The courthouse was built in response to the 69 percent population increase in the county in the first decade of the twentieth century. County commissioners selected Ayres of San Antonio to build the three-story structure in brick and terra-cotta in the Classical Revival style of other contemporaneous Texas courthouses. The Prairie School details on the porches reflect the hand of George Willis, former chief draftsman with Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked on several courthouses in Ayres's office. The rehabilitated building has survived with most of its interiors intact, including Sullivanesque plaster details, and an octagonal rotunda topped by a domed skylight with sloping art glass panels. It replaced the courthouse of 1883 by Jasper N. Preston (1131 E. Jefferson Street) that is now used as a Masonic lodge. The courthouse was rehabilitated in 2006 by Roberto Ruiz Architects with funding from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program.
The Courthouse Square area (bounded by E. Van Buren, E. Madison, E. 15th, and E. 10th streets) was a belated and unsuccessful attempt to create a typical Texas courthouse square. Although an entire city block was set aside for the new facility, perimeter buildings around the square never fully developed, as this sector was mainly residential, adjacent to a working-class neighborhood, and too distant from the commercial activity of Elizabeth and Levee streets.