Courthouse FAQs

General Courthouse FAQs:

Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program FAQs:

Q.Why are Texas courthouses historically and culturally significant?

A: For more than 150 years, the Texas courthouse has been a local symbol of strength, pride, progress and democracy. Courthouses were -- and continue to be -- centers of public and business life in communities throughout the state. Because so many Texas communities literally grew up around a county courthouse, the structures are tangible links to the past. Marriages, trials, elections, parades, festivals, campaign rallies and community celebrations are just some of the events linked to historic county courthouses.

The Texas Historical Commission (THC) has identified approximately 220 courthouses built before 1948 that are still standing. Many of these are superior examples of architectural trends and styles, including Gothic Revival, Art Deco, Neoclassical, Renaissance Revival, Romanesque Revival and Second Empire. Eighty-six Texas courthouses are listed in the National Register of Historic Places; 78 are designated as Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks. Many more are eligible for historical designation.

Q. What is the history of Texas courthouses?

A: Before Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836, Texans were under a centralized governmental structure based in Mexico City. After the victory at San Jacinto, the new Republic of Texas formed counties to create a framework for a localized governmental system. Courthouses were among the first permanent structures built in the new counties, and they immediately became symbols of local pride and self-government. No one knows the exact number of courthouses built in Texas since 1836, but the THC has identified more than 700 present and former courthouse sites, and other sites likely exist.

The “golden age” of courthouse construction began in 1881, soon after the state Legislature authorized counties to issue bonds to build new courthouses. Structures built between the late 19th and early 20th centuries were constructed as monuments of community justice and strength. Of the more than 220 historic courthouses, some 150 were built prior to 1920, and about 80 of those were built before the turn of the century.

Q. What is the condition of historic Texas courthouses?

A: By including Texas' historic courthouses on its 1998 list of “America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places,” the National Trust for Historic Preservation determined the combined structures are “threatened by neglect, deterioration, lack of maintenance, insufficient funds, inappropriate development or insensitive public policy.” Most of the state's historic courthouses are in various stages of disrepair, though 201 are still being used for county administration purposes. Existing problems include outdated electrical wiring, old and improper heating and air conditioning, lack of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, leaking roofs and other problems. Many of these buildings are vulnerable to fire, abandonment and even demolition. A few historic courthouses, such as the old Reagan County Courthouse in Stiles and the old Frio County Courthouse in Frio City, have been abandoned.

Q. How much money would be needed to repair and restore all of the state's historic courthouses properly?

A: THC architects who have made broad assessments of the structures estimate the cost could exceed $750 million

Q. What are eligible and ineligible costs?

A: The Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program grants operate on a reimbursement basis. Counties awarded grants will submit architectural plans for approval prior to executing the construction work. Project costs are eligible for reimbursement under the grant program, if they were not incurred prior to the grant award.

Expenses paid by the county and eligible for reimbursement include:

  • Advertising for construction bids
  • Civil engineering/property surveys
  • Demolition of non-historic structures or features on the historic site
  • Hazardous materials testing and abatement
  • Building permit fees
  • Builder’s risk insurance
  • Contractor’s overhead and profit, not to exceed 15% of the allowable construction cost
  • Total architectural, engineering and project management services (A/E/PM) shall not to exceed 15% of the final construction cost.
  • Eligible costs of A/E/PM services shall not exceed 4% of the construction cost for that phase if construction plans are previously approved by THC
  • Project contingencies that exceed 10% of the construction costs are not eligible budget items.
  • Other services by audio, acoustical, security, consultants or metal or paint conservators  are subject to the total professional services limits stated above (15% of total construction cost)
  • Reimbursables such as travel and copies as defined by AIA’s Handbook of Professional Practice
  • Reasonable costs associated with preparation of completion report
  • Historic and reproduction historic furnishings in the courtrooms such as judge’s bench, railings, jury box, witness stand, attorney’s tables, chairs and audience seating.
  • Historic and reproduction historic furnishings in other major public spaces such as clerk’s and tax assessors counters, railings, safes and cabinetry.
  • Historic fireproof vault furniture
  • Data conduit
  • Area carpet/ loose rugs of approved design are eligible costs in spaces where functionally required.
  • Restoration of significant site elements that restore the site to a significant historic appearance, up to $50K
  • Built-in security systems and equipment such as card readers, cameras, up to $20K
  • Audio-visual systems such as amplifiers microphones, loudspeakers, up to $50,000
  • Generators serving the courthouse

Q. What are master plans and when should they be used?

A: Master plans (master preservation plans) are based on the understanding that each historic property represents a unique and irreplaceable resource. They are a formal document for addressing changes to a resource during the planning process, for exploring alternative plans of action and for minimizing loss, damage or irreversible, adverse effects on historic fabric.

Master plans are prepared to assess and guide the effects of a proposed treatment or construction-related capital project on the existing fabric of a property. They are usually prepared immediately preceding a specific capital improvement project, and the resulting recommendations lead directly to construction documents and a capital improvement project.

Q. What information should be included in a master plan?

A: Generally, master plans should include the following major sections:

  • Introduction
  • Historical and Architectural Development
  • Evaluation of Existing Conditions
  • Rehabilitation Recommendations
  • Required Appendices

For more information about How to Participate in the Courthouse Preservation Program and a more detailed description of Master Plan requirements go here.

Q. What is an archival records plan?

A: An archival records plan addresses issues related to the protection, preservation and accessibility of ALL county records before, during and after the restoration work. The plan should be comprehensive in nature and follow the State Records Management Laws managed by the State Library and Archives. To find out more about archival records plans: please click here.