Montague County Courthouse Red River County in 1836 was one of the original twenty-three counties of Texas. This county stretched from Texasâ€™ eastern border to the Texas panhandle in the west. Eventually the county was divided into thirty-two counties. Among them was Montague County, established in 1858.1 Montague County actually came into being by an act of Texas legislature Christmas Eve, 1857, but the county government was not organized until August 2, 1858.2 The latter date is recognized as the countyâ€™s birthdate.3 One hundred fifty years of Montague County was celebrated in 2008 with a special jubilee around the courthouse square. Daniel Montague
Before the county government was established, there were only two communities, the present day towns of Saint Jo and Forestburg. But soon after the county was created, a vote was held to decide where the seat of government should be located. Three sites were placed on the ballot: Saint Jo, then Head of Elm, Farmers Creek near Saint Jo, and a site at the center of the county, soon to be named Montague. Although there was nothing in the area at the time to suggest a town at the center of the county, this site was chosen as the county seat. The only tenants seemed to be a solemn looking group of post oak trees. In any event, sixty-three ballots were cast and most were for the center of the county. Later the town was named Montague in honor of Daniel Montague, surveyor and Indian fighter. Through the years, several attempts have been made to move the county government to the larger towns of Saint Jo, Bowie, or Nocona, but Montague remains today as the county seat.4
Early Courthouses in Montague County Fire in 1873 destroys Montague County Courthouse
Records were destroyed in 1873 when the courthouse burned. The following information has been pieced together, using writings of early settlers and oral histories. These writings and recollections do not always agree, but what follows is the compilation of those. After 1873, courthouse records can be used to bring the history the county courthouses to present. In 1858, the first structure said to be used as a courthouse in Montague County was a log cabin. This cabin was initially built with the idea that it was only temporary, but it remained the courthouse until after the Civil War. After this, a frame store on the north side of the square was reportedly used as the courthouse. Again this was to be a temporary location. There appears to be confusion concerning this store and a frame courthouse house that burned February 25, 1873. Mrs. W. R. Potter, who wrote the History of Montague County, printed in 1913, stated it was this frame courthouse that burned, but it is not clear if the frame store building and the frame courthouse are one and the same building or two separate buildings.5 The above picture is said to be the Montague County Courthouse burning. It doesnâ€™t look like a store front, but it does have the same attributes of antebellum courthouses built in Texas at the time. Following the burning of the frame courthouse, the county rented a house from D.S. Hagler6 until the court bought Covingtonâ€™s Saloon from Frank Covington. W. T. Wayborn loaned the county $417.00 in gold for the purchase of the saloon.7 In 1873, the county levied a tax of twenty cents per $100 to pay for the building of a new courthouse.8 After the loss of all the county records, the justice was ordered to buy a fireproof safe for county records.9
First Stone Courthouse
First stone courthouse in Montague County
In 1878, the Court began advertising in the Texas Northwest for architects and contractors to send plans and specifications for the building of a new courthouse. This courthouse was to be built of stone or brick and projected cost for the project should be between $10,000 and $20,000.10 On July 5, 1878, J.S. Thomas of Fort Worth was given the contract to build the new courthouse. When the courthouse was finished it cost a total of $22,000.11 The courthouse was accepted June 2, 1879, and approved November 1879.12 A picture attached to this essay shows a stone courthouse identified in The Bowie News, July 24, 1858, as the courthouse at Montague. Unfortunately for Montague County, this stone courthouse burned in the early morning hours of March 31, 1884. Many records were lost in the fire, but records secured in vaults were saved. Three men who had been indicted for cattle theft were accused of lighting the fire in a plot to destroy their indictments. Two of these men were later convicted of arson. The citizens of Bowie tried to get the county seat moved from Montague to Bowie. A vote took place. Bowie received the most votes, but not the two-thirds majority required by law. The seat of county government remained in Montague. Without a courthouse, the officials of the county had offices in Dr. Stricklandâ€™s brick store house.13 Court during this time was held in local churches or outside if the weather permitted.
The Second Stone Courthouse Second stone courthouse in Montague County
Again in need of a courthouse, the Court advertised in the Fort Worth Daily Gazette for the building of a new courthouse.14 This time the cost was to be between $20,000 and $40,000. T.
J. Jarrett of Fort Worth was awarded the contract to build at a cost of $35,500. The Court issued nine pages of very detailed instructions for the building of the new government house.15 Order number 42 of the same date stated Mr. Jarrell was responsible for removing old walls and all rubbish from the town square. Tragedy struck again on July 5, 1905, when a tornado blasted its way through Montague County. Sixteen people were killed and two Montague churches and many homes were destroyed in the violent storm. The courthouse clock tower was damaged to such an extent that it had to be removed.16 This courthouse was used until 1912. On April 30, 1912, another strong wind blew through the county seat, tearing off the roof and breaking many of the courthouse windows. The Commissioners now had to make a decision about building a new courthouse. Rumblings began again about moving the courthouse to one of the other towns, so the court had to act quickly to demolish and remove the damaged building and start building a new courthouse. In the meantime, the Court temporarily moved into the local opera house.17
Montague County Courthouse – 1913 to Present
Montague County Courthouse finished in 1913
The contract between Montague County and architect George Burnett was opened and approved. This contract stated the county had “employed George Burnett in the planning and construction of a new courthouse to be erected in the town of Montague on the public square and upon the site now occupied by the present courthouse.” Mr. Burnett was to receive five percent of the total building cost. Members of the court who were present were: A. W. Ritchie, county
judge; A. J. Perryman, T.J. Wheeler, J. W. Stanford, W.L. Snapp, commissioners; A.E. Strong, county clerk; and George Burnett, architect.18 The bids to build the courthouse were opened during a regular commissioners’ court meeting on August 12, 1912. The bids ranged from $79,800 to $124,000.19 On that same date, the Court ordered acceptance of the bid by A. H. Rodgers of Henrietta to build the courthouse according to the plans of George Burnett. The building would cost $83,557.66 not including heating and plumbing which would be let under a separate contract. The court ordered a tax levy be made to pay for the building of this new courthouse. Section one of this court order stated that in order to discharge the duties of public officials, the Court has determined that building the courthouse was a matter of public necessity. Section two of the court order explained that although Rodgers did not come in with the lowest bid, the proximity of A.H. Rodgers in Henrietta would be most advantageous to Montague County. Section three states the new courthouse be built on ground belonging to the county within the corporate limits of the town of Montague on the site known as Courthouse Square. The site is described in a deed of conveyance showing the title of the property to be in Montague County and recorded in Deed Records of Montague County.20 The laying of the cornerstone took place November 7, 1912. The Masonic Lodge No. 415 of Montague presided over the event. Afterwards, a picnic was held on the courthouse grounds. George Burnett’s Montague County Courthouse design includes a raised first floor level with staircases at four entrances. This sort of design is consistent with the traditional form of an elevated “temple” of democracy and justice. The commissioners at the time decided to place the county jail on the third floor (now called the fourth floor with the basement level being called the
first floor). Access to the courtroom on the second floor for prisoners with sheriff’s bailiff was through a narrow stairway which led to a point close to the witness stand.21 The courthouse was finished and occupied in May of 1913. Final cost was approximately $100,000. The courthouse construction used rock for foundation and wall construction, wrought iron balustrade from the 1878 courthouse stairs, and the former courthouse vault doors. 22 All of the elements on the outside of the courthouse help to make this courthouse one of the finest examples of Classic Revival in the state. “The portico tympanums are simply elegant in their very clear, undecorated classicism; all combining to create a very stately image, well proportioned, and so surprising an edifice in a county seat of less than 500 people.”23 The dome at the top of the courthouse carried out the same classical detailing and was correctly proportioned for this courthouse. It was a perfect capping of the courthouse designed by George Burnett.24 Fires and windstorms have plagued all the permanent courthouses built in Montague County. The frame courthouse and the first stone courthouse were destroyed by fire. The second stone courthouse was destroyed by violent winds. In the 1930s, the present courthouse was damaged by strong winds.25 In 1939, the dome of the courthouse had to be removed due to structural damage caused by a storm that made the roof leak. The suggestion has been made that roof leaks and possible more wind damage may have led the commissioners to a conclusion that removal would be less expensive than repair and maintenance. The commissioners accepted a bid from T. Lacy for removing the dome and covering the opening. His charge for labor was $174.36. The magnificent dome was replaced with a simple “penthouse” cover which remains to this date.26 The penthouse cover has been given names throughout the years such as shed, chicken coop and
doghouse. The upside, if there is one, is that one would be hard pressed to find a more distinguished looking building with a chicken coop on top of it.27 In 1985, a $500,000 renovation project was undertaken. The courthouse was roofed and new wiring and plumbing were installed. New doors were installed and a new heating and air conditioning system were added. A glass enclosed elevator was installed in the atrium and the south entrance was made accessible by new ramps and steps replacing the original courthouse steps.28 A few efforts to build a replica of the original dome have been made, but the penthouse shed remains. First it was lack of funds then shortage of materials during World War II that prevented the project. An effort was made to build a replica about thirty years ago, but the idea met with lukewarm reception, so that effort was dropped.29 In 2009, a group of citizens came together and formed a non-profit organization, The Montague County Courthouse Heritage Society (originally Dome Project).30 The first item on their agenda is to raise enough money to get a replica of the original dome on the courthouse in time for the 100th birthday of the courthouse. Since the courthouse was accepted October 15, 1913, that date in 2013 is when the group hopes to see the dome on top of the courthouse. Then the Montague County Courthouse will truly be one of the hidden and somewhat remote treasures of Texas.31 According to the Montague County Courthouse Preservation Maintenance Master Plan, dated February 1, 2000, the Montague County Courthouse â€œis truly a subtle but elegant massing in one of the stateâ€™s strongest examples of Classical Revival.â€? It is an outstanding stylistic example, surprisingly located in the quiet county seat of Montague.32 County officials have made efforts to maintain the historical integrity of this building while also complying with current
regulations needed to update the courthouse for daily use. Recently, the Commissioners Court voted to budget $500,000 for courthouse maintenance and repairs. Restoring the dome to its pre1939 elegance has long been a goal of Montague County citizens. Montague County has been historically significant dating from the 1759 battle between Spanish soldiers and Indians near Red River at Spanish Fort. This event prevented expansion of the Spanish mission system and allowed the settling of the area by Anglo Americans.33 After the Civil War, cattle were moved up the Chisholm Trail and funneled across Montague County. Red River Station was the last settled outpost before the herds crossed the Red River and entered Indian Territory.34 The courthouse stands as a reminder to many past county historical eras. The Montague County Courthouse is the landmark for who we are, where we have been, and where we are going. With adjacent county courthouses being recognized by the Texas Historical Commission with historical markers, it is only fitting that Montague County be so honored.
Melvin Fenoglio, editor. The Story of Montague County: Its Past and Present. Montague. Montague County Historical Commission, 1989. p. 5. 2
Guy Donnell. The History of Montague County Texas. Saint Jo. 1940. p. 18.
Melvin Fenoglio, editor. The Story of Montague County: Its Past and Present. Montague. Montague County Historical Commission, 1989. p. 5. 4
Melvin Fenoglio, editor. The Story of Montague County: Its Past and Present. Montague. Montague County Historical Commission, 1989. p. 5. 5
Mrs. W.R. Potter. History of Montague County. Bowie. 1912. p. 133.
Police Court Records A, February 28, 1873, order #2, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague. 7
Police Court Records A, June 14, 1873, orders #3 and 5, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague. 8
Police Court Records A, May 26, 1873, order #26, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague. 9
Police Court Records A, September 27, 1875, order #7, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague. 10
Police Court Records A, June 3, 1878, order #10, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague. 11
Police Court Records A, July 5, 1878, order #10, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague. 12
Police Court Records B, June 2, 1879, order #164, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague. 13
Police Court Records A, November 18, 1879, order #320, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague. 14
Guy Donnell. The History of Montague County Texas. Saint Jo. 1940. p. 43.
Police Court Records B, April 11, 1884, order #9, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague. 16
Police Court Records B, April 2, 1884, order #25, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague.
Police Court Records B, July 14, 1884, orders #1-9, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague. 18
Melvin Fenoglio, editor. The Story of Montague County: Its Past and Present. Montague. Montague County Historical Commission, 1989. p. 11. 19
Guy Donnell. The History of Montague County Texas. Saint Jo. 1940. p. 44.
Commissioners Court Minutes, G35, file 1977, April 29, 1912, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague. 21
Commissioners Court Minutes, Vol. H, p. 26, No. 2409, August 12, 1912, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague. 22
Guy Donnell. The History of Montague County Texas. Saint Jo. 1940. p. 44.
R.O.Harris. The Saint Jo Gazette, November 15, 1912.
Karl Komatsu, Preservation Maintenance Master Plan, Section 2, Fort Worth, Komatsu Architecture, February 1, 2000. p. 6. 25
Commissioners Court Minutes, Vol. H, Pp. 153, 154, 155, October 15, 1913, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague. 26
Karl Komatsu, Preservation Maintenance Master Plan, Section 2, Fort Worth, Komatsu Architecture, February 1, 2000. p. 8. 27
Karl Komatsu, Preservation Maintenance Master Plan, Section 2, Fort Worth, Komatsu Architecture, February 1, 2000. p. 8. 28
Commissioners Court Minutes, Vol. L, p. 101, No. 3843, July 11, 1939, Office of the Montague County Clerk, Montague County Courthouse, Montague. 29
Bill Morgan, Old Friends: Great Courthouses of Texas calendar, 1998.
Karl Komatsu, Preservation Maintenance Master Plan, Section 2, Fort Worth, Komatsu Architecture, February 1, 2000. p. 8. 31
Karl Komatsu, Preservation Maintenance Master Plan, Section 2, Fort Worth, Komatsu Architecture, February 1, 2000. p. 8. 32
Dome Project Financial Record, August, 2009.
Melvin Fenoglio, editor. The Story of Montague County: Its Past and Present. Montague. Montague County Historical Commission, 1989. p. 3.
Melvin Fenoglio, editor. The Story of Montague County: Its Past and Present. Montague. Montague County Historical Commission, 1989. p. 8.
Additional Pictures 2012 Montague County Courthouse Elevations Facing West Facing North Facing South
1912-1913 Laying the corner stone and Construction Stages
Construction Stages Continued
Construction Stages Continued
The following pictures show the area of the courthouse where we would like to place the marker. It will be installed close to the cornerstone which was placed in 1912.
Courthouse cornerstone placed 1912
Marker would be placed near the cornerstone.
East elevation of courthouse where marker would be placed.