Newton County Courthouse - Newton

Newton County Courthouse

110 Court Street, Newton, TX 75966

“People stood around the square all night crying and consoling each other.  That courthouse means a great deal to Newton.  It’s where we saw our boys off to war and where we had community celebrations.  We mark our time by the clock tower striking.”
–Bonnie Smith, Former CHC Chair, 2000

"Our community is pulling together now. We are committed to rebuilding.”
–Truman Dougharty, Newton County Judge, 2000

Architectural Description

The courthouse is sited at the intersection of Court and Kaufman Streets in Newton.  The 1902 Second Empire courthouse was built by contractors Martin and Moody of Commanche. The three story brick structure features a clock and bell tower, mansard roof and corner quoins. Stylistically, the building is unusual because it reflects a 19th century style popular twenty or thirty years earlier. Destroyed by catastrophic fire in 2000, the courthouse was reconstructed and restored to its 1936 exterior period of significance.

Construction History

The current Newton County Courthouse is the second courthouse built in Newton replacing one constructed in 1853 shortly after Newton became the county seat.  The first county courthouse was constructed in Burkeville in 1848, two years following the establishment of Newton County on August 22, 1846.  

In 1919 and again in 1925 the interior was modified to provide more functional spaces including downsizing the district courtroom. In 1937, a new two-story Newton County jail was completed as an annex to the original 1902 building.  The courthouse and annex were plastered with stucco at that time. 

Historical Designations

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.  Designated a State Antiquities Landmarks in 1981 and a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1974.

Interesting facts: 

  • A monument to the Reverend Henry Stephenson was dedicated on the courthouse lawn in 1926. Reverend Stephenson was reputed to have preached the first Protestant evangelical sermon in the State of Texas.
  • The 1902 Newton County courthouse and jail were built for $21,947. Clay for the brick courthouse was mined on nearby Caney creek and molded and fired on the courthouse square.
  • The Honorable Dan Moody, Governor of Texas, delivered a political speech to a large crowd on the square in 1926.
  • Originally, the courthouse had a faux clock in the tower. In 1929, a real four-faced clock was installed by local benefactors in honor of Dr. J.S. Peavy and wife, Maryann Fuller.
  • On February 15, 1932, a bloody jail break took place.  The county sheriff and a citizen coming to his aid were killed in gunfire trying to prevent the break. The jail breaker, who had murdered his wife the night before, was killed by another citizen arriving on the scene.
  • A catastrophic fire attributed to faulty wiring in the attic near the bell tower erupted on the evening of August 4, 2000. The fire spread quickly throughout the building causing the bell tower to collapse through the center of the structure. Much of the interior was destroyed with many county records and documents damaged. 

Project Description

Newton County had recently completed a master plan in July 2000 for restoration of the courthouse.  This planning enabled the County and the THC to enter into partnership to accurately rebuild and restore the courthouse to its historic appearance following the devastating fire on August 4,  2000.

The recently completed project reconstructed wood doors and windows, a slate mansard roof, roof dormers and installed a new manufactured bell and clock tower.  The building exterior was restored to its 1936 period of significance. The interior was restored to its 1925 appearance utilizing salvaged long leaf pine for flooring, wainscot, and stairways.  The district courtroom balcony, press metal ceiling and cornice, and furnishings were restored.  A new system of energy efficient heat pumps located underground replaced the former window mounted air conditioners.  The project architect was Marcel Quimby with general contractors J R Jones of Dallas and H B Neild of Beaumont.

Innovations and Unique Discoveries:

  • The new bell and clock tower is a steel and aluminum structure and shipped from the manufacturer in Utah. The structure was lifted onto the courthouse in May 2009.

State Grant Program Participation 

Through the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program administered by the Texas Historical Commission, Newton County received a grant of $415,000 in 2002 for the planning phase of the restoration and two additional grants of $3,000,000 in 2006 and $1,038,000 for construction.

County Preservation Leadership

Under County Judge Truman Dougharty, county commissioners  initiated the County’s participation in the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program in 2000 by funding a courthouse master plan under the guidelines of the Texas Historical Commission.  Subsequent emergency funding awards from the THC for Planning and Construction enabled the County to fully restore the courthouse. The project was successfully completed in 2012 with strong county leadership and a significant local match.

Rededication

A rededication ceremony was held on December 8, 2012.

Nearby Places of Historical Interest:

  • The historic S.H. Ford Male and Female College (1896-1906)/Powell Hotel building stands just to the east of the courthouse square.
  • On the south side are the original Fain Theater building (built during World War II) and the Humphrey Hotel, which was the home of the slain sheriff.
  • A 1920’s gas station stands on the west side of the square.
  • Burkeville, 14 miles to the Northeast, was the site of first Newton County courthouse built in 1848. The town was named after John R. Burke who donated land for the building.  Newton became the county seat in 1853.
  • Founded in 1907 just one year after the Gillmer Lumber Company came to the region, community members founded Pine Grove Missionary Baptist Church. It is located 8.1 mi north of Burkeville on SH 87.  This rural area of northwest Newton County has been known as “Scrappin’ Valley” since the early 1900’s. 
  • The Spears Chapel Methodist Church in Burkeville was organized in 1839 by the Rev. Moses Spear.  The first church was a log building.  It burned in 1883 and was replaced by a rough “box” structure until the present church was built in 1905.  Rev. Henry Stephenson was a leading charter member of the Spears Chapel Church and founder of the first permanent Methodist church in Texas (McMahon Chapel, Sabine County, 1834).
  • There are numerous historic cemeteries located throughout the county. See THC’s Historic Sites Atlas for info.
  • For more information about historic places and events in this region, visit the Texas Forest Trail Region.
  • For more information about lodging, restaurants and businesses to help your visit be enjoyable, visit the Newton Chamber of Commerce