Building Completion Date: 1882
County Seat: Anson
Present Status: Gone
Building Materials/Description: Frame
Building Completion Date: 1911
County Seat: Anson
Present Status: Existing. Active
Architect: Elmer George Withers
Architectural Style: Beaux Arts
General Contractor: Texas Building Company
Building Materials/Description: 4-story, buff brick and sandstone courthouse of Greek cross plan and Beaux Arts details. Features a full-height center pavilion with Modified Ionic columns, Classical pediment, brick quoining at corner projections and a central clock tower. $300,000
National Register Narrative
The 1910 Jones County Courthouse is at the heart of Anson, Jones County, Texas. The stately building is three full stories and a basement, with entrances on all four sides. The rectangular building dominates the town square, and is also aligned on the main north-south street through town, and so the courthouse is visible from miles away. The courthouse is designed in the Beaux Arts style, with projecting pavilions, tall columns, quoins, and pediments. A central clock and bell tower is crowned with a cupola and goddess of liberty statue. The Jones County Courthouse is a dominant landmark in Anson.
Jones County is just northwest of the geographic center of Texas. The county seat, Anson, is 24 miles northwest of Abilene and 160 miles west of Fort Worth. Anson is at the intersection of U.S. Highways 83, 180, and 277. The county population in 2000 was 20,785, with Anson (2,556) the second-largest town in the county after Stamford (3,636). The courthouse square is bounded by 11th and 12th Streets to the north and south, and by Avenues K and J to the west and east. Commercial Street, the main north-south artery, is aligned with the center of the courthouse square, in what is known as a Harrisonburg square pattern, so that traffic is diverted around the courthouse square, realigning on the opposite side. Historic commercial buildings surround the courthouse, and some have had incompatible alterations since the historic period. The Jones County Courthouse was designated a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark (RTHL) in 2000. Other landmark buildings in Anson include the Anson Opera House, 1120 11th Street (built 1907, RTHL 1963); First Presbyterian Church, 1300 Avenue K (built 1929, RTHL 1990); and First United Methodist Church of Anson, 832 Commercial Street (built 1908, RTHL 1982).
The courthouse grounds have been greatly reduced since 1886 by the expansion of the surrounding highway. The 1886 courthouse and the current 1910 courthouse originally had grounds that extended for all of Block 15 of the plat of Anson. A small lawn now marks the courthouse grounds, ending in a curb at the street level. The surface immediately around the curb is asphalt, which covers historic brick streets that are found around the courthouse square. The courthouse grounds now form a circular shape, with relatively young trees planted throughout. Sidewalks lead from all entrances and also surround the courthouse in an octagonal pattern. Two monuments dedicated for the Texas Centennial in 1936 are on the courthouse grounds, and both are contributing elements to this nomination. A highway marker on the south lawn just west of the entrance sidewalk has a bronze tablet describing Jones County history and a bronze star in a circle, fixed on a pink marble block. A memorial statue to Anson Jones is also at the south entrance. This statue features a seated likeness of Jones, who was a Congressman, Senator and President of the Republic of Texas. Donald Nelson was architect for the monument, and Enrico Cerracchio was the sculptor. Both Texas Centennial monuments are contributing elements in this nomination. Sculptor Juan Dell designed a bust of Congressman Omar Burleson that was dedicated at the north entrance in 1974. The Burleson statue is a noncontributing element.
The Jones County Courthouse square is arranged in a modified Harrisonburg pattern, a relatively uncommon type in Texas. Approximately fourteen courthouse squares in Texas are Harrisonburg squares, which align the main street through town with the central axis of the square and focus attention on the courthouse. The block patterns and lot lines reinforce the prominence of the courthouse square in the townscape. The courthouse grounds originally occupied all of Block 15 of the plat of Anson. Over the years, successive widening of the U.S. Highways through town have reduced the courthouse grounds to a circle within the original square.
The basic form of the courthouse is rectangular, with the primary elevations facing north and south. The interior dimensions are 95 feet along the long axis and 68 feet along the shorter axis. All four entrances are reached by concrete steps. On the north and south facades, two pairs of thirty-foot tall Ionic columns flank the entry pavilion. The columns are made from Pecos red sandstone. These columns support an entablature with three circular windows. The sides of the projecting pavilion are penetrated by double-hung windows, 2/1 on the third floor and 1/1 on the second and first floors. Above the entablature is a dentillated pediment centered on a circular cartouche. On either side of the entry pavilions on the north and south elevations are three bays, with the corner bays projecting and quoined in brick. In the flanking bays, the third floor windows are 2/1, the second floor windows are 1/1, and the first floor windows are 1/1, topped with sandstone pediments. A dentillated parapet caps the facades. The north elevation also features a cartouche above the pedimented entry. The north and south entries each have MCMX – the year 1910 – incised in the entablatures of the pedimented entries.
On the east and west elevations, arched entries with brick detailing form the base for two pairs of twenty-foot tall Ionic columns which support an entablature with the name JONES incised, capped by a dentillated pediment. These columns are set above the entrances and form an aedicule, or window framed by columns, at the second floor level. The entry pavilion is flanked by two bays three stories high. As with the other entrances, third floor windows are 2/1, second floor windows are 1/1, and first floor windows are 1/1 and pedimented. An articulated parapet caps the east and west facades. The raised basement walls are large blocks of sandstone which rise to the bottom of the first floor windows. The remaining walls are cream colored Frazier Johnson quality brick. The top of the building is crowned with a denticulated cornice and parapet. The center of the roof supports a four-sided clock tower, small metal dome and goddess of justice statue.
The courthouse is arranged in a cruciform plan, with a long axis running east-west and a shorter axis running north-south. Gray marble wainscoting is throughout the corridor and entrances, and rises four feet in height. The plastered walls above the wainscoting are gray with molded cornices. The floors are gray, white and black ceramic tile. Black iron balusters on the staircases accent the color scheme. Original oak rails are also visible in some interior spaces, such as the District Courtroom. The building skeleton is steel and concrete with wood framing in the attic. The restoration architect of 1996-97 remarked “that the building was built like a battleship.”
The basement, which had been used for storage until recently, now houses a visitor’s center, County Clerk archives, storage, Dispatch 911, and restrooms. The first floor offices are County Treasurer, County Auditor, County Clerk, Justice of the Peace, Tax Assessor-Collector, restrooms and storage. The second floor houses the District Courtroom, Law Library, lounge and offices for the District Attorney, District Clerk and District Judge’s offices. The third floor of the courthouse had been closed for many years, and is now housing the Commissioners Court, Juvenile Court hearing room, and offices for the County Judge, Court Reporter, Fire Marshall, and County Attorney.
Some fluorescent lighting has replaced original drop lights. Chandeliers still grace the District Courtroom and globed drop lights hang in the halls. To the delight of the entire county, when the false ceilings were removed in the District Courtroom in the 1990s, an original hand painted ceiling design was revealed. The symbols in the mural are a continuation of the classical architectural theme. A Helm’s Wheel, symbol of authority and leadership, creates the center of interest. Inside the wheel torches, symbols of knowledge and truth, form the spokes of the wheel. Laurel branches, signifying honor and achievement, encircle the wheel. The green and gold tones used in the painting are also used to outline the ceiling, which contains other painted classical details.
Changes since 1910
The Jones County Courthouse has a high degree of integrity for exterior materials and appearance. Some interior materials have been concealed and replaced over the years. The courthouse underwent a general renovation in 1941 through a Works Projects Administration (WPA) project. Many original benches were replaced, although some of the older benches are still present in the corridors. Fluorescent lighting also replaced original drop lighting in most of the courthouse.
The Jones County Courthouse was largely restored from 1994 to 1998 through local funding and a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), through the ISTEA program (Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act). Local funding accounted for $1 million of the $1.8 million restoration project. The Williams Company of Austin was chosen restoration architect, and Rose Builders, Inc. of Abilene was selected as contractors. In this restoration, the exterior brick and sandstone was repaired and restored, along with marble wainscoting and interior woodwork. Electrical and plumbing systems were replaced and updated, and elevator and accessible ramp was installed, and dropped ceilings were removed. Steps at all four entrances were completely rebuilt. The goddess of justice statue was also taken down and restored.
Statement of Significance
The Jones County Courthouse was built in 1909-1910, and reflects great optimism from a county that was booming in population. Elmer Withers, who grew up in nearby Stamford, designed the courthouse in Beaux Arts style. Paired tall Ionic columns, pediments, , circular pavilion windows, a clock tower, small dome and goddess of justice statue are elements of the Beaux Arts style. The courthouse is nominated for listing in 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 Jones County. The courthouse is also nominated under Criterion C, in the area of Architecture, at the local level of significance as an intact example of a Beaux Arts style public building. The courthouse retains integrity of design, materials, workmanship, location, setting, association and feeling to a high degree.
Development of Anson
Before 1850, the territory that was to become Jones County, Texas, was a prairie wilderness and the domain of the nomadic Comanche, Kiowa, and other Native American tribes. In 1848 the United States had acquired new lands from California to Texas, and sought to provide safe passage for new settlers and gold seekers. Captain R.B. Marcy set out from Fort Smith, Arkansas to map trails west. Concurrently, the federal government established a string of forts through Texas running from north to south through Comanche territory. In 1851 Lt. Col. John J. Abercrombie led five companies of the Fifth Infantry to establish a new post near the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, some fifty miles southwest of Fort Belknap. On November 14, 1851, he arrived at a point known locally as Phantom Hill. This site afforded a view of the surrounding country for miles. The post was built in a grove of scrubby oaks about five miles in extent. A suitable stone quarry was found two miles south on Elm Creek. An inadequate water supply and a comparatively peaceful existence contributed to the fort’s abandonment in 1854. The fort buildings mysteriously burned to the ground shortly after the soldiers left.
In 1858 repair work was done on some fort structures and the site was used as Way Station No. 54 on the Southern Overland Mail or Butterfield Stage Coach Line, which ran from St. Louis to San Francisco. Home seekers began to settle along the well-traveled Southern Overland Mail. In ten days in January and February 1858, the Seventh Texas Legislature created thirty-one new counties, including Jones County, which had been part of the unorganized Bexar Land District. Jones was named for Anson Jones, the last President of the Republic of Texas. Jones was born in 1798 in Massachusetts and came to Texas in 1833 to practice medicine. He served as a representative in the Texas Congress in 1837, minister to the United States in 1838, Texas Senator in 1839-40, and as the last President of the Republic of Texas in 1844-46. Jones died in 1858, and Jones County was named for him weeks later.
During the Civil War, Texas Ranger companies and the Frontier Battalion utilized Fort Phantom Hill as a base of operations. Beginning in 1871, the site served as an outpost for nearby Fort Griffin. After the Indian Wars of the 1870s, a town developed around the fort site. By 1880 the community had a population of 546. The formal organization of Jones County that had been delayed by lack of water, wild animals, marauding Indians and Civil War, finally materialized after twenty-three years of waiting. On April 18, 1881, G.A. Spindle led one hundred eighty-five other qualified men to Albany in adjoining Shackelford County, to present a petition for organization of Jones County. After consideration by the court, it appeared that the petition had been signed by the number of citizens required by law. Phantom Hill was chosen as temporary county seat., and elections were scheduled for June 13 to decide on County Commissioners, County Clerk, Presiding Judge, Treasurer, and Sheriff.
After three elections, and because of some discrepancies in the precincts, a permanent county seat was finally decided on July 17. Jones City, a town of twenty people and named for Jones County, was chosen. It was more centrally located in Jones County, on land offered by John Merchant, who speculated that the Texas and Pacific Railway would build through the town. The T&P chose to build through Abilene to the south, but development of Jones City had begun. In 1882 the name “Jones City” was changed to Anson, taking the first name of the former President, and completing the eponymous Anson, Jones County. The first newspaper, the Texas Western, began in 1883. For the next ten years, Anson experienced steady growth.
During the interval that the county seat was moved from Phantom Hill to Jones City in 1881, court was held at the home of W.H. Smith, County Clerk. Shortly after, Frank Huie brought an ox-drawn wagonload of lumber from Abilene (twenty miles south), to Anson, to build a 24 by 32 foot box and strip courthouse. Soon the little courthouse became too small and a more prestigious building was purchased in 1884. This was a two-story building on Block 10, Lot 4 of the city plat that had been built for a hotel. The building cost $2,250 to purchase. Within two years, 1886, a new brick building was erected in the center of town, with the building and grounds occupying all of Block 15. The brick was made in the county and the cost of the building was $23,000. This building also housed a jail. This new courthouse was centrally located in the public square, and aligned along the main north-south street, Commercial.
1910 Jones County Courthouse
By 1910 the 1886 courthouse proved too small for a rapidly growing county. Jones County population, which had risen steadily from 546 in 1880 to 7,053 in 1900, reached 24,299 by 1910. This dramatic growth was made possible by the arrival of several railroads in Jones County, including the Texas Central, Wichita Valley, and Abilene and Southern railroads. The Commissioners met in November and December 1909 and planned a new courthouse. They chose Elmer G. Withers as their architect, and gave him free reign to do as he thought best. Withers had grown up in Stamford, 15 miles to the north, and had an office in Fort Worth. He was paid 3% of the total cost of the courthouse, which brought his share to $2,568.81. On March 3, 1910, a bid of $84,469 was let to the Texas Building Company of Fort Worth, James T. Taylor, President. After some deliberations on materials, the bid was increased to $85,627 on March 7, 1910. The Commissioners Court chose Pecos red sandstone and Frazer Johnson quality (1) No. 530 face brick for the exteriors.
Commissioners Court minutes describe the courthouse as “a three story and basement, brick and stone Court House, with fire proof doors, sanitary wainscoting, steel stairs, plastered walls, with all interior finish hard wood, and the building is to be equipped with low pressure gravity return steam heating system, and all sanitary plumbing indicated on the preliminary drawings and all other finish and construction indicated” by the architect’s drawings preliminarily accepted by the Commissioners Court on Novermber 20, 1909.
The Commissioners Court also authorized Withers to make the following changes to his original plans:
First story: Divide Justice Court room as shown on plans into two offices. Transpose ladies restroom and old record vault and leave all rooms in basement unassigned.
First floor: Transpose clerks office and record vault; put spiral stairs in north east corner of record room, leading down to old record vault in basement. Put two doors into clerk’s office, and put doors into each room out of corridor running north and south through building.
Second floor: The court will be located on the south side of District Court room instead of north as indicated by the preliminary drawing and the gallery will be on the north side instead of south side as shown by said drawings; also transpose Jury room and district clerks office.
Third floor: Is approved as shown on plans with out change. The architect was authorized to proceed with the working drawing and specification and have same completed. It is ordered by the court that the above be filed and recorded on the minutes of the court.
A letter from the contractors to the county is filed in the Commissioners Court minutes, and specifies some of the building materials:
Alternate No. 1, if Rubble stone is used for backing the basement stone work, and also for interior basement walls as specified, we will deduct from our bid $900.00. Our bid is based on Roundrock stone with cut stone trimmings throughout. If Luda stone is used in lieu thereof with Bedford columns add to our bid $2620.00. If Bedford stone is used throughout add to our bid $3200. If Pecos red sandstone is used add to our bid $1500.00. The above deductions and additions refer to our original proposal.
The letter refers to stone from Round Rock and Lueders, Texas, and Bedford, Indiana. The change to Pecos red sandstone for exterior columns accounts for most of the increase in cost over the original proposal, from $84,469 to $85,627 on March 7. The cornerstone of the new courthouse was laid on July 20, 1910. A reproduction of the new courthouse in the Anson newspaper was captioned: “This is Anson’s $100,000 Court House now in course of construction. When it is completed there will be no finer building of its kind anywhere in West Texas.”
In 1941, Hughes and Olds, Architects and Engineers of Abilene, were commissioned for renovations and repairs to the courthouse. The blueprints from that project are still in the County Judge’s office, and the drafted floor plans reveal which agencies were in which offices. The basement floor housed Relief Offices, the County Home Demonstration Agent, County Clerk storage, and the boiler room. The first floor included space for the Commissioners Court, County Judge, County Attorney, County Treasurer, Justice of the Peace, County Tax Collector, and County Clerk. The second floor housed the District Courtroom, County Courtroom, Court Reporter office, Consultation room, Jury room, District Clerk, and County
Superintendent. The seating in the two courtrooms was removed and changed, and marble wainscoting in the jury room was removed and replaced with a plaster finish. The third floor included the upper part of the District Courtroom, a Jury Dormitory, offices for the District Judge and District Attorney, a Grand Jury Room, and an unassigned room. Besides minor shifting of office space and heating systems, overall renovations in 1941 included exterior steel windows to replace wood windows.
The 1910 Jones County Courthouse is a well-designed regional example of Beaux Arts public architecture. Les beaux-arts, or the fine arts, refers to aesthetic principles enunciated and perpetuated by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in France. The Ecole emphasized the study of Greek and Roman structures, composition, and symmetry. Beaux Arts buildings in the late 19th Century featured such elements as heavy ashlar stone bases, grand stairways, paired columns with plinths, monumental attics, grand arched openings, cartouches, decorative swags, medallions and sculptural figures before giving way to more sedate forms. Other elements may include projecting facades or pavilions with colossal columns often grouped in pairs. Windows may be surrounded by free-standing columns and pedimented entablatures above.
Elmer George Withers, Architect
Elmer Withers designed a number of courthouses and notable buildings in Texas in the early 20th Century. Withers was born in Caddo Peak, Texas in 1881, and may have learned architecture as an apprentice or by correspondence, since no record of his formal education has been found. Withers had an office in Fort Worth by 1910, and he concentrated on small towns, securing a number of commissions for courthouses, schools, stores and service stations. Withers designed at least eleven courthouses, two of them in the firm Withers & Thompson in the 1930s. Withers buildings in Fort Worth include the Blackstone Hotel (1929) Firestone Service Garage (1929), Will Rogers Memorial Center coliseum, tower and auditorium (1936, with Wyatt C. Hedrick), and Fort Worth City Hall (1938, with Hedrick). Withers was designing a public housing project for Fort Worth when he died in 1938.
Withers was 28 years old when he designed Jones County Courthouse. His other courthouse designs are generally Classical Revival prior to 1915, and Moderne after 1930. He is credited with at least eleven courthouses in Texas:
Courthouse City Year built Historic designations Notes
Swisher CCH Tulia 1909 Major alterations 1962
Jones CCH Anson 1910 RTHL 2000
Foard CCH Crowell 1910 RTHL 2002
Stonewall CCH Aspermont 1911 Razed 1982
Armstrong CCH Claude 1912 Exterior alterations 1940s
Marion CCH Jefferson 1912 SAL State Archeological Landmark
Roberts CCH Miami 1913 RTHL 2000
Menard CCH Menard 1931 Withers & Thompson
Young CCH Graham 1932 Withers & Thompson
Upshur CCH Gilmer 1933
Ector CCH Odessa 1938 Major alterations 1964
The 1910 Jones County Courthouse is the dominant building in Anson. It is aligned on the major north-south road and sits on a rise, and so remains visible from miles away. The courthouse was built at a time when the county population had more than tripled in ten years. The substantial Beaux Arts style building is surrounded by a square of commercial buildings. The building meets Criterion A, in the area of Government, by its role as the seat of county government since 1910. 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 Beaux Arts style architecture. The building retains integrity of materials, workmanship, design, location, setting, association and feeling to a high degree.