Hardin County Courthouse, Kountze, Texas

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“Although pine and hardwood forests dominate the county’s 897 square miles, grasses, native legumes, and dense undergrowths of brush and vines also thrive. Among numerous mammalian species, cougars and bears are sometimes sighted in the forests. Only a small section, in the southwestern corner of the county, is prairie. Pine Island and Little Pine Island bayous join Village and Cypress creeks to drain the area into the Neches River, which forms the eastern county line.”

“Seeking the healing powers of the mud and mineral waters of a two-acre pond known to them as Medicine Lake, East Texas Indians began to visit the Sour Lake area of Hardin County long before the region became a part of the Atascosito District of Spanish and Mexican Texas. Empresario Lorenzo de Zavala received the territory as part of his colonization grant of 1829 but made little headway in persuading potential immigrants to settle there.”

“Although a small community called Providence developed around 1830 a few miles north of the site of present Kountze, further efforts at colonization did not begin until 1834 and 1835. During those years the Mexican government made more than fifty land grants within the future Hardin County.”

“After the revolution of 1836 the area was split between the jurisdictions of Liberty and Jefferson counties. By 1858 the region’s population had increased sufficiently to warrant establishment of its own county government. In response, the state legislature established Hardin County, drawing territory from both the parent counties, early in that year. Legislators specified that the county’s name honor the Hardin family of Liberty and instructed that the county seat, to be located within five miles of the center, also bear that name.”

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“A log courthouse was completed in 1859 and followed later by a frame structure. Hardin remained the county seat until the mid-1880s. In 1881 the Sabine and East Texas Railroad bypassed that community in favor of its own newly established town, Kountze, two miles east of Hardin. Agitation soon developed for removal of county government to the new site. In the resulting election a majority of voters favored Hardin, but a courthouse fire in August 1886 reopened the issue. A second vote settled the matter permanently in favor of Kountze. After meeting in other structures, county officers accepted the 1904 offer of town founders Herman and Augustus Kountze of land for a courthouse site. The resulting domed courthouse was replaced by a $1.5 million, three-story, split-level structure in 1959.”

“Life in antebellum Texas was difficult for Hardin County settlers, many of whom had come from the lower South. No manufacturing took place in the county at that time. Farmers raised corn, sweet potatoes, hogs, milk cows, other cattle, sheep, and horses, to produce a self-sufficient, subsistence economy, rather than a cash-crop agricultural one. Although 14 percent of the county’s 1,353 inhabitants were slaves in 1860, cotton was never an important factor in the local economy. Slavery was not a point of debate in county elections; both slaveholders and respected nonslaveholders were chosen for local positions of power between 1858 and 1865.”

“Like other Texas counties, Hardin County experienced outside political interference during Reconstruction. Provisional governor Andrew J. Hamilton and military governor J. J. Reynolds both appointed local nonslaveowners of Southern birth to administer county affairs in 1865 and 1869. However, residents chose former slaveholders as leaders when allowed to vote in regular elections.”

“The 1870s brought a period of growth and change that lasted until the Great Depression. Only the practice of subsistence agriculture remained somewhat constant. Although the number of farms increased more than 250 percent between 1870 and 1929, individual farmers continued to raise the same kinds of crops and livestock previously relied upon to supply the basic necessities of life. Livestock raising, considered more profitable than agriculture as early as 1867, increased in importance at the end of the period. Limited manufacturing began by 1870, only to disappear until the newly developed lumber industry slowly stimulated the industrial economy after 1880. As early as 1878, loggers floated timber cut from the county’s hardwood, longleaf, and loblolly pine forests down local streams to the Neches River and Beaumont. By 1881 at least two lumber-processing mills were operating in the county.”

“The lumber business provided the incentive needed to bring railroad transportation to Hardin County. The Sabine and East Texas Railroad arrived in 1881. It entered the county at its southeastern corner, then extended through the north central section before crossing the county line. The Gulf, Beaumont and Kansas City came in 1894. This road, part of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe system, runs through the eastern part of the county.”

“Electrical power reached the towns first, beginning at Silsbee in 1909. By 1925 Saratoga, Kountze, Sour Lake, and Batson were also electrified, each powered by its own generating plant. Many of these facilities were later absorbed by the Gulf States Utilities Company, which still served a part of Hardin County in the 1980s, when the Sam Houston Electrical Co-op, begun in 1939, powered the rest of the county.”

“The Great Depression reinforced Hardin County’s condition as a rural, basically underdeveloped region. Although the overall population grew only 14 percent, from 13,936 in 1930 to 15,875 in 1940, the number of farms almost doubled, perhaps indicating an increased reliance on the land. Yet the farmers were less self-sufficient than their predecessors. The total number of cattle on farms fell 51 percent between 1930 and 1940, and the number of milk cows had decreased sharply by 1950.”

“Between 1960 and 1980 Hardin County saw changes equal in importance to those caused by railroads and industry during the boom of 1870–1930. The population grew 65 percent, from 24,629 in 1960 to 29,996 in 1970 and 40,721 in 1980. Of the 1980 total 23 percent were of Irish, 13 percent of German, and 11 percent of French descent. However, the black population grew by only 3 percent between 1960 and 1980.”

“Oil production and lumber remained important parts of the manufacturing establishment, but by 1980 the retail trade was challenging their dominance of the county economy.”

“In 2002 the county had 517 farms and ranches covering 68,512 acres, 40 percent of which were devoted to pasture, 31 percent to woodlands, and 27 percent to crops. Timber was the chief agricultural product, but beef cattle and crops of rice and blueberries also produced income for the area.”

“Kountze (population, 2,204) is the county’s seat of government; other communities include Lumberton (12,743), Silsbee (7,038), Saratoga (1,000), Sour Lake (1,899), Village Mills (200), and Pinewood Estates (1,769). The Big Thicket National Preserve provides recreational opportunities for county residents and tourists.”

- Handbook of Texas Online, Patricia L. Duncan, “Hardin County

I was the guest of Kountze and Hardin County on July 12, 2016.

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Hardin County Courthouse – 1859

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This building was constructed shortly after the county was created, and stood for about eighteen years. It burned on August 8, 1886, taking all of Hardin County’s records with it.

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Hardin County Courthouse – 1887

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As the first courthouse in Kountze, this building also had a lifespan of approximately eighteen years. The architect was Frank Smith of Beaumont and local contractor W.B. Pedigo aided in its construction. For this courthouse, its safe was put into position first, and then the walls were literally built around it. Once the county elected to move to a larger and more spacious courthouse, a local man named J.B. Hooks literally moved the building across the street from its successor and inside it, established the J.B. Hooks Abstract Company.

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Hardin County Courthouse – 1904

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This was the most impressive of all of Hardin County’s historic courthouses.

Architect Andrew P. Bryan crafted this masterful building, while M.J. Lewman served as its contractor. Designed to echo both the United States Capitol and Texas State Capitol, it was comprised of native Pecos sandstone from West Texas and salmon-colored bricks hydraulically pressed in St. Louis. Meanwhile, the Bedford Stone Company designed the columns. It stood three stories.

Though it amazing survived the Great Depression, the Hardin County Courthouse could not swim above the wave of modernism that crashed through small town Texas in the 1950s.

In 1958, it ceased occupancy. In 1960, it was demolished.

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Hardin County Courthouse – 1958

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(Photo Courtesy: THC)

Dickson-Dickson & Associates are responsible for this concrete block. Lumbeck Construction Company also helped to make it possible.

An addition was designed and built in 1978.

In 2008, Hardin County unveiled a large recreation of the tower from the 1904 building. It now sits above a very sleek and impressive tribute room to county history jutting off of the north side of the courthouse. It is, in my opinion, the only redeeming factor of this unfortunate structure.

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The courthouse doesn’t sit on any public square. Instead, it’s west of town on Monroe Street / TX-326. This is the massive front façade (facing north).
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This monument is a tribute to Hardin County history. The domed tower piece you see is a replica of the one from the 1904 county courthouse and was built in 2008.
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This is the western façade. The fact that you can’t see the rest of the building from here (the main portion is taller than this one) is a testament to how expansive this courthouse really is.
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 Stairs to nowhere
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Here’s what the tribute room looks like from inside.
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This is the original cornerstone from the current courthouse. I’m not sure why they removed it.
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Here’s its historic equivalent.
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Just outside of the tribute room
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Interestingly, this courthouse has its own food court. It’s the only one that does, to my knowledge.
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A side entrance on the western side of the building
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The southwest corner of the courthouse property
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A sea of cars seems to be the one thing every modern courthouse has in common.
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Only YOU can prevent forest fires.
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How lovely
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Old and New
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Hardin County

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Previous Courthouse: Jefferson County

Next Courthouse: Tyler County

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