Williamson County, created in 1848, was named for Robert McAlpin Williamson, a veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto who acquired the nickname “Three-Legged Willie” due to the wooden prosthesis that replaced his lost limb. Early settlers were composed of Anglo-Americans, Mexicans, Swedes, Germans, Czechs, and African Americans. In fact, African Americans comprised more than nineteen percent of the county population by 1860.
The Williamson County courthouse, a masterpiece of Classical Revival Beaux Arts styling, was actually the county’s fifth courthouse, replacing a grand Second Empire building that succumbed to demolition in order to make room for the 1911 construction. The Beaux Arts monument was designed by the Austin architectural firm of Charles H. Page & Bro. and constructed by William C. Whitney. The Beaumont-based Whitney was responsible for much of the early construction in his own community, competing for jobs with a rival contractor M. A. McKnight. The rivalry would ultimately overshadow the work of both contractors when, on April 5, 1912, McKnight and Whitney shot and killed each other in an armed confrontation.
The Williamson County Courthouse survived the sensational demise of its contractor and remained relatively unchanged until the 1960’s when “modernization” removed much of the exterior decoration and added a brick parapet around the top of the building, posing a particular challenge for restoration efforts that were completed in 2007.
During the courthouse’s restoration, over two thousand custom-made terra cotta units were created to replace missing elements, requiring restoration experts to devise a method for casting them as well as attaching them to the building. Historic photographs helped to reimagine the missing elements along each façade, including the original heads of the pediment figures saved from demolition by Southwestern University professor Ed Lansford. The heads were replicated and proved to be a valuable resource for scaling the rest of the ornamentation. In addition, restoration experts created an eight hundred piece terra cotta jigsaw puzzle to compose the courthouse’s original four ornamental porticos.
Today, the courthouse’s ornamental detailing has made it one of the best examples of Beaux Arts design in the state. The three-story buff brick courthouse features terra cotta and limestone elements across much of its exterior and is crowned with an impressive dome of patinated copper and a statue of Themis, goddess of divine law.
The courthouse anchors the landmark Williamson County Courthouse Historic District in Georgetown, county seat and home to perhaps the state’s best collection of intact Victorian commercial design. The majority of the structures in the District date from 1870 to 1902, a period of style considered the golden age of Victorian architecture. The non-Victorian buildings are of equal historic value, including examples of the Richardsonian Romanesque style, Classical Revival, the modern Art Deco and, at the heart of the district, the Beaux Arts styling of the majestic Williamson County courthouse.