County Seat: Cleburne * County Population: 175,817 (2019 Census Estimate)
Completed in 1913, the Johnson County Courthouse is one of the state’s finest historic landmarks. Among the building’s most notable features is its highly ornamented and stunning atrium.
In 1854, a log building served as the courthouse in the initial county seat of Wardville. In 1856, a wooden, one-room courthouse was raised in the second county seat, Buchanan. In 1867, Camp Henderson, renamed Cleburne, was elected county seat. The Buchanan courthouse was moved on wheels and placed on the east side of the square. In 1869 when this county capitol became too small, a brick courthouse surrounded by a fence was built on the town square. In 1883, the courthouse was torn down and replaced with a new courthouse that included a bell tower. This courthouse burned on April 15, 1912; sadly, the city marshal died fighting the blaze. Johnson County contracted with the Dallas architecture firm of Lang and Witchell to create a modern, fireproof building, the county’s final courthouse. Designed in the Prairie Style originated by Frank Lloyd Wright, the building features a style of fine detailing popularized by Wright’s mentor, Louis Sullivan.
The courthouse was closed in 2005 for exterior and interior work, which included restoring the original paint scheme on the walls and returning the district courtroom to its original height.
The Johnson County Courthouse Master Plan and Historic Structures Report met the guidelines for the Texas Historical Commission’s Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program and qualified for $4 million in grant funding toward completion of the $8 million project. ARCHITEXAS, of Dallas and Austin, provided the restoration master plan for Johnson County and continued as the project architect.
The scope of work included restoration of corridors, stairwells, and historic courtrooms; rehabilitation of county offices; integration of handicap accessibility; installation of contemporary systems; and modern fire protection throughout. The project also included reconstruction of missing historic elements and restoration of the building’s intricately painted ornamental plaster. In addition, the building’s exterior was fully restored.
The Johnson County Courthouse was rededicated in December 2007.
A quaint atmosphere featuring beautiful homes, tree-lined streets, historic scenery, and modern attractions gives Johnson County a special quality, appreciated by both homefolks and frequent visitors.
Burleson, one of the largest cities and closest to the Metroplex, is known as the Crepe Myrtle Capital of North Central Texas. Alvarado, in eastern Johnson County, hosts an annual Old Settler’s Reunion in August with the best fiddling around.
Cleburne, the county seat, features the beautifully renovated 90-year-old high school, now the Guinn Justice Center.
The Chisholm Trail Outdoor Museum, which features the world’s largest life-size steel silhouettes of the longhorn cattle drive, depicts life in the mid-1800s on the Chisholm. Also located on the site is the oldest log courthouse built in Texas. Constructed in 1854, the courthouse has been restored and sits at what was once Wardville, the original county seat of Johnson County.
During the holidays, the county features a “Whistle Stop” Christmas with the park donned in a breathtaking 2.5 million lights.
Cleburne State Park is home to bubbling springs that feed the cool, clear waters of Cedar Lake, the centerpiece of Cleburne State Park. The reservoir’s small size makes it ideal for canoeing, paddling, boating, and fishing. During winter months, rainbow trout are stocked in the lake. Visitors also enjoy swimming, hiking, and camping in the park’s shady grounds.
ARCHITEXAS contributed to this article.