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The Travis County Courthouse

Three buildings have officially served as Travis County's courthouses, dating from 1855, 1876, and 1931.

1855 Courthouse

Several buildings, including a log cabin, unofficially served as courthouse prior to 1855. The first building constructed specifically for the purpose was a simple, two-story stone structure at 4th and Guadalupe streets, near what is now Republic Park. By the 1860s, the county jail was proving to be inadequate and the public found the Courthouse location inconvenient. In 1876, this first courthouse was abandoned when a larger building was erected, and in 1906 the stone structure was deemed unsafe and was demolished.

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1855 Courthouse
PICA 08956, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

1876 Courthouse

Whereas the old Courthouse had been small and simple, the new Courthouse was monumental, elegant, and ornate. The 1876 Courthouse, a three-story limestone building, was a breathtaking example of "Second Empire" architecture. Resplendent with ironwork cresting, decorative dormers, and Mansard roofs, the 1876 Courthouse stood proudly on the southwest corner of 11th Street and Congress Avenue, directly across from the Texas State Capitol Building. However, by 1927 it had become so infested with rats, bats, pigeons, and other vermin that it, too, needed to be replaced.

In 1931, Travis County offices vacated the 1876 Courthouse. The building, which was remodeled and put into use as offices for State agencies, was then given the name of the "Walton Building." In 1964, this structure was also demolished.

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1876 Courthouse
COO177, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

1931 Courthouse

In 1930 a site for the new Courthouse was selected adjacent to the north end of Wooldridge Park, on 10th and Guadalupe streets. Wooldridge Park was the first park in the city of Austin and one of the four town squares designated in the original 1839 town plans. The cornerstone was laid in 1930 and the Courthouse was completed the following year. The structure was built to house all county offices, with the top two floors used as the County Jail.

Designed in the "Moderne" style by Page Bros. Architects, and built by H.E. Wattinger Contractors, the 1931 Courthouse broke with the classical design elements of the past.

As originally designed and built, the Courthouse was a refined, symmetrical building, with bronze entrance doors on all four sides.  By the 1950s, however, the county was already outgrowing the courthouse.  More space was needed, so significant additions were constructed in 1958 and again in 1962.  The main entrance at the east end of the second floor has since been closed due to security needs, as has the entrance facing Wooldridge Park.

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1931 Courthouse with 1958 modifications
PICA 25400, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

As more courtrooms have been crowded into the building, one of the original main courtrooms has lost its high ceiling, but the hope remains to preserve and restore the Courthouse as a significant piece of architecture and as a focal point for the life of the community.[1]

In March of 2005, a plaque was installed outside the Travis County Courthouse in honor of Heman Marion Sweatt, a civil rights pioneer who successfully challenged the policy of segregation at the University of Texas Law School. On October 21, 2005, Travis County renamed the Courthouse as the "Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse."

**Click here to view a video about the Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse as a historic landmark.


[1] The Heman Marion Sweatt Travis County Courthouse, Austin, Texas: A Historical Perspective (Austin, Texas, 2008). A copy of this brochure can be obtained at the Travis County Courthouse.

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