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Home > History of the Courthouse

History of the Courthouse:

100 Years of County Government

Written by Leslie Rankin-Conger

In 1894, after extensive renovations and repairs to the original 1839 Brazoria County Courthouse, the County government acknowledged the need for a new courthouse. On February 13, 1894, the county issued $55,000 in bonds to build a new courthouse. County Judge Archibald Roane Masterson was authorized to advertise for bids, and on the same day, the building committee recommended architect James Riley Gordon. Construction bids were opened the following month and the Commissioners' Court accepted the bid submitted by Lovell and Hood. Their bid was $49,374. On January 7, 1895, the Commissioners' Court received a $30,157 construction cost estimate. Construction began and on September 24, 1895, the Commissioners' Court ordered that after Wednesday, October 2, 1895, the newly erected structure would be officially designated as the Brazoria County Courthouse.

On September 14, 1896, the Commissioners' Court ordered an election to decide the issue of moving the county seat from Brazoria to Angleton. This was not a new issue. In April, 1834, the Congress of the Mexican State of Coahuila-Texas had passed a decree to move the seat of justice from Brazoria to Columbia.

The following year, 1835, the Congress held another election to move the seat of jurisprudence back to Brazoria but the election failed to carry. When the General Consultation of Texas met in San Felipe de Austin on October 16, 1835, a resolution passed, renaming Brazoria as the seat of justice. This did not resolve the issue. Again on November 20, 1837, Brazoria Countians held another election to decide if the seat should remain in Brazoria or move back to Columbia. The election failed to carry and the Congress of the Republic of Texas declared Brazoria the permanent Brazoria County seat. They raised the issue again in 1882, and again it failed to pass.

Meanwhile, in 1890, Faustino Kiber and his business partner Lewis Randolph Bryan Sr., purchased more than 3,000 acres of land between the Columbia Tap Railroad and New Velasco. They purchased it in response to the land boom in New Velasco. On August 12, 1891, they sold a right-of-way to the Velasco Terminal Railway Company, with the understanding that if the company failed to construct and operate a railroad within two years, the property would revert to Kiber and Bryan. A railroad from Anchor to New Velasco meant passengers would no longer have to travel to Columbia and then by boat to New Velasco. They could now change trains at Anchor and travel directly to New Velasco. This was the birth of the Velasco Terminal Railway.

On August 27, 1891, another election was held to determine a new location for the county seat. This election set the stage for the 1897 move to Angleton. The proposal was to move the county seat from Brazoria to either the Eli Mitchell 1/4 league on the eastern side of the Brazos River, Architect's drawing of old Courthouseabout 3 1/2 miles from its mouth or the John W. Cloud survey. Present day Freeport is in the Eli Mitchell 1/4 league and the John W. Cloud survey is north of Angleton. The John W. Cloud survey was designated because it is within five miles of the county's geographic center. The election failed to carry and the county seat stayed in Brazoria.

Kiber and Bryan next laid out Angleton, named in honor of Mrs. George Angle, wife of George Angle, general manager of the Velasco Terminal Railway Company. Because there were not many buildings or businesses in Angleton at the time, the city's founders held an elaborate naming ceremony at the Velasco Hotel. On May 6, 1892, Bryan and Kiber deeded to J. P. Bryan and George Angle, Brazoria County Trustees, 200 1/2 acres containing the townsite of Angleton. The property included portions of the Velasco Terminal Railway track. This deal insured the construction of the Velasco Terminal Railroad depot in Angleton. The depot was located on the west side of Front Street half way between Mulberry and Myrtle streets, roughly across the street from the old Sharpe Store.

In July, 1896, Lewis R. Bryan, L. L. Foster, and Faustino Kiber sold to J. D. Cannan, Trustee of Brazoria County, Block 13, its 20 lots and the adjacent alley for $1.00. However, the County could only have the property and associated funds if there was a vote in favor of relocating the county seat from Brazoria to Angleton on or before April 1, 1897.

On September 15, 1896, another election was held, this one to determine whether the county seat should be moved to Angleton or remain in Brazoria. On October 24, 1896, County Judge A. R. Masterson declared the election results. A total of 3,312 votes had been cast, 2,073 for Angleton and 1,239 for Brazoria. Brazoria was no longer the County Seat.

The primary motivation for this election was a threatened division of the county. The city of Alvin wanted the county divided. Alvin's rationale was that it would become the county seat of a newly created county or the eastern part of Brazoria County would be incorporated into Galveston County.

The Commissioners' Court wasted no time in moving the county seat to Angleton. Four days after the County Judge's decree, the Commissioners' Court rented a two-story building from J. D. Cannan for $25.00/month for twelve months. The building was on lot 18, block S. During the October 1896 Special Term, the Court decreed that the official records of the Commissioners' Court, District Court, Tax Collector, Tax Assessor and the Treasurer be moved to Angleton, so those departments could continue working. Other court records were to remain in Brazoria until the new courthouse in Angleton was completed. Will King, Precinct 3 Commissioner, supervised the moving of documents, furniture, and other objects to the temporary Angleton courthouse. On October 29, 1896, the Commissioners' Court held their last session in Brazoria.

Construction bids were opened in December, 1896, for a new jail and a courthouse, modeled after the Matagorda County Courthouse in Bay City. In February, 1897, the Commissioners' Court awarded the construction contract to Tom Lovell. Lovell had been the Matagorda County Courthouse contractor. On February 11, 1897, the members of the Commissioners' Court signed the construction contract. With the addition of a bell and clock tower, the original $27,000.00 bid was increased by $3,000.00. On February 12, 1897, architect Eugene Heiner certified the purchase of the Matagorda County Courthouse plans. The contract stipulated the plans would be returned upon project completion. The Court hired architect, J. A. Tempest as the construction superintendent.

The newly constructed Renaissance Revival style building was a two-story structure with high ceilings and red brick. The box-like building had outer walls measuring 24-inches thick with a 2-inch air space in the center. It had repetitive, double and triple windows. Slate shingles faced the Mansard roof. The foundations and ground-level floors were constructed of concrete. The second level floors were wood and matting. Two cisterns, one on either side of the north entrance stored water. Wood burning stoves provided heat. The Courtroom was heated with cast iron "box heaters." Oil lamps provided light. A large oil lamp sat on the judge's desk.

County Judge Masterson contracted with Dumbeck & Billman, a marble and granite company in Velasco, to carve the building's cornerstone. On May 12, 1897, members of several Brazoria County Masonic lodges, including West Columbia's St. John's Lodge #5, Brazoria Lodge # 327, Velasco Lodge # 757, and Alvin Lodge # 762, dedicated the cornerstone. During the regular August, 1897 term, the Commissioners' Court contracted with E. W. Jones and C. O. Brown to move the remaining records and furniture from Brazoria to Angleton. Jones and Brown supplied the wagon and teams and were paid $3.00/day.

The Courthouse was completed on September 29, 1897. On October 11, 1897 the Commissioners' Court ordered that it be designated and officially declared the County Courthouse of Brazoria County.

Although the building was complete, grounds' work continued. In December 1898, the Court authorized County Judge Milam Stephen Munson Old Courthouse, now Historical Museumto have fences built around grounds and the grounds graded.

Sometime around 1912, the old wood-burning stoves were replaced with coal burners. In 1913, the Angleton Gin and Power Company, owned by Faustino Kiber, opened. Electric wiring was then installed in the building. By 1915, a phone had been installed, but in February that year it was removed by order of the Commissioners' Court.

In October, 1915, A. C. Glass received a contract for $743.00 for courthouse repairs and hired Mr. J. R. Shackleford to paint the courthouse. A small one-story addition was added to the building's southeast corner. Work was not completed until March, 1916.

During 1920, the Commissioners' Court ordered the building's expansion. They hired architect John McLelland to draw plans and specs. In November, 1920, they employed J. A. Booth to construct the addition following McLelland's plans and specs. The plans called for a two-story wing to be added across the west end of the building. Two brick chimneys were added on the west end between the existing structure and the new wing. The construction company converted the 1915 addition to a vault and a second story vault was added above it. The Commissioners' Court purchased steel shutters for the vault windows from George D. Bernard & Company.

In June, 1926, the Commissioners' Court realized that the building needed further expansion. According to an Angleton Times article on May 28, the records were piling up and it would only be a matter of time before they needed a new courthouse. On Valentines Day 1927, the Court approved plans and improvement estimates prepared by Louis Glover. Tellepson Construction Company of Houston received the general construction contract. Jacob Brothers Electrical was awarded the electrical contract. The plumbing contract went to Barber Plumbing Company. The total renovation costs were $47,000.00.

The project's scope was immense. The contractors removed the north side tower, replacing it with new doors framed by stone columns. They repaired the 23rd District Courtroom ceiling, redesigned its windows and enlarged the vaults in the Tax Collector's and Treasurer's offices. In addition, the remaining portion of the east wing was added to the northeast side of the building and a basement added below the northeast corner. Contractors rotated the east end stairway 90 degrees. Steam-heated radiators replaced the coal-burning pot-bellied stoves. The new boiler was housed in a small, one story room adjacent to the building's north entrance. The biggest challenge and change was stuccoing the entire building. Because of the project's extent, the Commissioners' Court used the Albert Sydney Johnston grammar school as the interim Courthouse. In October, 1927, the County made final payments to the contractors and the Court moved back in.

In January, 1928, with the opening of the District Court session, the necessity for additional parking was apparent. To provide extra parking, the Commissioners' Court ordered that the fence on the south side be moved back toward the building.

In 1938, the Court hired architect Lamar Q. Cato to draw up plans for additional courthouse repairs. The contractors removed the first floor wainscoting replacing it with plaster, removed all wainscoting from the 23rd District Court and repaired the roof. The old radiators were repaired and reinstalled.

The July 28, 1938 Angleton Times published a letter from County Attorney J. P. Bryan. It stated that the Grand Jury had conducted their annual inspection of the Courthouse and Jail. According to the report, the Courthouse was in disrepair and large volumes of important paperwork was stored in the attic. Office were overflowing, the report noted, and the courthouse was spatially inadequate to meet the county's needs. The Grand Jury also met with County Auditor Frank Taylor who had the building inspected by an architect, per the County Judge's orders. The architect recommended that it be condemned. The Grand Jury recommended that a new courthouse, with an internal jail, be constructed on Block 14, just one block south of the 1897 courthouse.

The county received a $300,000 construction grant from the Public Works Administration. A bond election for a new courthouse and jail was held and the voters approved a $500,000 bond. The new courthouse/jail complex was designed by Lamar Q. Cato, the architect responsible for the 1938 courthouse renovations. In October, 1939, the Commissioners' Court rejected all construction bids because they were too high. Bidding reopened in November, 1939 and the general construction contract was awarded to Knutson Construction Company of Houston in December, 1939.

By the middle of December the new courthouse foundation was being poured. On April 27, 1940, with Judge Milam S. Munson as Master of Ceremonies, the Masons leveled the cornerstone. The new courthouse was completed and accepted by the Commissioners' Court in December, 1941. The Commissioners' Court authorized George Cole to move the records from the 1897 Courthouse to the new courthouse. The Angleton Garden Club and other garden clubs were given permission to beautify the 1897 Courthouse's grounds. With the official acceptance of the new courthouse and the relocation of county documents and offices, the 1897 courthouse was no longer the official Brazoria County courthouse.

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Article and pictures courtesy of The Brazoria County Historical Museum.

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