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The First Montgomery County Courthouse

Montgomery County, Texas

  By Kameron Searle 

   This is the history of the first Montgomery County courthouse as preserved in the minutes of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court and other primary source documents.  It is really quite amazing just how much information about the first courthouse of Montgomery County is contained within the minutes of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court. 

   First we will examine the Act that created Montgomery County to see what it has to say about the Montgomery County seat, the County Court and the District Court.

Act Creating Montgomery County, Texas - December 14, 1837

Act Creating Montgomery County, Texas

   Sec. 2.  Be it further enacted, that the said county of Montgomery shall be included in the third judicial district, and the district courts thereof shall be holden at the county seat of said county, on the fourth Mondays of April and October in each and every year, and the county courts for said county shall commence and be holden on the second Mondays of February, May , August and November. 

   Sec. 3.  Be it further enacted, That James Mitchell, Pleasant Gray, William Robinson, Elijah Collard, Charles Garnett, Joseph L. Bennet, B. B. Goodrich, D. D. Dunham, and Henry Fantorpe, be, and they are hereby appointed commissioners, with power and authority (any five of them concurring) to select a proper place for the seat of justice for said county, and to obtain by purchase upon the faith and credit of the county, or receive by donation such quantity of land as will be sufficient for the erection of public buildings, and for defraying such other expenses of said county as said commissioners may deem expedient and that the land so purchased or donated shall be under the superintendance and control of the board of commissioners of said county.

   The source for this document is Laws of the Republic of Texas,  In Two Volumes, Vol. II, Printed by Order of the Secretary of State, Houston, Printed at the Office of the Telegraph, 1838, pages 33 and 34.

   Montgomery County, Texas was created by an Act of the Congress of the Republic of Texas which was signed into law by President Sam Houston on December 14, 1837.  The Act provided that Montgomery County would be included in the third judicial district, that the district courts would be held on the fourth Mondays of April and October each year, and that the county courts would be held on the second Mondays of February, May, August and November.

   The Act creating Montgomery County also appointed James Mitchell, Pleasant Gray, William Robinson, Elijah Collard, Charles Garnett [Garrett], Joseph L. Bennet [Bennett], B. B. Goodrich, D. D. Dunham, and Henry Fanthorpe [Fanthorp] as "commissioners with the power and authority (any five of them concurring) to select a proper place for the seat of justice" for Montgomery County.

   Sometime between December 14, 1837 and February of 1838, these nine commissioners made their decision and selected the town of Montgomery as the seat of justice.  A few Montgomery County records were recorded in the town of Montgomery in February of 1838.  It is a fact the Montgomery County had begun to function as a county prior to the first Montgomery County Commissioners Court meeting on March 1, 1838. 

Montgomery County Seat - February 26, 1838 

Montgomery County Clerk, Deed Book A, p. 15

From  Mary Corner to Julia T. Stewart, Montgomery County Deed Book A, pp. 11-15

Republic of Texas

County of Montgomery

   Before me Jesse Grimes Chief Justice of the County aforesaid on the 26th day of February 1838, personally appeared Martin P. Clark and Gwynn Morrison witnesses to the within Title from Mary Corner to Julia T. Stewart who each and Severally Swear that they Saw Mary  Corner and Julia T. Stewart and Charles B. Stewart Sign and Seal the within Title as aforesaid, on the date therein mentioned and enumerated, and that they thereunto set their names as witnesses.  Given under my hand in the Town of Montgomery on the above date,

Jesse Grimes Chief Justice

County Court

Montgomery County

Filed of Record 26th Feby 1838

Recorded 28th Feby 1838

Gwynn Morrison

Clerk & Recorder

   The nine commissioners had already located the county seat of Montgomery County in the Town of Montgomery (the so-called "old town of Montgomery under the hill) by February 26, 1838.

 

Vol. A, p. 20

From Government to Mary Corner, Montgomery County Deed Book A, pp. 16-20

Town of Montgomery - February 26, 1838

 

Sworn to and Subscribed to before me in the Town of Montgomery this 26th February 1838.  And I affix my private seal there being no county seal yet established

Jesse Grimes

Chf Justice County Cour

Montgomery County

   The first Commissioners Court meeting was held on March 1, 1838.  At that meeting, W. W. Shepperd donated an equal half undivided interest in 200 acres of land to Montgomery County.  These 200 acres of land were due south and adjacent to the 200 acres of land on which the original town of Montgomery had been founded in July of 1837.

 

 

"The president placed before the board the written act of donation of W. W. Shepperd to the County of Montgomery of an equal half undivided interest in the Town of Montgomery and Sixty acres of pine land adjoining – donated for County purposes and it being put to question whether said donation should be accepted it was unanimously received – and the question being also whether the place of the Town presented by C. B. Stewart as agent for W. W. Shepperd should be received the same was also unanimously received and adopted."

 

   See Montgomery County Clerk, Minutes of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court 1838-1845, page 1. 

 

   At the March 1, 1838 Commissioners Court meeting, the Commissioners initially toyed with the idea of building a courthouse.

 

Resolved by Martin P. Clark proposing that the Committee be appointed to contract for and to

superintend the erection of the necessary public buildings – provided the Court house shall not cost

exceeding one Thousand Dollars and Jail one thousand Dollars – when B. B. Goodrich, William Rankin and

William C. Clark were appointed said Committee – poposed that Lemuel Smith Draughtman and Mechanic

be requested to draft a plan for courthouse and public buildings –

   See Montgomery County Clerk, Minutes of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court 1838-1845, page 3.  The courthouse and jail proposed were outrageously expensive for a brand new county with no money. 

 

   We find more details regarding the courthouse in the minutes of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court on the fourth Wednesday of April 1838 we find the following:

 

B. B. Goodrich for himself and Wm. M. Rankin and W. C. Clark, made a report in relation to the purchase of a Court House for said County which was ordered to be filed in the Clks Office.

 

   See Montgomery County Clerk, Minutes of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court 1838-1845, page 14. 

 

On motion, Resolved that the Committee - heretofore appointed for that purpose be and they are hereby

authorized to contract for building a Jail provided the amount shall not exceed the proceeds of the

Sale of Public Lots in the Town of Montgomery, after deducting the amount appropriated for build-

ing the Court House, and further provided that the expense of building the Jail shall not exceed the

sum of Two thousand five hundred dollars which was adopted -

   See Montgomery County Clerk, Minutes of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court 1838-1845, page 15. 

 

   On the second Monday of October 1838 the minutes of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court provide the following information about the Montgomery County Courthouse:

 

Lemuel Smith presented his account against the County of Montgomery for For removing Court House, making Bar, Judges Seat, Jury Boxes &c as per contract with the Commissioners appointed for that purpose at the March Term 1838 - for $200   which was allowed, and ordered to be paid out of any money in the Tressury not otherwise appropriated -

 

   See Montgomery County Clerk, Minutes of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court 1838-1845, page 18. 

 

   The idea of building a courthouse had given way to the more practical idea of buying or renting a pre-existing building to be  used as a courthouse. 

 

Ordered that in the event the House purchased by the Commissioners on the part of the County for a Court House in the Town of Montgomery for the sum of Eight hundred dollars shall not be paid for as per contract within one year from the date hereof, then and in that case the house shall revert to W. W. Shepperd and that he shall be entitled to reasonable rent for the same for the time it shall have been occupied as a Court House.

 

   See Montgomery County Clerk, Minutes of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court 1838-1845, page 19. 

 

   The first courthouse of Montgomery County Texas was a house that was to be purchased from W. W. Shepperd for $800.00.  If not purchased within a year, W. W. Shepperd was to be paid rent for the time the county used the house as a courthouse.

 

   In 1839, W. W. Shepperd, the owner of the courthouse, sold his interest in the town of Montgomery to James McCown.  He also sold his interest in the courthouse to James McCown.  We find a record of this sale in the April 7, 1840 minutes of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court.

 

Wm. W. Shepperd the original proprietor of the Town of Montgomery who donated a portion of said town to the County of Montgomery under contract made and entered into between the said Wm. W. Shepperd and the Board of said County Commissioners bearing date the      day of            1838       made shewing that he had sold and conveyed to James McCown his portion of said Town tract together with the house occupied as a Court House - whereupon it is ordered that the said James McCown be recognized by this Court as the owner and proprietor and possessed of all the right and privileges in and to the said Town of Montgomery and the Court house which the said Wm. W. Shepperd was entitled to previous to the aforesaid sale and conveyance to the said James McCown

 

   See Montgomery County Clerk, Minutes of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court 1838-1845, page 59. 

Since the County had never purchased the house that was being used as a courthouse from Shepperd, the county owed him rent in accordance with the minutes of the

 

Ordered that William W. Shepperd be allowed the sum of Two Hundred and Twenty five dollars for the rent of the Court house previous to the 22d October 1839 to be paid him out of any monies that are shall come into the County Treasury not otherwise appropriated receivable in Audited Claims or Promissory notes of the Government at this current year value at the time he shall receive the same

 

   See Montgomery County Clerk, Minutes of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court 1838-1845, page 60 and 61. 

 

   The Montgomery County courthouse was originally below the hill in what was the "old town of Montgomery."  See the minutes of Tuesday, January 5, 1841:

 

Ordered by the Court that the proposal and contract of James Alexander McCown (1) agent for the proprietors of the town of Montgomery to move the Court house to the hill and to erect offices for County purposes be accepted

 

      See Montgomery County Clerk, Minutes of the Montgomery County Commissioners Court 1838-1845, page 76.  The county seat may have jumped to the top of the hill on March 1, 1838, but the courthouse remained below for almost three years.  The Commissioners do not contract with James McCown to move the Courthouse to the hill until January 5, 1841.  The courthouse has been at the old site of the county seat under the hill since early 1838.  At this point James McCown still owns the Montgomery County courthouse building.

 

 

James McCown Trades Courthouse and Public Square for County's One Half Interest in the Town of Montgomery

 

James McCown to Montgomery County

 

602

A

James McCown

-to-

County of Montgomery

 

Republic of Texas

County of Montgomery

 

   Know all men by these presents that I James McCown of the Republic and County aforesaid in consideration of a donation made by the Court of County Commissioners of the County aforesaid to one hundred acres of land being the same which William W. Shepperd of the County aforesaid donated as a site for the County seat of said County of Montgomery, do hereby relinquish all my right title, claim and interest in and to the following described tracts of Land (viz) [Land Description] - together with the Court house and two offices - one for the County Clerk, the other for the district Clerk situated thereon, with all the furniture and appurtenances thereunto belonging...

 

   In witness whereof I hereunto set my hand and seal (a scroll) this third day of April AD 1843

 

In presence of the undersigned witnesses                                 James McCown  [Seal]

Isaac McGary           John Park

 

   See Montgomery County Clerk, Deed, Vol. A, p. 620.

 

Close Up

 

James McCown Deeds Courthouse to Montgomery County

"...together with the Court house and two offices - one for the County Clerk, the other for the district Clerk situated thereon, with all the furniture and appurtenances thereunto belonging..."

 

   Here the Montgomery County Commissioners' Court traded its one half undivided interest in the Town of Montgomery to James McCown giving him the complete title in the remaining land in the town of Montgomery and giving Montgomery County the complete title to the Montgomery County Courthouse, the County Clerk's office, the District Clerk's office, and the Public Square.