The Brooks County region, home to both the county seat of Falfurrias and a brick Classical Revival courthouse completed in 1914, encompasses a rich, south Texas history. The oldest permanent settlement in Brooks County was actually established eighty-one years before the county’s creation. Los Olmos, located at the southwest corner of El Paisano Land Grant given to Ramon de la Garza in 1830 by the Mexican State of Tamaulipas, served a region settled originally by ranchers from Northern Mexico. By the turn of the century, however, the realignment of land ownership and the arrival of the railroads transformed the region dramatically, ushering in an era of cattle and agriculture shipping points, cotton gins, dairy and citrus farms, and, ultimately, oil and gas production.
Carved out of neighboring Hidalgo, Starr and Zapata counties, Brooks County was created on March 11, 1911 and named in honor of James Abijah Brooks. Brooks helped marshal the formation of the county through the Texas State Legislature. He served as Captain of the Texas Rangers, as a member of state government during the county’s formation, and finally as Brooks County judge. Arriving from his birthplace of Kentucky in 1876, Brooks worked as a cattle driver and rancher until his service in the Texas Rangers, a stint that exposed him to one of the more troublesome conflicts of the day – cattle rustling. As member of the Texas Legislature, he would also witness first-hand the opposition in establishing the county’s boundaries by appropriating lands from surrounding counties unwilling to lose tax revenues without a fight. But Brooks, an ardent advocate for the new county, proved victorious. Once Falfurrias was selected as the county seat, the construction of a new courthouse followed in 1913-14.
The Brooks County courthouse was designed by Alfred Giles, the British-born architect who had established a practice in San Antonio and eventually designed eleven Texas courthouses, seven of which survive today. Giles designed during a period of significant architectural transition for the country. The Victorian era was at its end and the characteristics of modernism, the movement that would permanently alter and define design in the 20th century, was on the rise. The Brooks County courthouse reflects the security of the familiar in its Classical Revival style exterior while suggesting the rise of simple, streamlined design in its interior spaces.
The courthouse also acquired two cornerstones. The Brooks County Cornerstone features the inscribed names of county officials, the architect and the contractor and holds two copies of the local paper El Burro along with some U.S. and Mexican coins. The Masonic cornerstone received an anointment of the “Corn of Nourishment”, the “Wine of Refreshment”, and the “Oil of Joy”, courtesy of the local Masonic Lodge, as incentives toward the welfare and prosperity of Brooks County, encouragement as valuable in the 21st century as it was in 1914.
Restoration on the courthouse, designed in the Beaux Arts style of early 20th century Revival architecture, began in 2000 courtesy of a grant from the Texas Historical Commission’s Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. Although the exterior of the courthouse had undergone minimal changes over the decades, the interior required extensive work to return the courthouse to its original 1914 appearance. While regulations required some modern necessities to remain and were upgraded (elevators, ADA restrooms, etc.), much of the original details returned to their 1914 iteration including the original scale of the district courtroom, its balcony and seating, and original wall, floor and ceiling finishes. Oak jury seating, period light fixtures, wood doors and trim, and the replacement of aluminum windows with wood completed the Brooks County courthouse transformation from a modified historic structure back to its original, iconic state.