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Location:: East Texas
What You’ll Need: Full tank of gas, love of granite
So you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to plan your weekends. You don’t want to worry about reservations. And you absolutely, positively don’t want to fool with timetables. Then I’ve got two words for you: “road trip.” And if you happen to be smitten by our county courthouses—those bastions of public art that were partly designed to show that one county was more prosperous than another—then spread out your state travel map and get behind the wheel: Your East Texas tour awaits.
Start your trip with a gem, the majestic Romanesque Revival courthouse in Sulphur Springs (Hopkins County, right), which was built in 1895. It looks like a castle from a children’s storybook, and the touches are reminiscent of the Wise County courthouse, some 120 miles to the west: pink granite and red sandstone walls, a dominant central tower, and countless columns, balconies, and archways. Head south on Texas Highway 19 to Emory (Rains County), whose 1908 Texas Renaissance–style courthouse is being renovated, and continue to Canton (Van Zandt County). Opened in 1937 with funds from the Works Progress Administration, it features a more modern design, with cast-stone veneer walls that boast art deco flourishes (also, check out the eagle sculpture on the grounds). As with so many courthouses, Canton displays memorials to fallen soldiers, including a monument from 1986 that reads, “In Memory of Our Confederate Veterans. ‘____ Lest We Forget.’ ” Keep driving south and you’ll roll through Athens (Henderson County), whose Classical Revival building, with a central dome, opened in 1913. Turn southeast on U.S. 175 and stop off at Stacy’s BBQ, in Jacksonville, for some hickory-smoked meats before continuing on to Rusk (Cherokee County). This courthouse, which was built in 1941, features native red and white limestone. Finally, push on to Nacogdoches, where you’ll find a clean, comfortable room at the Fredonia Hotel.
As morning breaks, stroll through the grounds of the Nacogdoches Courthouse (Nacogdoches County), a structure that opened in 1960 and whose architecture lacks the imagination of courthouses of old. Hit the road and drive northeast on Texas Highway 7, to Center (Shelby County), with its massive brick courthouse built in 1885 with rounded chimneys, a sharp departure from the previous day’s architecture; in fact, it is thought to be the only surviving Irish castle–style courthouse in the country. If you head north on U.S. 59 to Carthage (Panola County), you’ll find a pleasant square with shrubs and benches where the original building—similar in design to Center’s—once stood. Torn down in 1956 in favor of a new building, the old structure is still missed. One local merchant, armed with photos of the grand 1885 building, said of the decision to raze it: “Ain’t that the dumbest thing this county has ever done?” For your last stop, continue north along U.S. 59 through a canyon of pine trees to Marshall (Harrison County), with its postcard-perfect 1901 building, which is a popular stop during the holidays because of its light display. Far more ornate than the other courthouses on this tour, it is designed in the Renaissance Revival style with beaux arts flair. A statue of Lady Justice tops the impressive dome, and details such as multiple clock faces and Ionic columns adorn the tower. As the day winds down, should you head to Jefferson, with its wonderful downtown district? Push toward Gilmer? Or simply head home, already planning your next trip in your head?
East Texas Courthouse Tour Directory
Fredonia Hotel 200 N. Fredonia, 936-564-1234. Rates start at $90 a night.
Stacy’s BBQ 1217 S. Jackson, 903-586-1951. Closed Sun.