Milam County, created in 1835, originally included parts of thirty-four other Texas counties. By 1846, the community of Cameron began serving as county seat and its first courthouse, in fact the first building in Cameron, was completed the same year. According to the county’s first District Clerk and Deputy Surveyor, W. W. Oxsheer, the simple courthouse “…was a crude structure of small dimensions and 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, and about nine feet high to the eaves...Weatherboard on the outside. Floored with plank, cut out by hand with a whip saw and covered with boards ripped and shaved.”
The county quickly outgrew the basic courthouse building, constructing a new lumber and brick courthouse in 1856 after moving the wooden building down the block where new owners converted and expanded it into the Phillips Hotel, the first hotel in Cameron. The new courthouse featured a central hallway running through it and an exterior of brick veneer. On April 9, 1874, a fire destroyed the courthouse along with all of the county records inside, initiating a return to the original courthouse building, requiring the county to pay rent to the new owners for its use. The loss of the new courthouse was followed by a controversial attempt to relocate the county seat, resolved with Cameron retaining its title. The county then contracted for a new brick courthouse to include a cupola and weathervane in 1875. Within a few years of completion, however, the poor construction of the third courthouse began to cause problems. According to commissioners court notes, the fireplace in the county judge’s office smoked, the roof leaked, and the cistern was too small. In 1889 county officials contracted for a replacement.
Austin architects Jacob Larmour and Arthur O. Watson were selected to design the fourth Milam County courthouse, creating an elegant Renaissance Revival building that has since become a Texas Historic Landmark. The building is composed of quarry-faced ashlar masonry, Corinthian columns, Roman arches, and mansard roofing, all crowned by a clock tower with a cupola and four clock faces. A statue of the Goddess of Justice adorns the cupola’s highest point.
During the 1930’s, many of the courthouse’s architectural details were removed. The Goddess of Justice, used as target practice, was taken down. The tower was next, an accessible location in the courthouse thus removed to terminate visitations by “young, indiscreet, and often times imprudent and irresponsible parties”.
By 2000, a major restoration was scheduled, funded by both the county and the Texas Historical Commission. The tower was returned, as well as the Goddess of Justice (although still not bullet-proof), and a rededication took place during the Cameron Fourth of July celebrations in 2002. Among the unusual features discovered during the courthouse’s restoration were three sizable drop-down doors towards the rear of the courtroom. The wooden doors, the size of modern garage doors, were counterweighted much like traditional windows, designed to rise up and down via a pulley and weight system, and could be stored securely inside the ceiling. When raised, they allowed the audience area of the courtroom to expand across the entire width of the room. At some point, the doors had been raised and secured one final time and then hidden under remodeling. Uncovered and returned to perfect working order, the large drop-down doors are once again a feature of the 1892 Milam County courthouse.