From the earliest days of statehood, Texas county courthouses were often damaged or destroyed. The main cause of destruction was usually fire, although sever weather often took a toll on these architectural beauties as well. Cooke County’s first courthouse, a small log structure was leveled by a bull. The nosy bovine found his way into the building leaving nothing but topple logs and a trampled mess in his wake. Montague County’s courthouse did not escape the courthouse curse. disaster struck the county seat on more than one occasion.
The first courthouse was a log building that was erected shortly after the county formed in 1858. It was used until the end of the War Between the States. This structure may have met a fiery doom, but there are no remaining records that resolutely prove what became of the first courthouse.
A second courthouse was a frame structure that succumbed to fire in February of 1873. During the time between the fire and the construction of the third courthouse, the county found temporary accommodations in which to conduct business, They first rented a house from D S Hagler, later, they purchased the Covington Saloon and converted it into a working courthouse.
By 1879, an impressive two story domed, native sandstone structure graced the county square. The stately building met its demise at the hands of arsonists in March of 1884. Three men, William and Frank Clark and Landy Howell doused the building with coal oil and struck the match that caused the irreplaceable loss of everything that was not stored in the vaults. The arsonists were apprehended and placed in the Montague County jail. Notations in the jail log books indicate that a mob broke the Clarks, Howell and eight or nine other prisoners out of jail. They were eventually recaptured. Due to the outrage in the county, their trials received a change of venue to Cooke County. Howell,s case was dismissed, the Clark brothers each received a sentence of 10 years.
The fourth courthouse came close to not being built in Montague. After the courthouse was destroyed in 1884, the citizens of Bowie tried to have the county seat transferred to Bowie from Montague. The results of the poll were in Bowie’s favor, but did not meet the 2/3 majority required by law.
This courthouse was also built from native stone and sported a beautiful domed clock tower. While this courthouse did not meet a fiery death, it was no match for Mother Nature. On July 5, 1905, a tornado ripped through norther and central portions of Montague COunty. The deadly storm claimed sixteen lives and leveled several churches and homes. The clock tower was damaged beyond repair and was removed. In April of 1912 another storm struck the courthouse tearing off large sections of the roof and breaking out several windows.
At this point the county commissioners deemed the county in need of a new courthouse. In order to dodge another war for the county seat they took quick action. The old courthouse was demolished and construction began on the new one during the spring of 1912, just weeks after the debilitating storm.
This building is still in use today. The grand structure originally had a dome. The dome suffered structural damage in a storm in 1939 and was removed.
Today a grassroots campaign is in the works to raise the funds needed to replace the dome. If anyone is interested in helping with this effort, please contact me for more information.
A few other fun facts about the courthouse:
The fourth floor held the county jail until the new jail was erected in 1927. The Masonic Lodge met in the vacated jail for a time.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Dr Ernest Johnson housed his doctor’s office in the basement of the courthouse.
At least one baby is known to have been born in the courthouse.