The Seven Courthouses of Liberty County marker
Upon establishing the Municipality of Liberty in 1831, Jose Francisco Madero designated several plazas or squares, according to Mexican law, including a square measuring one hundred twenty varas (333.33 feet) on each side for the Casa Consistorial or Court House. In Madero’s report of the election of the officers of the Ayuntamiento of the Villa de la Santissima Trinidad de la Libertad (later Liberty), which was communicated to the Chief of the Department of Bexar in May of 1831, he referenced the “Court Room of the Town of Liberty.” Madero had arrived in Atascosito in early 1831 and by March 30th had selected the league of land occupied by Juan M. Smith as the site for the location of a town. During this period there would have been enough time to build, by May of that year, the “hewed log building” which was described by David Carlton Hardee as the first (1st) Liberty County Courthouse in 1840 in his “Reminiscences of Texas as a Republic” published in The Patron and Gleaner, a newspaper in Northampton County N.C.
The next known description of a Liberty County courthouse was mentioned in a letter penned by Jesse D. Lum in 1891. Lum describes the courthouse in the summer of 1843 being “a framed house, one story, 24 X 28 feet, studded with peeled pine poles and weatherboarded with split cypress boards.” This would have been the second (2nd) courthouse, constructed sometime after the latter part of the year 1840.
The third (3rd) courthouse was a two-story frame structure, 32 feet by 40 feet, constructed of cypress and pine lumber and erected on cypress blocks two feet above the ground. The lower floor, with fourteen-foot ceiling, served as the court room. The upper floor, with a ten-foot ceiling, was divided into four rooms of equal size. An advertisement for sealed proposals to construct the courthouse appeared in a Houston newspaper in May of 1838, but the project did not commence until December of 1842. At that time the Board of Trustees of the Town of Liberty entered a contract with John S. Booth to construct a courthouse. There were numerous delays and conflicts with the contractor but finally, the courthouse was built and accepted by the Trustees on 27th October 1849. All bills were paid by 1st February 1850 ending a seven-year period from contract to completion on Liberty County’s third courthouse.
By December of 1856, it was necessary to build a larger and more suitable courthouse and in February 1857, the Trustees of the Town of Liberty donated all of the Town’s surplus monies to the County Court to assist in the building a brick courthouse. Liberty’s fourth (4th) courthouse constructed of brick was financed primarily from the sale of land belonging to the Town of Liberty. Its construction had been completed by 18th September 1857, on which date the Town Trustees established the Northeast cornerstone of this brick courthouse as a permanent point for the surveying of all lots in the Corporation of Liberty on the East side of the Trinity River. On the morning of 27th December 1872, this brick courthouse caught fire destroying the entire building. Also destroyed were most of the records. While the county commissioners were planning a new structure, a fire occurred on 12th December 1874 at Key’s Hall, the temporary District Courtroom, and the storage site for most of the salvaged records from the earlier fire. All were consumed by fire.
Not until 13th November 1876, did the commissioners appoint a committee “to consider the propriety of building a Court House.” On 21 March 1877, this committee was authorized to prepare plans, specifications, and a contract for the construction of a “Brick Court House for Liberty County.” In May construction began on the fifth (5th) Courthouse, the second one to be constructed of brick. This building deteriorated very rapidly as major repairs were needed within five years after this courthouse had been constructed.
By 1895, it was decided a new courthouse should be constructed. The existing courthouse (5th), less than twenty (20) years old, was condemned and ordered removed from the square. The records and courts were moved to temporary spaces near the courthouse square until a new building could be completed. Liberty County’s sixth (6th) Courthouse was completed and accepted on 4th March 1896. It was of pressed brick construction and was three stories in height. It was erected at a cost of $40,000. This courthouse had a pleasing design and was a popular gathering place for the citizens of Liberty. Rising from the center of the building was an observation tower which provided excellent views of the surrounding area and a wonderful spot for photography. This tower was topped by a cupola upon which a statue, referred to as the “Goddess of Liberty,” was erected.
By mid-1927, there was a question of making substantial repairs to the old courthouse or constructing a new building came before Commissioners Court. After inspection, it was determined that the old red brick courthouse was no longer adequate for the needs of Liberty County including storage of records. The commissioners ordered plans and specifications be prepared for a new courthouse and by 10th of November 1930, they had entered a contract.
Liberty County’s seventh (7th) Courthouse was constructed of Texas Cordova Cream Limestone of Art Deco Design popular in this era, featuring Spanish masonic tile floors, steam heating and refrigerated water fountains, at a cost of $210,000; it was completed and ready for occupancy by October of 1931. This courthouse was renovated, and an annex constructed on the west side in 1957 to expand office space. The current courthouse has the distinction of having the largest district courtroom in the entire state of Texas since 1931.