1908 was a landmark year for Hardeman County and the county seat of Quanah. The new century brought change and progress with it, including a new Hardeman County Neoclassical courthouse, built to replace an earlier version completed in 1891. Designed by Chillicothe-based architect Rockwell Hezehiah Stuckey, the new courthouse quickly became the center of Quanah social and civil society and its handsome architecture received high marks according to a May 14, 1908 article published in the Quanah Tribune-Chief:
“The new courthouse stands in the center of block twenty-three in the heart of the city of Quanah. It is a three-story building with basement, built of brick with Indiana limestone trimmings, and a slate roof, crowned by a cupola….Entering the main door, one finds…the floor is divided by two halls, paved with a beautiful mosaic tiling…The furniture in every room is of golden, quartered oak, and the letter files of steel, painted a rich maroon…Two stairways lead to the second floor, where there is the district courtroom, a large chamber twenty-two feet high, with 132 opera seats.”
The courthouse’s Neoclassical design, although modest at first glance, features a rusticated limestone base, limestone Ionic columns highlighting the façade, and carved star and classical egg-and-dart molding. Bullet holes along the east façade are the result of court proceedings over a family feud, although the time of that event is unknown. The octagonal cupola is encircled by wooden columns with molded Ionic capitols and features a metal domed roof and lantern. Inscribed inside the globe at the top of the cupola are signatures of the original fabricators and installers. Over thirteen pressed metal designs decorate the interior courthouse ceilings, nearly a different design for every room.
Although Stuckey, the courthouse’s architect, is not known as one of the more notable architects of the period, more than forty buildings have been attributed to him and historians speculate that more exist. Stuckey moved his family to nearby Chillicothe in 1898, probably for the easy access to railroad lines and the fact that his wife’s family lived there, but not much more is known about his personal life. Stuckey’s architecture business was a family affair and four of five sons, skilled in the construction trades, worked alongside him in the business. Never formally trained in architecture, Stuckey learned from experience and much of his work, at least the work we can directly attribute to him, drew on the popular Beaux Arts design, an influential movement on the Neoclassical style of the Hardeman courthouse, but none of his buildings exhibit a pure adherence to any particular specific style.
Stuckey’s Hardeman courthouse saw very little changes over the course of the next hundred years, making its restoration, completed in 2014 and courtesy of over three and half million dollars in grant money from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, relatively straightforward. Coins, bills, business cards and other historic artifacts found during the restoration are now on display in the courthouse.
The Hardeman courthouse continues to be the central gathering place for Quanah and Hardeman County citizens. Quanah residents still gather downtown around the courthouse square to catch up on community affairs. Over the decades, activities like bicycle races around the square were highlights for a Saturday afternoon and, according to resident John Vestal, a greased pig chase was once a favorite organized event for local children. During one such event, Vestal recalls, someone road their unicycle around the ledge of the courthouse cupola, a balancing act that will be hard to follow in Hardeman County’s modern age.