Wise County Courthouse (Decatur)


Year Built: 1897

Architect: J. Riely Gordon

The Wise County Courthouse is located in Decatur, Texas.

This is another masterpiece from my favorite courthouse architect, J. Riley Gordon. It has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1976.

From the National Register Narrative:

“The design of J. Riely Gordon for the Wise County Courthouse was similar to but not identical with his design for the Ellis County Courthouse. One of 12 Texas courthouses designed by J. Riely Gordon in a Romanesque Revival idiom, the Wise County Courthouse exhibits a number of characteristics of form, such as, the use of turrets, a tower, broken massing, and fine ashlar masonry of contrasting textures. In addition, it reveals the Greek cross plan developed by Gordon with access at the four [diagonal] entrances and a central stair.

“The broken massing produced by the cruciform plan lent itself readily to the stylistic vocabulary of the Romanesque Revival. Turrets and dormers mark the east and west facades. At the north and south elevations the arms of the cross are connected visually by the swinging curve of the four entry pavilions. The central tower with its artisans, setbacks and dormers dominates the composition.
“Access to the upper floors was provided by a winding cast iron stair case in the building’s rotunda and that became a long spiral stair to provide access to the tower. The tower provided the building with natural ventilation, light by way of a glass skylight, and housed the E. Howard and Company clock and bell.”

Particularly distinctive is the fine masonry work throughout. Exterior walls were of Texas granite. The specifications called for”quality granite in two colors selected by the architect . . . laid up in pitch-faced and pean hammered alternating courses with pointed beds and joints.” The main columns were of polished pink granite. Terra cotta in the friezes, turrets and dormers was used extensively. For the roof, “the best quality Bangor slate of very light  blue color” was specified.

The interior  was appointed with equal attention to detail. The floors were a finish of marble tilest of contrasting hue in a checkerboard pattern. Bases and wainscoting in the lobbies, halls and stairways were also of marble. The outstanding and distinctive quality of the construction and
overall design of the Wise County Courthouse mark it as worthy of conservation.

Personal Visit Note:  This is a beautiful building. I visited it alone on an early morning, and was sorely disappointed to find it was closed for renovation. I will definitely make a return visit in the future, once the THC completes its historic preservation renovations. I did have a nice latte at a surprisingly hip coffee shop on the courthouse square.



The following pictures are Courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission which provided them to me from their files: