A Brief History of the Grimes County Courthouse
By Gail Sowell
The first Grimes County Courthouse was constructed from cedar logs. Fire destroyed this structure in 1838 and in 1850 a ferocious wind destroyed the second Courthouse. W.W. Arrington designed the third Courthouse and built it from stone in February, 1859. This third courthouse burned on May 15, 1890 and the fire of January 20, 1893 destroyed the fourth courthouse. Presently, this, the fifth courthouse, was built in 1894.
The Courthouse bricks have 3 distinct colors: (1) the original hand molded red brick of the surviving 1891 east wall vaults; (2) the 1894 pinkish red brick on the south, west and part of the north walls; and (3) a rustic brown colored brick on a section of the north wall. The third color of brick has an interesting story. The bricklayer had run out of bricks and was waiting impatiently for a wagonload of bricks to be delivered. While waiting for the bricks to arrive, he went around town gathering a few bricks to keep his job moving along. When the wagon arrived, he continued bricking with the original bricks.
During the election of 1898, the election returns disappeared from the county clerk’s office – supposedly were burned. The Populist-Republicans claimed victory and the Democrats contested. In the spring of 1899, five men gathered to discuss ways to fight the coalition. This group became known as the White Man’s Union Association. One day the Populist-Republican coalition and their “elected” Sheriff barricaded themselves in the county jail across the street. When the two coalitions met, a gun fight began resulting in five bullet holes in the Courthouse structure, four on the west side located near the second floor windows and one on the right side of the south entrance doors. They are still visible today. One person was killed and several were injured. The Governor was called in and the bad coalition was “run out of town.”
In 1933, a Grimes County Grand Jury indicted Clyde Barrow for robbing a business in Navasota. The indictment was dropped when Clyde and Bonnie were gunned down in a Louisiana gun battle. In 1934, Joe Palmer, a member of the Barrow gang, was tried and found guilty and sentenced to death for killing Major Crowson of the Walls Unit in Huntsville.
For as far back as anyone can remember, it has been a tradition in Grimes County for its citizens to gather around the Courthouse on election night to “party” and await election returns. The County Clerk hangs two large tally boards outside his office and votes are posted as returns from all over the county come in.
Hollywood came to the courthouse in June of 1997. Goldie Hawn directed her first film made for TV named “Hope.” Grimes County residents were able to try out for parts in the movie and be a part of it. The town got to watch Main St. be renovated for the movie and got to watch the burning of the constructed movie theatre (where the Confederate Memorial is today.)
Under the reign of County Judge Ira “Bud” Haynie, his wife at that time, Joy, pursued looking for grants to preserve and restore the present courthouse. Working with the Texas Historical Commission, this dream came true. On March 2, 2002 grand opening ceremonies took place of the beautifully restored Courthouse. In order to get the grant from the Historical Commission, the courthouse had to be remodeled to look as close to the original construction in 1894. Joy worked hard to make this possible, resulting in a “showplace” for Grimes County. Contact Mayor Karen McDuffie at 936-827-9422 for tours.