San Jacinto County Courthouse

San Jacinto County Courthouse

1st Courthouse

Building Completion Date: 1877
County Seat: Coldspring
Present Status: Gone
General Contractor: Thomas & Werner
Building Materials/Description: 2-story, frame, $8,000

2nd Courthouse

Building Completion Date: 1917
County Seat: Coldspring
Present Status: Existing. Active.
Architect: Lane and Dowdy
Architectural Style: Classical Revival
General Contractor: Price and Williamson
Building Materials/Description: 3-story, stone & brick, $15,000

National Register Narrative

The 1916-17 San Jacinto County Courthouse is a three-story Classical Revival building in Coldspring, San Jacinto County, Texas. The plan is a cross axis, symmetrical design, rectangular in form with the east and west elevations longer than the north and south. Exterior walls are faced with brick fired in nearby kilns during courthouse construction. The courthouse is a substantial building on a large square landscaped with trees, sidewalks and paved pedestrian areas. Classically inspired elements of the building include columns, quoining, pediments, large entry stairs, and symmetrical arrangement. Doric columns and pediments added after 1937 replaced earlier Corinthian columns and capitals, but stay within the Classical Revival style. The courthouse is an intact example of the Classical Revival design in a public building.

San Jacinto County is in the forested Piney Woods region of East Texas, with the county seat Coldspring lying about 70 miles north of Houston. The majority of San Jacinto County also lies within the Sam Houston National Forest. The Trinity River forms the north and east boundary of the county, with part of the river impounded as Lake Livingston in the 1960s. In 2000, San Jacinto County population reached 22,246, with Coldspring the second largest city in the county behind Shepherd. Coldspring is at the intersection of State Highways 150 and 156 and is also served by several Farm to Market Roads. The San Jacinto County Courthouse is the most substantial building in the commercial district. Commercial buildings occupy streets to the north and west of the square, with a county annex and residential properties occupying the south and east and adjacent blocks. The original town center was a quarter-mile to the northeast, but was abandoned following a 1915 fire and subsequent relocation of the courthouse to higher ground. The only historic building left in the older section is the San Jacinto County Jail at Slade and Loyd Streets. The jail was built in 1887 and added onto in 1911. The jail was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and designated a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1982.


The courthouse grounds form a square around the 1917 courthouse. The lawn is landscaped with large trees. A sidewalk encircles the courthouse grounds, and there are paved pedestrian areas around the building. An Official Texas Historical Marker for the Coldspring townsite was dedicated in 1970. The San Jacinto Woman’s League built a gazebo on the northwest corner of the square in 1976. In 1995 a veterans’ memorial was dedicated on the southwest lawn. A local group, San Jacinto County Proud, had stone pavers around the courthouse and an underground sprinkler system installed in 1996. In coordination with the Texas Historical Commission, four diseased willow oaks were removed in 2000, and replaced by four red oaks in March 2001.


The San Jacinto County Courthouse is rectangular in form, with the primary entrances on the east and west elevations. The building massing is a nine bay composition on its primary elevations, divided into three parts with three bays each in an A-B-A pattern. The main building body is a brick masonry field with articulated corner quoining. The window pattern alternates with double and triple window sets flanking the porticos. The first and second stories under the portico have pairs of Palladian style arched windows on either side of a central square six-light window with bracketed sills. The original windows are wood, double hung sash type with 1/1 lights. The original design was novel in its presentation of the pediment porticos with columns placed in front of the façade line instead of supporting and engaging the pediment above. The extended capital blocks in corbelled brick and cast stone cap mass was a much different scale and proportion to the existing stepped down pediment facades applied in 1937 as part of a large WPA improvement program for the courthouse and seven other facilities in Coldspring. The original cast stone or concrete Corinthian capitals were dismantled and a bearing plate without a capital now rests on each column.

The facades have a high parapet with a molded cast stone band separating the roof section from the main body of the building. This structure rests almost one story out of the ground on a stucco and brick base, delineated by a stucco water table course and brick base. The mass is well proportioned with the four portico elements and window elements that form the classical composition on each façade. In 1937, façade changes included the addition of the pediments on top of the columns. The basement level is clad in brick with a stucco water table base, punctuated by small rectangular windows, several with original jail bars remaining. Entrances on the east and west elevations, accessible ramp and covered walkway lead to the basement level. The monumental stairways on each façade are the dominant feature of this level. The attic or parapet level has small double transom style windows between the frieze and the head molding.

The roof plan consists of the four-part sloped roof cross-section and the flanking flat roof areas on the west and east facades. The stucco penthouse currently has a corrugated fiberglass roof. It is probable that the penthouse structure had a foursquare hip roof. This structure will be partially reconstructed based on historic documentation. Roof access is at a side hatch at the transition point between the flanking side flat roof portion and the step up to the sloped roof at the cross axis valley intersection of the roof. The existing roof is a metal Galvalume corrugated sheet type on both the sloping and flat areas of the roof. No definitive determination has been made as to the original materials; however, from earlier photographs, it would appear that a metal roof of some type was present on the sloped areas, and the preceding flat roof area to the current one may also have been a ribbed metal. These would have been the “water shedding” type installations rather than a waterproof membrane. The existing conditions suggest that the flat areas had either a bituminous felt base or primary waterproof membrane with or without a sheet metal covering.


Although the north and south entrances are secondary, a State of Texas pattern in the linoleum asbestos tile floor faces south as seen from the north corridor. The center of the courthouse is the featured interior space, an atrium of modest proportions in a circular configuration with concentric staircases to the second floor. The atrium originally had a stained glass lay light, presumably with a skylight or other mechanism to allow natural light to illuminate it from above. The atrium structure is formed out of circular cast in place concrete columns and beams. The two-story space is framed by the atrium “oculus” opening in the second floor where ceremonial flags ring the balustrade. The first floor accommodates much of the county’s public service departments and administration offices. The second floor houses the District Courtroom and County Courtroom, along with other supporting administrative spaces. The basement or ground level primarily houses state offices and the lower vault repository for the County Clerk and District Clerk records. The south end room originally housed the County Jail, and prisoners were transferred in security up the winding Stairway #3 from the basement floor to the second floor, emerging behind the original location of the witness stand and bench. This feature is a sophisticated forerunner of today’s judicial security layouts for secure transfer and containment of prisoners arriving in a courtroom for arraignment or trial.

Changes since 1917

It is presumed that the original penthouse may have been necessitated by lack of county funds, taking the place of a grander tower or dome. The original appears to have had a four square hipped roof with some sort of vent or ventilation cover on its center. Electric lighting was installed in the courthouse in 1933. On July 26, 1935, a dance was held in the courthouse to raise money for a fence to keep livestock off the grounds. The original Corinthian columns and corbelled capitals faced maintenance problems by 1935, and in 1937 they were replaced with pediments and Doric columns. In 1941 about one-fourth of the basement space was partitioned and used for a WPA Commodity room. In the 1950s tiles were installed on the floor and wainscoting of the first floor interior. In the rotunda, the tiles are gray and green, cut in the shape of Texas with an insert of red tile depicting the location of San Jacinto County.

In 1975-76, the courthouse underwent a large renovation project. In the interior, ceilings were lowered and central heat and air and new lights were installed. Several new partitions were built for office space, and the District Courtroom was renovated. The exterior brick was sandblasted and cleaned, and woodwork was repainted.[1] Also in 1976, the San jacinto Woman’s League erected a gazebo, which has since been the site of weddings and holiday celebrations. In 1987 an elevator was installed from the basement to the first and second floors. In 1990, the county appropriated $80,000 for general courthouse repairs, including replacement of mortar, removal of the original stained glass light, and lowering of all ceilings to install central air and heat.[2] A county annex was also built across the street in 1990. A veterans’ monument was dedicated on the grounds in 1995. In recent years, a new roof has been installed, with the design and materials approved by the Texas Historical Commission. The San Jacinto County Courthouse was designated a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 2000.

Statement of Significance

The San Jacinto County Courthouse was built in 1916-17 to replace the county’s wooden courthouse that was destroyed by fire in March 1915. The design reflected the optimism and pride of the county; at its dedication, it was the fourth largest county courthouse in Texas. The relocation of the courthouse to higher ground, and the subsequent move of the entire town, was a watershed event in Coldspring history. 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 San Jacinto 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 Classical Revival style public building. The courthouse retains integrity of design, materials, workmanship, location, setting, association and feeling to a high degree. The addition of porticos in 1937 was incorporated into the existing design and took elements from the Classical Revival vocabulary.

Development of Coldspring

Coldspring started in 1847 as an outpost situated on a stage route running from Huntsville to Swartwout on the Trinity River. The town has gone through four name changes, from Coonskin to Firemen’s Hill to Cold Springs in its first few years, and finally to Coldspring by the turn of the century. The name Cold Springs was adopted in 1850 when the community was platted into 14 blocks. The Cold Springs Female Institute, an early educational enterprise, operated in the 1850s. In 1870 San Jacinto County was created from parts of Liberty, Montgomery, Polk and Walker Counties. The county was named in honor of the battle of San Jacinto, which ended the Texas Revolution.[3] In 1871 a two-story wooden courthouse was erected to serve the new county government. In the 1870s San Jacinto County was accessible by steamboats on the Trinity River as well as by overland routes.

By 1894 the official postal name had changed to Coldspring. The first bank opened in 1907, when the population was above 400.[4] A fire on March 30, 1915 claimed the courthouse and several other wooden buildings. On April 12, 1915 County Commissioners met for the first time since the fire. Taking into consideration the fact that apparently residents of Cold Springs had not been very happy with their location, they began talking up the idea of erecting a new courthouse “out of this gully and sand bed,” with the hope that businesses and homes would follow.

On October 8, 1915, J.M. Hansbro filed papers deeding Block 28 of the plat of Coldspring to County Judge William McMurrey for $1. Seven local residents joined Hansbro in dedicating adjacent blocks for the new townsite, a part of the Robert Rankin league and a part of what was commonly known as the Byrd Place.[5] The resulting relocation of the courthouse and the town helped boost the development of Coldspring. The relocation corresponded with a Good Roads effort to put Coldspring on the Houston to Lufkin highway. That road was eventually taken through adjoining Polk County. The lumber industry has been the major economic activity in the area, along with such diverse projects as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp for black youths in the 1930s and the discovery of the Cold Springs oil field in 1945.[6] The creation of Lake Livingston on the Trinity River in the 1960s helped boost population in the county, which had declined from 10,277 in 1900 to 6,153 in 1960. By 2000 the county population had risen to 22,246.

Previous Courthouses

After San Jacinto County was created in 1870, the Carnes Hotel doubled as a courtroom until a permanent courthouse could be built. The Commissioners Court paid Thomas and Werner, builders from Fort Worth, $8,000 for a new courthouse in 1871. The two-story wooden courthouse would serve the county for 44 years. On March 30, 1915, fire destroyed the two-story wooden courthouse as well as a number of frame buildings. That portion of town was abandoned when the new courthouse was relocated a quarter-mile to the southwest, and the businesses and residences were relocated along with it. The 1917 building is the second permanent courthouse in San Jacinto County, and the only masonry courthouse the county has had.

1917 San Jacinto County Courthouse

Kirk Glover, editor of the San Jacinto Times, wrote that the town’s decision on the location of a new courthouse would be “the most critical hour for the turning point of both our town and the entire county.” Glover reminded the town of the mistake Cold Springs made in 1877 when the Houston, East and West Texas Railroad was extending its lines, and “instead of accepting said road they actually drove it away, and things have naturally stayed away.”[7]

The Commissioners Court met in April 1915 and heard from citizens who were unhappy with their townsite. Before knowing for certain if the town would be moved, the county signed a $50,000 contract to build a new courthouse in August 1915. On October 9, J.M. Hansbro and seven other landowners drew up a deed to donate several lots over to the county for the courthouse site. The owners of the land also promised to grade 80 foot streets around the new courthouse site.[8] County Commissioners auctioned the old town square in October, despite interest in converting the land into a city park. The county accepted plans and specifications from architects Roy E. Lane and Wilkes A. Dowdy of Houston, and in October the county “accepted a contract from Price & Williamson of Houston to build a concrete structure, and a starting date of January 1, 1916 was determined.”

Building materials began to arrive for construction in January 1916. On January 22, a general election sustained the proposition to issue bonds “of fifty-eight thousand dollars, bearing interest at the rate of five per cent per annum, payable thirty years from date, for the purpose of providing a court house for San Jacinto County” and a to levy a tax to pay interest on the bonds.[9] On January 28, contractors Price & Williamson agreed to provide all the material and labor necessary to erect the courthouse in accordance with plans and specifications by Lane and Dowdy. In March, bricks for the courthouse were being produced at a kiln near the home of N.R. Dobson, about two blocks from the courthouse site.[10] Concrete work also began in March.

According to Commissioners Court minutes, there were a couple of false starts before the progress began in earnest. The September 22, 1916 edition of the San Jacinto Times reported on a second brick kiln being prepared near the courthouse site. The second kiln was being used by October 1916. Many day laborers, both Anglo- and African-American, contributed to the building of the new courthouse. San Jacinto County went through at least three contractors to try to finish the building. After Price & Williamson began the job, contractor John Krabs began work to complete the courthouse on May 25, 1916.[11] By June 11, 1917, the county entered into a contract with Ed Cochran for the completion of the courthouse.[12] The courthouse took nearly 18 months to complete.

The glass ceiling in the center of the rotunda was purchased for $196.00.[13] The newspaper reported optimistically that “all petitions [partitions] run of first floor and it will only be a short while to complete the courthouse. The streets are to be graded and a general move will take place.”[14] Before long several homes and businesses moved to the new townsite. This was a time-consuming and laborious feat, as each building was rolled up the hill on logs. The entire move took several months to complete. The town began its move to the new courthouse site by May 1916: “The first hint of the townspeople moving came in May when C.D. Hollis bought T.L. Ross’ corner store and had it moved to the new town site.” The post office relocated to a room within the courthouse in June 1917, and would remain housed in the courthouse for ten years.[15] This left little remaining in the old townsite, with only the 1887 jail and a few wooden structures marking the spot down the hill.

In July, the county purchased official flags for the courthouse.[16] A July 4, 1917 celebration of the “new town” of Coldspring attracted over 2,000 people from all over East Texas, as well as entertainment from baseball games to the famous Hoo Hoo Band of Lufkin. A newspaper story mentioned that the courtroom walls were painted white in August 1917.[17] It appears that although the courthouse was occupied by the summer of 1917, it may not have been officially accepted by the county until May 1918, when the county paid contractor Ed Cochran “the full contracted amount of fifteen thousand for the completion of the courthouse in accordance with plans and specifications.”[18]

In the original design, the four entrances were each flanked by four Corinthian columns topped with corbelled brick capitals that reached the height of the roof. These features were a maintenance problem by 1935. In December 1935, the Commissioners Court hired F.M. Thompson to remove falling cement from exterior pillars.[19] That same month, the court applied to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) for general repairs and improvements to the courthouse. Scheduled repairs included fencing, plastering, grading of the courthouse grounds, and building of concrete curbing around the grounds.[20] The court again had problems with the exterior columns in 1937, hiring J.W. Mills to replace the concrete leaves falling from the pillars with plaster pediments.[21]

The 1917 San Jacinto County Courthouse is the county’s second permanent courthouse and the first masonry building, following a frame structure that burned in 1915. In addition to being the seat of county government since 1917, the courthouse has served as the focus of social activity in Coldspring. The courthouse served as the rallying point for departing soldiers, relatives and friends in both World Wars.[22] The county also invited the public to a celebration in the District Courtroom for the opening of the new Coldspring School in 1919.[23] The Coldspring P.T.A. held a benefit in the courthouse in 1923.[24] During the 1920s through 1940s, the courtroom was used as classrooms for the Coldspring School District, dances and other social activities. In 1926 there was a traveling motion picture and vaudeville show held in the courthouse basement. In 1935 the County Fair utilized the courthouse and grounds for the county fair. The San Jacinto County Historical Commission sponsors a vendors fair the last Saturday of the month from March through November, which is the County Historical Commission’s main source of income.

Architects Lane and Dowdy

Roy E. Lane and Wilkes A. Dowdy designed the San Jacinto County Courthouse during a brief partnership early in their careers. No other courthouses in Texas have been attributed to Lane or Dowdy, although Lane did design renovations to the Bosque and Runnels County Courthouses through the WPA program. Wilkes A. Dowdy was born in Marksville, Louisiana on June 12, 1890. Dowdy attended public schools in various Texas towns, and graduated from McKinley School in St. Louis. Immediately after graduating Dowdy moved to Denver, where he worked for two years in the office of a local architect. In 1908 Dowdy moved to Houston, where he would live and work for the remainder of his life. Dowdy worked in the Houston office of Sanguinet and Staats, and remained with that firm for a number of years. Dowdy worked for himself between 1916 and 1921, until being appointed city architect of Houston in April 1921. Dowdy planned and supervised such important Houston public projects as the Central Police and Fire Department Buildings, the Southmore School, the Barnice School, and the County and City Hospital.[25]

Roy E. Lane was born in Kansas City in 1884. He attended Kansas City public schools and the University of Minnesota, where he earned degrees in both architectural and civil engineering. Lane came to Texas on August 1, 1907 to work with the Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railroad in Port Arthur. Later that year he settled in Waco, where he lived and worked until retiring to Dallas in 1936. Lane was most widely renowned as architect of the twenty-two-story Amicable Building in Waco. Other works include the Public Library and the W.C. Cameron residence in Waco, as well as WPA project alterations to Bosque and Runnels County Courthouses. During World War II Lane served as both the Chief Architect for the Pine Bluff Arsenal at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and the Chief Architect and Engineering Coordinator for the Shumaker Naval Ordinance Plant at Camden, Arkansas. Lane was President of the Texas State Association of Architects in 1918-19. In 1918 Lane was admitted to the American Institute of Architects, which he served as both and officer and as Director. Lane died on August 7, 1956 and was buried at Restland Memorial Park in Dallas.[26]


The 1917 San Jacinto County Courthouse is a distinctive landmark in Coldspring. Its setting marks a relocation of the town following a disastrous fire, and subsequent prosperity through better roads and commerce. The substantial Classical Revival style building has extensive grounds and is surrounded by a square of commercial and residential buildings. The building meets Criterion A, in the area of Government, by its role as the seat of county government since 1917. 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. The building retains integrity of materials, workmanship, design, location, setting, association and feeling to a high degree. Changes to the original design in 1937 are incorporated well and still reflect the Classical Revival style.


Posted on

July 18, 2017