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Milam County, Texas

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History of Milam County Courthouse

by
KATHRYN ROBBINS, CAMERON, TEXAS (Undated)

Note: Miss ROBBINS was born at Anderson, Texas. She is now a Junior in the C.H. Yoe High School of Cameron. Her father was principle of one of the schools in Brownwood, Texas when he died. Miss ROBBINS takes an interest in all school activities, and she is specializing in music. Miss SUE MOORE, teacher of history in the Cameron High School, directed this paper.



FORWARD

This theme is an attempt to tell in a simple fashion the history of the most important edifice of the City of Cameron, the Court House. There have been four in number, and each has been described in as accurate a manner as possible. Most of my information was gathered from the courthouse records of this county. However, I am deeply indebted to pioneer settlers and old friends for information which otherwise could not have been secured. In addition, I want to thank my mother for personal aid and suggestions given me, and my history teacher for her assistance and words of encouragement. Without their interest in my work I would not have persevered long enough to obtain the data necessary for this sketch.



There are many historic spots and buildings connected with the history of Milam County which, if they were allowed to speak for themselves, could relate stories of horror and gruesomeness as well as stories of adventure and bravery. Such places as Port Sullivan, such spots as old Nashville, which for several years after Cameron was laid out and established as the county seat, were her very successful rivals in trade, are silent regarding real facts of their early struggles for existence, and to Cameron's courthouse is entrusted the record of Milam County's pioneers. Since this is to be an historical sketch and not an imaginative one, the writer has decided to forego the desire to deal with imaginary events and portray purely historical incidents wrapped up in the history of the Milam County's courthouse, located at Cameron.

At various periods, four courthouses have guarded the history of a class of people which can be found only in such a country. A people who, though crude in a way, were honest, brave, steadfast in friendship, and hospitable to a degree excelled by few people of the world.

"The first building was erected in the early part of the year 1846. Hon. W.W. OXHEER, who was the first District Clerk and also Deputy District Surveyor of Milam County, says: "I remember the town (Cameron) was laid off by A.W. SULLIVAN, BENJAMIN BRYANT, JOHN HOBSON, and DANIEL MONROE.

The first building erected was a court house. If I were an expert draughtsman, I believe I could draw an exact picture of Milam County's first temple of justice, for I retain a very distinct recollection of it. It was a rude structure of small dimensions but abundantly large enough and sufficiently ornate for the plain people who used it. It was thirty feet east and west by twenty feet north and south, about nine feet high to the eaves, built of upright studding mortised into sills and plates, weatherboarded on the outside, floored with plank cut out by hand with a whipsaw, and covered with boards ripped and shave. There was a door on the north side and one on the south side and a window in each end, on the south side two shed rooms about ten feet square were added, which were used as clerks' offices, there being a passageway between leading to the courtroom. JACOL GROSS and WILEY JONES took the contract and erected the building."

This small building served Milam County for several years. Then it was moved near the location of our present jail. Additions were made and it became the first hotel of Cameron, the old Phillips Hotel.

In its place was erected a two story frame building. As to the dimensions, the writer has been unable to secure authentic information. We know that it was a two story frame building with a long hall running north and south, with the offices located on the first floor. The second floor was a large room in which trials were held, but at times it was used as a dance hall by the young people of the community. At one of these gatherings Mr. WILLIAMS, County Clerk, was shot. He, with his wife, had attended the ball, and just as they were coming down the stairs from the ballroom, he was jerked from his wife's side, it is reported, and shot by JIM BOLES.

This building was used until 1847 when it was destroyed by a fire on the night of April 9. Nothing was saved; all records were destroyed except one surveyor's book, which was in the surveyor's home that night. It was rumored at that time that it had been ignited by a man who was accused of forgery and other crimes and wished to eradicate all records of his deeds.

Since this loss left Milam County without a court house, the county issued warrants to Sheriff W. E. MITCHENSSON for $295.00 for the rent of the old Phillips Hotel, which stood near the location of our present jail. This was used as a courthouse and as lodging place for extra bailiffs and the deputy sheriff while plans were being formulated for a new structure.

No definite steps were taken in procuring plans for the new court house until June 2, 1975 [sic], when P.J. JACKSON was requested to get some draftsmen to draw up plans and specifications for a court house and publish them in order that bids might be received for the courthouse, the dimensions of which were to be 50x60 feet. The plans and specifications were published for a period of twenty days before the bids were sold. Citizens worked with zeal, for only three days later, June 5, 1875, the court proceeded to open bids for building the courthouse. The bids were as follows:

For brick work and plastering:

J.T. CARLTON ...................................... $8,292.64
PETER WINTERS ................................. $6,573.00
ARNOLD & JACKSON ........................... $5,900.00

The contract for brick work and plastering was awarded to ARNOLD & JACKSON since they made the lowest bid.

For woodwork, trimming, and painting:

L.B. LAMOUR ....................................... $6,993.00
LOCKET & CADE .................................. $5,855.00
THOMAS BOOTH .................................. $5,350.00

The contract for this work was awarded to THOMAS BOOTH, who was low bidder.

As there was not sufficient money in the treasury to carry forward the building plans, on July 27, 1875, individuals of Milam County offered money from their own resources for the building of the courthouse. The following are the amounts subscribed and names of the parties making contributions:

W.B. STREETMAN ................................ $300.00
C.R. SMITH ........................................... $100.00
J.B. NEHER .......................................... $ 25.00
J.W. HENDERSON ................................ $200.00
GEORGE GREEN .................................. $100.00
W.A. NABOURS .................................... $ 50.00
JOHN M. MITTEHENSSON ..................... $ 50.00
W.W. OXSHEER .................................... $200.00
N.P. GARRETT ...................................... $100.00

and others whose names cannot be found in any records.

The money was given to the contractors just as they needed it and the rest bore 10 percent interest per annum. All these donors were exempt from the special tax which was levied to secure money for the building of the courthouse. Because of the shortage of money in the county, only the main part of the building was completed and other parts were finished as funds would permit.

On March 28, 1876, a contract was made with PATTERSON & PEACOCK for lightning rods for the courthouse. There put on as follows:

One on each end of the courthouse and one on the north side to run to the top of the cupola and to be topped with a weather-vane.

J.C. ROGERS saw that the new courthouse was furnished with necessary seats, and THOMAS H. BREMAN, J.C. ROGERS,and MITT LIVINGSTON employed a mechanic to shelve the vaults of the County and district Clerk's Office. They also procured seats and a bulletin board for the courtroom. Thus was completed Milam County's third edifice, which was the center of the county's history for about fifteen years.

It is interesting to note that in those days when livestock wandered at pleasure it was necessary that some enclosure be provided for the courthouse, so R.J. BOYKIN and J.G. WILSON were directed to construct a first class iron fence enclosing the courthouse yard.

In 1889, J.B. GILLILAND was appointed a committee of one to build on the east side of the courthouse a good, substantial underground cistern to hold at least three hundred barrels of water. Although Cameron in later years has been supplied with water piped a distance of two miles from Little River, a tributary of the Brazos, yet this old cistern still stands as a reminder of those early days.

The people of Milam County are those who profit by experience and being mindful of the loss of their second courthouse with all its records, they considered it wise to avail themselves of the opportunity of protection with a fire insurance company. A policy of $4,000.00 covered the courthouse and $4,00.00 [sic] the records of the County Clerk's Office. To those of later days it would seem foolish, indeed, if this precaution were not taken, but at that early time fire insurance was just coming into existence and was by many considered a gambling scheme.

Time, however, has its effect upon all things, and so it has been with the courthouse. In November, 1889, the grand jury reported that the courthouse was unsafe and recommended the erection of a new building. The County Commissioners were of the same opinion.

At this time Hon. B.Y. TERRELL was the County Judge and was requested to advertise for one week in the Galveston Daily News for plans and specifications for a county courthouse that would meet the needs of the people. On the Third Monday in December 1889 all plans were to be submitted so that the court could make a selection.

On December 12, 1889, a special term was called to consider the building of the new courthouse. Everybody was not in favor of the movement, as is shown by an injunction filed by Judge JOHN HENDERSON. Many prominent citizens argued that the courthouse was safe and sufficient for their purposes.

Plans and specifications for the courthouse were offered by many architects, but the court decided upon those offered by LAMOUR & WATSON, of Austin, Texas. Anyone who desired to see the plan had access to them at the offices of LAMOUR & WATSON at Austin, or else at the County Clerk's office at Cameron, Texas.

Bids were invited for the construction of the new courthouse, and E.Y. TERRAL [sic], County Judge, was ordered to advertise for bids in the Galveston News and the Fort Worth Gazette. The contractors were to bid for the old courthouse as well as for the building, and would have to remove it and clear the ground of the debris so that the new building could be constructed in its place. None of the material in the old courthouse could be used in the new.

Bids were offered and LEE & PLUMMER received the contract, in which they agreed to build the new courthouse in accordance with the plans of the architects. "They were to include everything for the sum of $82,375.00, and were to remove the old building and clear the square. They could dispose of the rubbish as they saw fit.

Many of the people still did not desire a new courthouse, and so all further work in this direction was postponed until some definite agreement could be made among the citizens. The county Judge had BEN D. LEE, one of the contractors, to inspect the building and make a report. The following is what he submitted on the matter:

"I find the building very defective in its original workmanship and is also in a bad state of preservation in this, that the east west and south walls have sprung from one to one and one-half inches out of plumb. I further find cracks over the majority of the openings. The above defects are caused from the settlings of the foundations and the lack of anchor irons and bond timbers. I further find the roof bad, which has caused a great deal of damage to the building. I further represent that the building is not unsafe or dangerous and can be made to stand for an equal period of time since it was erected. Respectfully submitted, BEN D. LEE"

So BEN D. LEE submitted plans by which the courthouse could be repaired and made as good as, if not better, than new. The costs for the improvements were estimated as $3,726.20. After these facts were made known, all the citizens realized that it would be adviseable to construct a new building.

To raise money for the building, 15 cents was assessed on every $100.00 valuation of taxable property in the county and 10 cents for the succeeding five years. The contractors were placed under $42,000.00 bonds, but when the court inspected WILLIAM PLUMMER's bond they found that his bondsmen were on other bonds for more than they were worth. The court was not over-enthusiastic about building, so they immediately declared that they would do nothing further toward erecting a new courthouse. They ordered all furniture that had been moved from the courthouse and stored preparatory to building the new edifice placed back in the courthouse and "branded" with "M.C." (Milam County).

The architects and contractors became furious at this action and filed charges against the county for damages arising out of the refusal of the court to proceed in the construction of the courthouse. The Commissioners understood how much the county needed a courthouse, so they began to compromise with the architects. The contractors and architects agreed to construct a courthouse with the same plans, material and specifications for $75,040.00 rather than at the original offer of $82,375.00. With this agreement the builders were allowed to proceed upon condition that they withdraw all action for damages against the county.

Work was begun immediately, and within about eighteen months the courthouse was ready for inspection by the county and architects. On April 20, 1892, the Commissioners inspected the courthouse and found that the contractors had completed the work in accordance with their agreements. A few days later the architects made their inspection and gave the following report: "We, the architects, found the building the best and most thoroughly satisfactory piece of work, as a whole of any that we have ever accepted."

The furniture for our courthouse was purchased from the Ben Brooks School Furnishing Company.

The courthouse as it was completed then is not as we see it today. It was without a tower. But on August 16, 1893, an order was made for a tower for the courthouse in which a clock might be later placed. However, it was not until May 17, 1895 that a clock was fitted into the tower.

In the latter part of the year 1895 a contract was made with the Lawrence Water and Light Company to make sewer and water connections. Soon afterwards electric lights were installed.

For many years after its completion no thought was given to the beautifying of the grounds and hitching posts and farm wagons that surrounded it detracted much from its appearance. The women of the Civic League of Cameron decided to make this a spot of beauty and a source of pride to Cameron citizens. The grounds were laid out, walks were built, and flowers were planted. At present the lawn is well kept and flowers bloom in profusion.

And so ends the story of a building which has served its people advantageously for almost thirty-five years, and which today stands looking out upon future years that will complete at least half a century of service, when it will have recorded the births and the deaths. the marriages and the divorces, the deeds, good and bad, of a people who have moved steadily onward and upward toward that time when, as some writer has said, "Happy is that people whose annals are brief."



BIBLIOGRAPH

S.M. BURNS, practicing attorney, Cameron, Texas
Mrs. S.M. BURNS, Cameron, Texas
ED P. ENGLISH, Justice of Peace, Cameron, Texas
T.S. HENDERSON, lawyer and financier, Cameron, Texas
JEFF T. KEMP, County Judge Milam County, Texas
Mrs. JEFF T. KEMP, Assistant Editor, Cameron Herald, Cameron, Texas
Mrs. KATHRYN K. ROBBINS, County Superintendent of Schools, Milam County
Mrs. MARTHA ROGERS, pioneer citizen of Cameron, Texas
Mr. B. TODD, former Sheriff and Tax Assessor of Milam County

BOOKS AND PAPERS

Records of Minutes of Commissioner's Court, Milam County, Texas
Records of County Court Proceedings, Milam County
Newspaper: Cameron Herald, Milam County, Texas



NOTE: This history was found filed on public record at Milam Co. Clerk's Office; photocopy obtained Sept. 2003

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We must say a special thank you to Linda Forsyth of Huntsville, Texas, for typing the above for use on the Milam County TXGenWeb site.

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Created on 25 Jan 2005 and last revised on __________