The white limestone courthouse on the square in Weatherford is a great example of architect W. C. Dodson’s best work. This grand French Second Empire inspired courthouse is the perfect centerpiece for the unique town square of Parker County. Its towering height makes it visible to travelers from a great distance as they approach Weatherford. Extensive restoration work completed in 2004 has restored this courthouse to nearly its original condition. Enjoy the images below and please read my short history of Parker County and the Parker County Courthouse.
Prior to 1850 the area of Texas that eventually became Parker County was frontier territory. The establishment of Fort Worth in 1849, and the building of Fort Belknap in 1851 combined with other factors promoted the settlement of this area after 1850.
Late in 1855 Isaac Parker petitioned the Texas State Legislature to establish Parker County and Weatherford. On December 12, 1855, the legislature officially created Parker County from parts of Navarro and Bosque Counties. The new county was 30 miles square, with 320 acres reserved at the center for the county seat. Weatherford, the county seat, was named in honor of Jefferson Weatherford a Senator from Dallas.
The Town of Weatherford
In 1858 the city government of Weatherford was established. The town square was laid out at the intersection of the two primary roads approaching town. Instead of the typical layout with streets passing by all four sides of the town square, Weatherford’s square is right in the middle of the roads as you approach from all four directions. When the courthouse was eventually built, is was visible from some distance as you approached town. This layout makes for a much more dramatic presentation compared to the typical town square where you usually don’t see the courthouse until you pull up to one if the intersections on a corner of the courthouse square.
In the late 19th century stray cattle and horses were brought to the town square to sell. Around 1900 a Weatherford merchant offered some bargain merchandise for sale on what was then called a “Stray Day Sale,” and the idea caught on. The tradition of “First Monday” lives on to this day. The location of the sale has moved from the courthouse square to the public market a few blocks east of the courthouse. It’s more like a flea market these days, but locals still show up on the first Monday of the month to sell local goods to folks who come from near and sometimes from very far away.
The Parker County Courthouse was designed by architect W. C. Dodson. The style of the Weatherford courthouse is similar to Dodson’s other courthouses in Hill, Hood, and Lampasas counties. The building is a three story structure with a forth story attic. A central clock tower extends up another three stories. The building is square in plan with four almost identical facades. Each facade is divided into five bays with projecting pavilions on the end and center bays. Each of the four corners of the building is crowned with a convex mansard roof. The central clock tower repeats the pattern of the convex mansard roofs to produce a uniformity of style.
The second and third story windows are vertically united to form single windows spanning two stories. The long vertical windows, central clock tower, and mansard roofs make what is already a courthouse built to a grand scale look even more palatial.
The elevation of this courthouse and the dramatic central position it holds on the town square further contributes to it’s overall grandeur. Certainly, it can be seen from a great distance away, as you approach town form any direction.
The interior of the Parker County Courthouse was heavily modified over the years. A restoration completed in 2004 restored much of the interior to its original configuration.
While the courthouses in Hood and Hill counties were also designed by architect W. C. Dodson, and are often compared to this courthouse, there are some distinct differences between the interiors of those two buildings and the Parker County Courthouse.
The courtroom of the Parker County Courthouse is among the biggest in the state at 4500 square feet. The ceiling is 28 feet high and heavily patterned and decorated. The pattern on the ceiling is carried through to the patterned flooring. The walls also are decoratively painted. Small wood balconies provide limited additional seating. Dark woodwork and shutters accentuate the very tall windows on the north and south walls of the courtroom. Beautiful reproductions of the original brass ceiling lamps hang from brass chains and help light this enormous space.
The district courtroom in the Parker County Courthouse is every bit as grand as it is different from any other courtroom in a nearby historic county courthouse.
Believe it or not, they saved the old squeaky wooden staircases. Of course they are original to the building and therefore important to the historical completeness of the building’s restoration. It’s a good thing too because they could never meet modern building codes. The railings can’t be more than 28 inches high! I guess in the old days they figured railings were for children, and adults should be able to take care of themselves.
For many years I drove by this building and wondered what was inside. At the right time of day I could see light shining through the tall windows from the other side of the courthouse. I couldn’t imagine what could be inside if I could see right through the building. It surprised me to see how that was possible. If you have never been inside this building, stop and take a look. Overall this courthouse is in magnificent condition after its 2004 restoration. If you’ve been inside the Hill and Hood county courthouses, then you are in for an even bigger surprise. This building won’t be at all what you expect. And, that’s a good thing.
117 Fort Worth Hwy
Most of the information presented here was extracted from the Texas Historical Commission’s Sites Atlas. (http://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/) Other information resulted from a conversation with the restoration project superintendent in January of 2004. Still other details came from a special section to the April 18, 2004 edition of The Weatherford Democrat newspaper.
Copyright © 2009 by Sam Fenstermacher
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