Inspired by H. H. Richardson’s Trinity Church (1877) in Boston, Gordon’s Wise County Courthouse and its slightly larger near-twin, the Ellis County Courthouse (1896; CW19), are the highpoint of nineteenth-century Texas county courthouse design. This courthouse exemplifies what became known as Gordon’s signature plan, which he used on seven courthouses. It consisted of a basic cross-axial plan of asymmetrical wings, with entrances in the corners rather than the ends of the wings, and the second-floor courtroom offset to allow for a central rotunda and stair. The tower rises above setback blocks, corner turrets, scroll-pedimented dormers, and red tile roofs. The corner entrances are deep loggias and work in concert with the tower to stimulate airflow through the building: the central rotunda draws cooler air into the building through the shaded loggias and expels it through the tower.
The Ellis courthouse was underway when the Wise County commissioners organized a competition and selected Gordon’s scheme over nine others, along with contractor J. A. White’s construction bid. Burnet (Texas) pink granite with a rock-faced finish, polished granite columns, and terra-cotta foliate friezes create monochrome solidity, in contrast to the variously colored masonry Gordon used at Ellis.