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Bell County opened its doors for business in a 16 x 18 foot courthouse, completed in 1852. Since that time, two other courthouses stood in the same location, with the current building being completed in 1885.The first was a two-room log cabin built shortly after the creation of Bell County; it was replaced by a second structure in 1858.

Bell County Historic Courthouse, 2011

Sky, Building, Window, House

In December 1851 the Texas legislature incorporated the town of Belton, and a small log courthouse was erected on the square in 1852. The original log courthouse was sold at auction in 1855, and a new two-story limestone building was constructed in 1859. Bell County voters objected so strenuously to the cost of the second building that they voted all of the commissioners out of office. George Tyler described the political fallout, "The officer who votes to spend public money or to raise the taxes on the people for a public improvement, however necessary and urgent, usually goes down in defeat, a martyr to the performance of his plain duty - especially in such provincial and non-progressive communities as then constituted the majority of the citizenship of the new Texas counties." Additional objections to the courthouse came from the nearby town of Temple. Only two years old, Temple's population was mainly boisterious railroad and construction workers. Not only did they vociferously object to paying a tax to build a new jail, but they also filed a petition to move the new courthouse to Temple! Both petitions were soundly defeated.

On November 14, 1883, the Commissioners Court of Bell County authorized the issuance of bonds and levying a tax in the amount of $65,000.00 for the building of a third County Courthouse. The new courthouse was to be of sufficient size to supply courtrooms, jury rooms, offices for County officers and Justice of the Peace, as well as ample room for county records. Architect, Jasper N. Preston, was employed to design the structure. On March 3, 1884, bids were opened by the Court and Ben D. Lee, a local builder was awarded the contract in the amount of $64,965.00. The courthouse was designed in the Renaissance Revival style.

The courthouse clocks soon became an issue. The Board of Aldermen of the city of Belton approached Bell County to take over repair of the four clocks on the dome (one on each side) and to keep them in working order. L. W. Albertson received the contract and was paid four dollars a month to keep the clocks running and on time. Keeping the four clocks synchronized was practically impossible since the long wooden clock hands provided convenient perches for pigeons. A long-standing joke said that no one in Belton was ever late because at least one of the clocks would prove him on time.

In 1950 the clock tower and goddess of justice were eliminated due to deterioration. In 1998 restoration of the courthouse began. The interior renovation was completed in November 1999. The statue, dome, and clock tower were replaced with replicas in December 1999, returning the Courthouse to near its original beauty. The Courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Buildings and on the State Archaeological Site Register.

A statue of Peter Hansborough Bell, the Governor who created Bell County and its namesake, stands on the Southwest corner of the Courthouse square. Governor Bell was a San Jacinto veteran, Mexican War veteran, Texas Ranger, Governor, Congressional Representative, and later a Colonel in the Confederacy.  

Bell County Historical Commission (Tex.). Story of Bell County, Texas. Edited by E. A. Limmer. Austin, Tex: Eakin Press, 1988.

Bowmer, Martha. Bell County Revisited: An Informal, Pictorial History of Bell County. Temple, Tex: Temple Jaycees, 1976.

“Courthouse History.” Welcome to Bell County, Texas. Accessed June 14, 2016.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Photo by Denise Karimkhani