Leon County may owe its initial existence to a simple seventy-five by seventy-five square yard compound built in 1839 known as Fort Boggy. Built along Boggy Creek near the present-day Leon County seat of Centerville, Fort Boggy provided safe harbor for settlers seeking a degree of independence and self-reliance while avoiding the dangers of the Texas frontier. Texas achieved statehood within the proceeding decade, followed by the official establishment of Leon County, further advancing the efforts of surrounding settler communities.
Although the town of Leona served as the county’s first seat, a handful of citizens demanded to revise the location after the county lost its northern section to neighboring Limestone County. The demand inflamed county-wide protests, culminating in one death and a petition, courtesy of Fort Boggy citizens requesting that the legislature select a new county seat. In 1850, petitioners prevailed and the Leon County seat was moved to recently established town of Centerville.
Leon County officials wasted little time in constructing a courthouse, completing a simple two-story frame structure for just over two thousand dollars in 1851. By the winter of 1857-58, a newer, more permanent brick courthouse was in place, similar in architectural style to the earlier lumber construction. Few documents about this brick courthouse survive but the county archives indicate that maintenance issues became more frequent as the courthouse aged. On November 9, 1885, the meeting of the commissioners court convened and adjourned with nothing but routine business items recorded on the agenda. Later that night, however, the brick courthouse burned. Although no evidence regarding the cause of the fire could be found, county documents reported that two guards were immediately hired to protect the surviving courthouse vaults. The guards served nightly until a new courthouse was completed.
Shortly after the fire, the commissioners court issued orders “…to receive specifications and bids for the building of a new courthouse on the same plan as the old one, of brick, and with a different roof”. Rather than using a tin roof, county officials wanted slate. The commissioners court wasn’t quite as particular when it came to selecting an architect, however. The period between the late 1800s and early 1900s is considered the “golden age” of courthouse design in Texas and Leon County would have had an impressive selection of high-profile architects to choose from, all of them engaged in creating significant public buildings during the time. However, the county chose local citizen William M. Johnson instead, coincidentally the head of the Leon County courthouse building committee. A native Scot, Johnson arrived in Leon County in 1846, settling in Centerville to practice law after studying for the bar. Johnson had no formal training in architectural design and his lack of experience probably led to the many problems in the courthouse’s construction. Regardless, the Leon County courthouse stands out for its unusual design, incorporating characteristics of earlier antebellum elements and later Greek Revival details. Johnson’s architectural mash-up survives as a good example of transitional styles in Texas architecture during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Thanks to the efforts of the Leon County Genealogical Society and the Leon County Historical Commission, the historic courthouse escaped demolition during a modern expansion of the county’s offices. Separate buildings were constructed to serve the county business rather than demolishing the courthouse, paving the way for a full restoration, including stabilization, modernization, and the revival of original fixtures and interior decorations, all completed by July of 2007 with a grant from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program.