If you only saw the Fannin County Courthouse in Bonham five years ago and then saw it again now, you’d swear it was not the same building. After a four-year restoration that cost $27.8 million, it is utterly transformed.
The beautiful French Second Empire-style courthouse with elaborate stonework and soaring clock tower is back after participating in the Texas Historical Commission’s (THC) Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. Built in 1888, the historic Fannin County Courthouse was partially destroyed by a fire in 1929. Although stabilized and reoccupied, it was substantially altered—exterior walls and window openings were retained, but the clock tower was gone, the gable roof and much ornamental stone decoration were removed, and the interior was completely refinished.
In 1966, the entire exterior was covered in a new flat-panel facade. Interiors were completely altered—even the two-story district courtroom and balcony disappeared and was divided into two floors.
The recent restoration completely reversed the dramatic changes of 1929 and 1966. Original building materials and finishes were carefully investigated, researched, and restored to allow public spaces to be returned to their original grandeur. The old stone exterior was uncovered and restored—using limestone from a nearby quarry that was generously reopened by the family to support the restoration—and a replica clock tower was raised as crowds of onlookers applauded. The combined efforts of over 35 specialty contractors and contributions from additional local companies were required to complete the full restoration.
On March 10, 2022, hundreds gathered on the courthouse square (while many more watched a livestream) and cheered as the bell tower clock struck 10 a.m. and Fannin County Judge Randy Moore began the rededication ceremony. Among the attendees was Mary Helen Dodson, great-granddaughter of Wesley Clark Dodson, the courthouse’s original architect.
During his remarks, Judge Moore credited the remarkable restoration not only to the tremendous support of the community, whose financial backing was critical, but also to the vision and determination of Barbara McCutcheon, retired town librarian who campaigned tirelessly for the courthouse’s restoration. The THC awarded a $400,000 planning grant in 2008 and a $5.6 million construction grant in July 2016, while the county contributed $22.2 million authorized by the Commissioners’ Court with resident support.
It takes a village, and everyone came together to see this transformative project through to an end result that aptly represents this proud community.
If You Go
When visiting Bonham’s courthouse centerpiece, heritage travelers should not miss some of the city’s other notable destinations. A great place to start is the THC’s Sam Rayburn House State Historic Site, the home of one of Texas’ best-known statesmen. One of the most powerful and influential politicians in the 20th century, Rayburn served in the U.S. Congress for 48 years, holding the position of speaker for 17 years. His 1916 home is a National Historic Landmark, a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Visitors can explore more about Rayburn’s personal life and political achievements, as well as learn about the early- to mid-20th century Congress, at the Sam Rayburn Museum, a property of The University of Texas at Austin’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The museum was founded by Rayburn himself, originally as a library to house his books, personal papers, and memoirs and as a resource center about political history.
Southeast of town is Bonham State Park, which was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) from 1933–36. The CCC constructed the dam that impounds the 65-acre lake, as well as several buildings, bridges, picnic tables, and more.
A modified version of this article originally appeared in the 2023 edition of the THC’s legislative publication, Courthouse Cornerstones.