In January 2023, Waller County Judge Carbett “Trey” J. Duhon III was sworn into office for his third term. This particular ceremony had special meaning to Duhon for two reasons:
- Duhon’s wife, Lisa, a notary, administered his oath of office.
- This would be the last swearing-in ceremony in the Waller County Courthouse before the scheduled demolition of the county capitol.
Other county officials have expressed similar sentimentality and acknowledged the turning of a corner as Waller County looks toward a new home.
“I was very happy I was able to attend the last Commissioners Court meeting in the old courthouse,” shared Sean Whittmore, a senior prosecutor at the Waller County District Attorney’s Office. “But I’m looking forward to a new chapter for Waller County as we say goodbye to this courthouse for the promise of a building that can better suit our growing county.”
The last day of Commissioners Court in the “old courthouse” took place on Nov. 1, 2023. Last year, Waller County purchased the former Julio’s Mexican Restaurant from the Joe Kuciemba Estate, now referred to as the Waller County Joe Kuciemba Annex, to house officials and employees during the construction process. As of press time, demolition of the old courthouse was imminent, and the new building was assigned a tentative completion date of July 2025.
The Waller County Courthouse vision included the design of a new $43 million county capitol which incorporates historical elements from the county’s former 1894 Victorian-style courthouse, including elongated windows and a pitched roof. The signature bell tower and its bell, which dates back to the late 1800s, and the Military Veterans Memorial will remain untouched.
The four-story courthouse will be home to the Commissioners Court along with the offices of the tax assessor-collector, county clerk, auditor, and treasurer, and will include space for future county departments.
The county is in a Design/Build contract with SEDALCO Construction Services and Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects.
“This is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a new county courthouse, so we have taken the obligation as seriously as possible,” Duhon emphasized. “We are very proud of the process we went through to get the design put together and the positive public feedback we have had through that process, as well.”
From the Beginning
The inaugural Waller County Courthouse, known as “The Texas House,” was a frame building rented by the county for $25 per month. The county’s first jail was a one-room log cabin located on the square.
County records were moved to a brick courthouse in 1877, which burned in 1893. The third courthouse, constructed by M. Clark of Galveston in 1894, was torn down in 1955 and replaced by the fourth temple of justice, a Mid-Century Modern structure designed by Herbert Voelcker and Associates of Houston. The brick and limestone county capitol was built for $545,802.
Waller County was created in 1873 from Austin and Grimes counties and named after Virginia native Edwin Waller, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and Austin’s first mayor.
The Houston and Texas Central Railway stimulated early development in the same way U.S. 290 and Interstate 10 serve the area today.
Bordered on the west by the Brazos River, Waller County shares boundary lines with Harris and Montgomery counties to the east, Fort Bend, Austin, and Washington counties to the south and west, and Grimes County to the north.
Although the courthouse and Hempstead are typically quiet and peaceful these days, there was an incident in 1905 that drew national attention. A heated meeting between opposing parties over prohibition boiled over resulting in a gunfight where four people died in less than two minutes, including U.S. Congressman John Pinckney. The courthouse was riddled with more than 75 bullets, and the incident resulted in the county seat earning the nickname of “Six Shooter Junction.”
Just down the road from Hempstead you’ll find Prairie View A&M University. Established in 1876 during the Reconstruction Period after the Civil War, Prairie View A&M is the second-oldest public institution in Texas and has been recognized for its rich tradition of service.
Decision Time: Waller County Courthouse Vision
The population of Waller County has nearly doubled since 2000. The latest census reported 56,794 residents, and the Texas Demographic Center’s latest estimates have the population in excess of 63,000 (11.4 percent growth rate). The center projects that the county will house some 115,800 people by 2060.
This time of high growth has coincided with increased use of a courthouse that, as Duhon confirmed, has slowly succumbed to the ravages of time including the deterioration of the building’s foundation. These circumstances – high growth coupled with a brittle building – begged a host of questions that could no longer be avoided, with the key question being this: How can the county continue to best provide services? Read more about the Waller County Courthouse Vision in our February issue.