You are here

Ellis County Courthouse

-A A +A
1897, J. Riely Gordon; 2003 rehabilitated, Archi-Texas. 101 W. Main St.

According to architectural historians Henry-Russell Hitchcock and William Seale, this courthouse is “one of the most interesting and literate of all the Richardsonian court houses” in the United States. It was borne of political controversy when, in 1894, a lame-duck commissioners’ court voted to build a new courthouse, selected a design and hired a contractor without competitively bidding the project, issued construction bonds, and demolished the existing courthouse, all within the span of two months. The design selected was submitted by San Antonio contractor Otto P. Kroeger, who frequently collaborated with architect J. Riely Gordon (1863–1937), also from San Antonio.

Gordon designed sixteen courthouses in Texas, and this one is his masterpiece. Like many of his Richardsonian Romanesque courthouses, this one is based on a floor plan he developed and finessed throughout his career, known as his Signature Plan, which is a cross-axial plan, with entrances in the corners rather than the ends of the wings as was more common, and the second-floor courtroom offset to allow for a central rotunda and stair. A central staircase, a masonry core that supports the tower, is surrounded by the courtrooms and offices. Above the stairs is an open shaft, which rises to the bell tower for ventilation. The central masonry tower required shifting the courtroom to the east, which is evident on the exterior from its curved form. This complex massing builds up in stages to the impressive visual crescendo of the turreted bell tower. The exterior walls are layered with grey and pink Texas granite and red Pecos sandstone. One of the most remarkable of the building’s exterior features is the ornate carvings found on the column capitals located at the four entrance portals. German carvers in the stone yard of Theodore Beilharz in Dallas were responsible for executing the foliate motifs and human and animal faces, carved with depth and intricacy. The Ellis County Courthouse marked the pinnacle of Gordon’s career in Texas. In 1902, he moved to New York, where he continued to design public buildings throughout the region, mostly in classical modes.

The courthouse was rehabilitated with funding from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program.

Writing Credits

Gerald Moorhead et al.


What's Nearby


Gerald Moorhead et al., "Ellis County Courthouse", [Waxahachie, Texas], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Texas

Buildings of Texas: East, North Central, Panhandle and South Plains, and West, Gerald Moorhead and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019, 86-87.

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.