“Harrison County comprises 894 square miles of the East Texas timberlands, an area that is heavily forested with a great variety of softwoods and hardwoods, especially pine, cypress, and oak. The terrain is gently rolling, with an elevation ranging from 200 to 400 feet above sea level. Northern and eastern Harrison County, about two-thirds of the total area, is drained to the Red River in Louisiana by Little Cypress Creek, Cypress Bayou, and Caddo Lake. The other third of the county is drained by the Sabine River, which forms a part of its southern boundary.”
“The settlement of the area was well under way by the time of the Texas Revolution in 1836. A dozen Americans received land grants there from Mexican authorities in the fall of 1835. After the revolution the area filled up so rapidly that the Congress of the Republic of Texas officially established Harrison County in 1839. It was drawn from Shelby County, organized in 1842, and named for Texas revolutionary leader Jonas Harrison.”
“Marshall, founded in 1841, became the county seat in 1842. The original county boundaries were reduced by the establishment of Panola and Upshur counties in 1846. Since then, with the exception of a small adjustment with Marion County during Reconstruction, they have remained unchanged. Harrison County was settled predominantly by natives of the southern United States who duplicated the slaveholding, cotton-plantation society they had known before moving to Texas. By 1850 the county had more slaves than any other in the state, a distinction that it maintained through the next decade.”
“The area escaped invasion during the Civil War, but hundreds of its men fought, and the majority of its people were called upon to make at least some material sacrifice. Defeat brought military occupation, the end of slavery, and Reconstruction. White citizens bitterly resented federal authority, especially when it meant enfranchisement of the black majority and a Republican party county government that continued even after the Democratic party regained control statewide in 1874.”
“Harrison County was “redeemed”—returned to white Democratic rule—in 1878 when residents formed the Citizen’s Party of Harrison County and appealed to voters with the argument that Republican government was too expensive. Amidst charges of fraud and coercion, Citizen’s party candidates won the election on a technicality involving the placement of a key ballot box and took firm control of local government. The county has remained politically conservative since Reconstruction.”
“As in antebellum times Harrison County remained overwhelmingly agricultural and rural from 1880 to 1930. During these fifty years, while the population grew slowly from 25,171 to 48,397, the number of farms rose from 2,748 to an all-time high of 6,802. Cotton continued as the main crop, although it was 1930 before production in a census year surpassed the 21,440-bale crop reported in 1860. Production in 1930 was 33,755 bales.”
“Harrison County enjoyed transportation facilities that were better than average for East Texas counties, but its nonagricultural economy expanded slowly from 1880 to 1930. The Southern Pacific Railroad, constructed from Caddo Lake to Marshall before the Civil War, became part of the Texas and Pacific Railway system during the 1870s, and the area was soon linked with Shreveport to the east, Dallas-Fort Worth to the west, and Texarkana to the north.”
“Depression hit the county hard. The value of farm property fell 30 percent between 1930 and 1935, and there were almost 1,500 fewer farms in 1940 than in 1930. For the first time, a majority of workers depended on nonagricultural occupations, and unemployment became a problem. During the depths of the depression in 1935, 1,114 heads of families in Harrison County were on government relief. As late as 1940, 850 workers were employed on public emergency works, and another 838 were without jobs.”
“Between 1930 and 1970, as the county lost population and saw its agricultural economy decline, other developments occurred. First, the automobile revolutionized transportation. Harrison County had only 7,396 motor vehicles registered in 1930. By 1950 the total stood at 12,571, and in 1970 there were 26,912. The county had eighty miles of paved roads on January 1, 1937; by 1970 it was crisscrossed with federal and state highways, including Interstate Highway 20, the major artery from Shreveport to Dallas. Second, rural electrification brought electricity to farms and rural homes. The Panola-Harrison Electric Cooperative, begun in 1937, increased its clientele from 332 customers in 1938 to 2,802 in 1950 and 7,416 by 1970.”
“By the early 1980s county workers earned a total of $434 million per year in retail business, petroleum and lumber processing, pottery manufacture, and other businesses. The growth of Marshall and increasing development along Interstate 20 suggested a trend toward significant commercial development in the county. Advances in education continued, and in 1980, for the first time, a majority of residents aged twenty-five or older were high-school graduates. By 1990 the population had increased to 57,483.”
“In 2002 the county had 1,116 farms and ranches covering 229,272 acres, 35 percent of which were devoted to crops, 33 percent to woodlands, and 28 percent to pasture. In that year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $12,317,000; livestock sales accounted for $10,614,000 of the total. Cattle, hay, poultry, nursery plants, horses, vegetables, and watermelons were the chief agricultural products.”
“Caddo Lake State Park, Lake O’ the Pines, and other lakes provide water recreation, and the county maintains numerous historic sites; Marshall hosts a Fire Ant Festival in October.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Randolph B. Campbell, “Harrison County“
I was the guest of Marshall and Harrison County on July 14, 2014.
Harrison County Courthouse – 1850
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
Known as the “Little Virginia Courthouse”, this structure served Harrison County as its second court building after the first one (wooden, built in 1839) ceased to exist. The Texas Historical Commission lists both the architect and the contractor as a Mr. William B. Britton. This Neoclassical courthouse served from 1851 to 1889 until the county outgrew and demolished it.
Harrison County Courthouse – 1889
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
This was an Italianate building designed by Guy M. Tozer and constructed by James Higgins. It stood three stories with a certain onion dome-like creation on top. This would appear to have a very slight Eastern Orthodox influence, which makes it unique among Texas courthouses. It burned in 1899, but its successor, in my opinion, is one of the state’s finest courthouses.
Harrison County Courthouse – 1900
(Photo Courtesy: THC) (circa 1900)
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT) (circa 1939)
This very fine architectural work was designed by renowned, master architect James R. Gordon. His design in Angelina County looked somewhat similar to this one, but it burned. Thankfully, this one remains. From the Texas Historical Commission:
“This three story courthouse is constructed of buff colored brick on a pink granite base. It has a cruciform plan with basement. The cornice and balustrades are of galvanized iron, and the arcade is of terra cotta. The Ionic columns are of blue granite. Eagles made of zinc decorate the balustrade around the dome and the apexes of the pediments. A statue of the Goddess of Justice crowns the central dome. On the interior, a coffered ceiling and windows glazed with colored glass created a beautiful design.”
Modifications, as listed by the THC, are as follows: “Original wing porticos shifted to face wing extensions of 1924 and 1927, designed by C.G. Lancaster. Used as a courthouse until 1964, now county offices and Harrison County museum. brick, sim. to Arizona Capitol [also designed by James R. Gordon], 2 porticos extended. Some rehabilitation c. 1980[.]“.
Harrison County Courthouse – 1964
From 1964 onward, the older building ceased holding the district court, which migrated to this more modern courthouse.
Over the years, the older has retained its role as a commissioners’ courthouse, but some of the empty rooms (where county offices once existed) have now been filled with museum displays. The offices that left that building have been transferred to the newer, 1964 version.
While touring the courthouse, we got the experience (thanks to two local custodians) to explore some of the rooms normally locked and restricted to visitors. It was particularly interesting to see the brick walls, which are original.
Looking across the square from the courthouse’s eastern side
This outstanding courthouse can be seen from all over town.
Previous Courthouse: Marion County
Next Courthouse: Panola County