overlooks a street level parking area. Exterior walls are light-colored Ginger brick, made at a nearby brickyard. Among the classically inspired elements in this courthouse are pilasters, pediments, metal dome, and symmetrical arrangement. Interior materials include floor finishes of concrete and wood, plaster walls on brick, pressed tin ceilings, and oak staircases. The Rains County Courthouse has an unusual floor plan, and is also noteworthy for its relatively inexpensive building cost. The courthouse is an intact example of the Classical Revival design applied to a rural county courthouse.

Setting

The 1909 Rains County Courthouse is at the center of the town of Emory. Established by special act in 1870 and named in honor of early Texas patriot Emory Rains, Rains County was carved from four existing counties. The county is located in northeast Texas, about halfway between Dallas and Tyler. Rains County is one of the smallest in Texas, both in area and population. The courthouse is on a public square that was first set aside when the town was known as Springville and was in Wood County. After Rains County was created and Springville changed its name to Emory, the Commissioners Court officially designated the public square around the courthouse in 1892. Commercial buildings, some dating from the 1880s, line the courthouse square on the west, south and east sides, but the lots on the north side of the courthouse square are vacant. Most of the buildings on the square have had major alterations since the historic period. One commercial building is used for county offices.

Landscaping

Historic photographs show a very simple landscape plan around the courthouse. Only a short fence and hitching posts are visible. During a recent restoration project, flowers, shrubbery and some trees were removed. These were added over the years to beautify the grounds, and, to some extent, obscure deterioration of the courthouse itself. These elements have been removed to restore the simple landscape and to minimize structural problems from roots and plant growth. Large oak trees were planted in 1920 and will remain, with the exception of one unhealthy specimen that was removed. Other historic landscaping trees include pecans. Metal lights capped with round globes date from 1920 and flank the three main sidewalks.
The courthouse grounds feature a 1964 World War II monument (noncontributing) on the east. On the southeast grounds, an Official Texas Historical Marker recalls the creation of Rains County. Also on the southeast grounds are a historic water well dating from 1884 and a county Centennial time capsule from 1970. The U.S. Geological Survey placed a benchmark elevation marker on the west edge of the courthouse, indicating a 483.073’ elevation. Walks with benches extend from the main entrances to the parking areas, crossing the octagon-shaped concrete retaining wall that surrounds the elevated grounds. This wall is a maximum of three feet above the street (parking) level. Parking areas for visitors, shoppers and employees surround the courthouse on all sides.

Exterior

The courthouse is a variation of Classical Revival form, featuring a square plan with square projecting wings at each corner that angle 45 degrees from the overall alignment. The projecting wings are one room deep and two stories high, providing additional office space and contributing to a panoramic view of the courthouse from the pedestrian level. In the original design, three of these wings were designed as offices and one as a stairwell to the courtroom balcony level. Each main elevation consists of three bays at the entrance, flanked by the angled wings for a total of five bays per elevation. Each entrance elevation is identical, with a pediment-capped door flanked by paired double-hung windows on the first floor, and double-hung windows in a 2-3-2 pattern on the second floor, with each double-hung window capped by a single fixed window. Each elevation has an overhanging front-gabled roof. Light-colored brick forms the exterior surface.

Each of the three main entrances to the courthouse features ten-foot wide concrete steps and peaked metal fascias over the doors. Four raised brick pilasters divide the bays, and are capped with brick detailing, each side being identical. During the first phase of a recent restoration project, reproduction wooden doors replaced nonhistoric aluminum doors. Although not in the original plans, records reveal that the Commissioners Court ordered a dome added at the time of construction.[1] The courthouse design originally called for the main entrances to face east, west and south, but a mistake by the builders oriented the entrances northeast, southwest and southeast. However, this change made these entrances conform to the arrangement of the surrounding streets.

Interior

The interior is arranged along two corridors forming a T, with a long corridor running between the west and east entrances, and a shorter hall leading from the south entrance. The vault from the 1884 courthouse occupies the north section of the first floor, with access through the surrounding clerk’s office and file storage area. The city of Emory shares clerk and file space with Rains County, and the Emory City Council has chambers in the southwest corner of the first floor.

Office doors have large glass panels and glass transoms overhead. The hallways have wood wainscoting, with plastered brick walls above. The interior spaces were designed with concrete floors, stucco walls and pressed tin ceilings. However, some of these features are hidden behind paneling, flooring, wall partitions and lowered ceilings. The second floor courtroom retains its main iron supports, full lighting fixtures, pressed tin ceilings and wood floors. The staircase is made of hand-planed oak. The courthouse is two full floors, and a courtroom balcony level is accessed by a stairwell and elevator.
Changes since 1909

The exterior has been altered with the addition of a two-story jail and office wing on the north side, added in 1952. The original 1889 jail cells were installed in this structure and were used to hold prisoners until this jail was abandoned in 1986. This addition has since been used for storage and the cells remain intact. Brick was selected for the exterior of the addition that matched the courthouse exterior. Currently, the County Registration Office is housed in the ground floor of this annex. This addition affected the exterior by encasing the north elevation of the original structure, altering the original design and lessening the architectural integrity of the building. Other structural changes that have occurred through the years include the addition of peaked roofs on the wings (1962) and removal of the chimneys. In 1959, 87 window screens were added and the exterior trim was repainted.

Interior alterations concealed original concrete floors, stucco walls and pressed tin ceilings. However, these features are still present, hidden behind paneling, flooring, wall partitions and lowered ceilings. In the 1964 remodeling of the courtroom, partition walls were installed to reduce the size of the courtroom and create additional office space. A lowered ceiling was also installed, separating the balcony space, but leaving the original ceiling and staircases intact as well as the floor structure of the balcony. In the historic period this balcony allowed African-Americans access to the courtroom proceedings. After integration, the balcony area was closed off and used to sequester jurors during extended trials.

Rains County has received funding from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) through the ISTEA program, as well as funding from the Texas Historical Commission through the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program (THCPP). Through this funding, the county has removed window screens and restored windows, removed the peaked roofs of the projecting wings, restored the historic paint scheme, and repaired and cleaned exterior bricks and mortar. ADA compliance modifications have been incorporated, including an elevator that penetrates the courtroom balcony area. Rains County has received THCPP funding in Rounds I, II and III since 1999. In Round III work, which is now being undertaken, the 1952 addition will be removed and the north elevation will be restored; wood paneling and dropped ceilings will be removed, and the first floor corridor and offices will be restored.

Statement of Significance

The 1909 Rains County Courthouse has been a source of great pride for its citizens. The courthouse square has served as the center of local government since 1884 and the current courthouse is the last of three permanent buildings to house the county government. The courthouse is nominated for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion A, in the area of Government, at the local level of significance, for its role as the center of government for Rains County. The courthouse is also nominated under Criterion C, in the area of Architecture, as an intact example of a Classical Revival style public building. The courthouse retains integrity of location, setting, association, materials, workmanship and feeling to a high degree. The original design, which has been altered by an addition to the north elevation, will be restored under scheduled selective demolition work.

Development of Emory

The town of Emory began as Springville, a community first settled and platted in the 1840s in what was then Wood County. The Twelfth Texas Legislature under Governor Edmond Davis created Rains County on June 9, 1870. They named it after retired legislator, Texas pioneer and member of the 1845 Texas Constitutional Convention Emory Rains. After the county was created, Rains “rode to Austin from his home northwest of Springville on a mule and received the plaudits of his peers.”[2] After Rains County was created, Springville was named the county seat, and the town name was changed to Emory. A central public square was reserved for the new courthouse.[3] In later years, parts of Hopkins, Hunt and Van Zandt Counties were appended to Rains to increase its area to 258.8 square miles, still one of the smallest counties in Texas.

In 1880, the Denison and Southeastern Division of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad was built across Rains County, making Emory a shipping point for the surrounding lumber-producing region. By 1885 the town had two churches, two sawmills, two cotton gins, two saloons, two hotels, a weekly newspaper named the Rains County Record, and a population of 600.[4] In the 1892 Presidential election, Populist candidate James B. Weaver outpolled Democrat Grover Cleveland, 448 votes to 353. Helped by the railroad, Rains County population doubled in twenty years, but remained rural and dispersed. In 1900 the county population was 6,136; 426 in Emory, 174 in Point, and the rest living on the county’s 1,037 farms. Crops at the turn of the century included cotton, corn, hay, oats, and peaches.[5] Rains County is known as the birthplace of the Farmers Cooperative and Educational Union of America, founded in Rains County in 1902 and becoming a national organization, the Farmers Union, in 1905.[6] Rains and Van Zandt Counties later became a focus of Socialist Party support in Texas, with large crowds greeting national leader Eugene V. Debs in 1914, and Socialists polling a third of the vote in local elections.[7]
Point Independent School District was established in 1913, followed by Emory in 1920. The Great Depression started a significant decline in the population of Emory and Rains County. After steadily gaining from 3,035 in 1880 to 8,099 in 1920, the county population dropped sharply and stood at 2,993 in 1960. In 1958-60, the construction of Lake Tawakoni along the Sabine River in west Rains County helped spark an increase in population. By 2000, Rains County population rebounded to 9,139. Also in 2000, Emory reached its peak population of 1,021.

Previous courthouses

After Rains County was created and organized in 1870, a temporary log courthouse was constructed to house county government. This building served for nearly two years. In 1872 the first permanent courthouse was built, a two-room building in the center of town. This courthouse burned in November 1879, necessitating a return to the log courthouse until a permanent building could be constructed. All the county records up to that point were lost in the fire. The first few days following the fire were busy ones for Thomas M. Allred, County Clerk, as people flocked to re-record their legal papers. This time the log courthouse was used for five years, as a permanent building was not completed until 1884. In the meantime, more space was needed for the County Clerk’s office and a small house was rented from J.B. Thomas for $5 per month.
The 1884 courthouse a two-story courthouse made of red clay and sand bricks, sited on Block 2 of the plat of Emory where the current courthouse stands. The plans and specifications of John Jones were accepted in December 1883, with the exception that the north entrance be closed with a blind door for a vault.[8] The contract was awarded to Hunsucher and Dunyan for $10,800. This building was gutted by fire in 1908, but this time the county records were preserved in the steel vault. The county offered a $1000 reward for the capture and conviction of the persons who started the fire, since many believed the burning was the act of an incendiary.[9] Rains County worked quickly to construct another permanent courthouse, the third to serve the county. The effort also included an attempt by Point, in the western part of Rains County, to move the county seat. In an election on July 11, 1908, the majority of voters chose to retain Emory as the county seat.[10]

1909 Rains County Courthouse

The Rains County Courthouse occupies a single square within an established grid of streets, a popular arrangement in county seats.[11] Willard Robinson, who has written extensively on courthouses and public buildings in Texas, states that “courthouses erected on typical squares generally featured similar entrances on all sides, providing equal prominence for all surrounding businesses.” In Emory, businesses developed opposite the three entrances, and development was greatly slowed on the north side where no entrance was provided. It is believed that the decision to use the vault from the 1884 courthouse, which survived a 1908 fire, played a determining role in the design of three entrances. The vault, not moved from its original location in the 1884 courthouse, occupies the space in the 1909 courthouse where a fourth entrance would have been located. Crushed brick from the 1884 courthouse was used in the foundation of the current building.
Following the 1908 fire, the design for a new building, bidding of work and selection of interior furnishings proceeded rapidly. The Commissioners Court selected the Bryan Architectural Company of St. Louis, Missouri to design the new courthouse, at a fee of 5% of the total cost of construction.[12] The selected builder was the Falls City Construction Company of Louisville, Kentucky, with a winning bid of $18,700.[13] Later modifications were authorized for an additional $175 for the addition of a dome and flagpole, plus $100 for substituting steel for plaster for the ceiling.[14] Other bidders included Texas Building Company ($34,300) and Martin, Holderness and Oats ($24,874).[15] The original contract with the builder calls for furnishings to be oak furniture in all rooms, similar to the furniture located in the Swain County Courthouse in Bryson City, North Carolina.[16]

Walter B. Fraser founded the Fraser Brick Company in 1905 about three miles east of Emory. The factory was the first industrial plant in Rains County, and employed about 40 men producing bricks and hollow clay building tile. A post office established in 1909 took its name “Ginger” from the distinctive color of the burnt clay bricks of the plant. Besides the Rains County Courthouse, the Fraser Brick Company provided exterior brick for the Oklahoma City Post Office (1908), the Rice Hotel in Houston (1912), and many other buildings in Texas and adjoining states.[17] The company continued at Ginger until the 1940s, and at other locations until closing in 1961.[18]

The courthouse safe was originally in the 1884 courthouse, and was salvaged from the 1908 fire. It was left in its original location and the 1909 courthouse was built around it. The steel vault features two doors that open into the northwest and northeast offices. Two windows are also located along the north wall of the vault. Sliding steel doors and steel louvers cover these windows. These windows were opened in early days to help provide ventilation to those working with the records located in the vault. Once completed and inspected, a large ceremony was held to dedicate the new courthouse. Excerpts from the Commissioners Court minutes in 1912 identify the office assignments. The north offices were for the District and County Clerks’ use. The east offices were assigned to the Tax Assessor and Sheriff, the south offices were for the County Judge and Treasurer, and the west office was designated to the County Attorney with the adjoining room reserved for the grand jury.[19]
The courtroom, located on the second floor, remained virtually unchanged until 1964 when the Commissioners Court appropriated money to remodel the area. The balcony, once used for separate seating for African-Americans, was closed off and used to house jurors when sequestered. The ceiling was lowered and the courtroom was reduced and divided into offices. This remodeling was at the insistence of District Judge Bowman. Upon hearing a case one cold December day, he told the County Judge and attorneys Ivan Alexander and Harold Curtis that he would not try another case until they installed central heat and air conditioning.[20] Shortly thereafter, Judge Bowman had heart surgery and died in January. He never returned to Rains County, but the renovations were completed.

The April 9, 1909 issue of the Rains County Leader was devoted to the new courthouse. Following is a transcript from the newspaper:

The New Courthouse

Last Saturday the new Court House was turned over to the county and our county officials have begun to arrange for their new offices, which have been badly scattered since the destruction of the old court house ten and one-half months ago. It is a beautiful and substantial structure and would be a credit to any county with three times the population of this county. A brief description of the structure and the materials used in its construction will be of interest to the reader and show that our citizenship have good cause to be proud of our county home. But first we produce the report of the architect employed by the Commissioners Court to inspect the building before it was received, which reads as follows:
To the Honorable Commissioners Court of Rains County, Texas:

In compliance with your order, I inspected your new court house on April the 2nd, and submit to you the following report:
Material and workmanship in said building is practically in accordance with plans, specifications and contract on the buildings, with exceptions as follows: Seven window sashes out of balance. Parting stops of nearly all windows not nailed in. Two door locks out of commission. Head joints of floor not face nailed.

The slate roof is apt to leak a little during rain storms on account of the absence of heavy felt between slating and roof sheeting. However, this is no fault of the contractor, because the specification does not call for it neither does the plans show it. Considering the building as a whole, the contractors are to be complimented on their good material and workmanship, and Rains County is to be congratulated on securing the best court house in the State of Texas of same cost. There is no question but what you have, in your court house, secured the best result for the least money.
Respectfully submitted,

Walter H. Taylor
Ft. Worth, Texas, Apr. 3.
The defects above mentioned were made satisfactory before the building was received. The foundation and wall up to the windows is made of concrete, tied with steel rods. Above this wall is made of the beautiful gray fire-proof Ginger brick, at a cost of $29.00 per thousand, and the inside of the wall is made of the best grade of pressed brick. The wall is tied every few feet with steel rods which will keep it from cracking and protect it against the strongest wind. Inside it is finished with as much care and expense as the outside. There are nine offices on the ground floor, besides a large hall leading from the east to the west of the building and a hall from the south to the center. The building is well ventilated, having eighty-five windows in it. The floor in the lower story is made of concrete.

Up stairs is the court room and three jury rooms. Here we find a beautiful and spacious court room, with a balcony on the south side. This will be seated with 338 modern opera chairs. The floor of this room is made of planks over concrete. This concrete is made on steel beams with steel rods laid at an average of five inches apart, and is as solid as a rock. The room is ceiled with steel.

The building cost approximately $22,500.00, about $4300 more than the insurance received from the old building. It is a credit to our Commissioners’ Court and to our county, and the LEADER is proud of the new county home.[21]
Governmental and social activities

Besides serving as the seat of county government, the Rains County Courthouse and surrounding public square have been the center of major events and social activities. In 1891 the courthouse square was the site of the only public hanging to take place in Rains County.[22] Such notable political figures as Texas State Legislator and later U.S. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, and United States Senator and later President Lyndon Johnson have used the square in Emory for public speaking.[23] The courthouse square also hosted the Rains County Fair from 1930 to 1950 and continues to host an annual parade and auxiliary events such as antique car shows during the County Fair. Annual Founders Day celebrations and Christmas parades and related activities are held on the courthouse lawn and square. The courthouse square remains the social focal point of Emory.

Architectural summary

The 1909 Rains County Courthouse is a Classical Revival style building with an unusual design. The basic square plan is extended by square projecting wings extending from each corner at 45 degree angles. The resulting arrangement gives more office space but also makes interior access to those rooms dependent on access through the larger offices in the main layout. Nevertheless, the courthouse incorporates such Classical Revival elements as pilasters, pediments, and a metal dome, the latter being added to the architect’s original plans by the Rains County Commissioners Court. The courthouse is significant for its embodiment of the Classical Revival style in a small, rural county, and also for the inexpensive cost of the overall project.

Andrew J. Bryan, architect

Andrew J. Bryan (active 1894-1913) was architect for many county courthouses in the southeastern United States. He was partner of Willis F. Denny in Atlanta in 1894, and pursued independent practice in Atlanta, 1895-1900; Jackson, Mississippi, 1902; New Orleans, 1904-07; and Louisville, Kentucky, 1913.[24] The Rains County Commissioners Court lists his firm as the Bryan Architectural Company of St. Louis. Bryan was elected President of the Southern Institute of American Architects in 1896. Bryan also designed the Fisher County Courthouse in Roby, Texas, which had similar form and details as the Rains County Courthouse.[25] In all, Bryan designed at least 41 courthouses in the South and Southeast. At least seven of his courthouses are listed in the National Register of Historic Places:

Courthouse City State Year built National Register listing
Attala CCH Kosciusko MS 1894 NR 1997
Lee CCH Opelika AL 1896 NR 1973
Colquitt CCH Moultrie GA 1902 NR 1980
Pointe Coupee Parish CH New Roads LA 1902 NR 1981
Lowndes CCH Valdosta MS 1904 NR 1993
Simpson CCH Mendenhall MS 1907 NR 1985
Chattooga CCH Summerville GA 1909 NR 1980

 

Conclusion

The 1909 Rains County Courthouse is a noted landmark at the center of historic Emory. The Classical Revival style building stands out in a courthouse square of commercial buildings, many of which have lost their architectural integrity. Commercial enterprises have not developed on the north side of the courthouse, as there is no entrance to the building on that side since this courthouse was built around the steel vault that survived a fire in the previous courthouse. The building meets Criterion A, in the area of Government, by its role as the seat of county government since 1909. The courthouse has been the center of civic, governmental, and social activities since its construction. The building meets Criterion C, in the area of Architecture, as an intact example of Classical Revival style architecture applied to a rural county courthouse. The building retains integrity of materials, workmanship, location, setting, association and feeling to a high degree. The original design, which was altered by substantial additions to the north elevation, is scheduled to be restored in the near future.