Courthouse Cedar

Historical Period: Republic of Texas (1836-1845)
Historical Topic: County Courthouses, Frontier Settlements
Species: Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana)
County: Brazos
Public Access: Yes

Robert L. Ripley's famed “Believe It Or Not” column never listed the redcedar tree that grows beside the Brazos County Courthouse; however, the unique history of this tree would certainly justify its inclusion. It has grown at the site of five Brazos County courthouses.

The tree was but a sapling in January 1841, when the Congress of the Republic of Texas created Navasota (now Brazos) County. That spring, county officers were elected and the first term of district court convened in the Joseph Ferguson home, near the Ferguson Springs Crossing of the Navasota River. At that time, the sapling grew beside the Ferguson cabin, which served as the county's first courthouse.

Later that year, Boonville was selected as the county seat. In a single day, 20 volunteers from throughout the new county cut trees from the unbroken post oak forest at Boonville and constructed a one-room, log cabin courthouse. The next year, an act of the Congress renamed the county Brazos in honor of the mighty river which forms the county's western boundary.

The first log courthouse served about four terms of district court, when a better building, one owned by William Boyles, was found and rented. In 1846 a one-story, frame courthouse was built. It also served Boonville and the county as a church, a school, a music hall and as a school of dance.

In 1854, a two-story, frame building was erected on the site of the previous courthouse. Colonel Harvey Mitchell, considered by many as “the Father of Brazos County,” personally undertook to plant native shrubs and trees around the new courthouse. Among the trees he planted was the little redcedar that had grown near the Ferguson log cabin on the Navasota. In 1866, the county seat was moved three miles west to Bryan.

When Brazos County's fourth courthouse, a brick structure, was erected on the present courthouse square in 1870, the historic cedar was moved from Boonville to the new site and personally nurtured by Colonel Mitchell. After about 23 years of service the courthouse was judged unsafe and was replaced in 1891 by a splendid stone building.

The sixth and present temple of justice was built in 1957. It towers protectively above Colonel Mitchell's redcedar tree, whose existence is interwoven with the history of Brazos County.

The Courthouse Cedar is located in front of the main entrance to the Brazos County Courthouse, in downtown Bryan.