JeffCo Subcourthouse one of a kind in Texas

Published 6:02 pm Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Jefferson County Subcourthouse was made necessary to build in 1936 because the population of Port Arthur was growing.

“Port Arthur’s list of ‘firsts’ expanded when Governor Ross Sterling signed legislation allowing the location of a subcourthouse in the city because of its population had reached 50,000, almost as much as the county seat, Beaumont,” according to the book “Water, Rails & Oil: History of Mid and South Jefferson County.”

In fact, Jefferson County is the only count in the State of Texas to have a subcourthouse, according to

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In front of the subcourthouse and adjacent to the Port Arthur City Hall, lies the fishpond with a sculpture titled “Music of the Sea” with a child holding a shell to their ear. It was given to the city by Edith Smith Norton in memory of her father, Charles Eugene Norton, the first mayor of Port Arthur.

There’s also the Martin “Popeye” Homes park that was dedicated in April 2014 in front of the subcourthouse.

A former News article read Holmes spent 57 years in law enforcement in Southeast Texas. Holmes died at the age of 81 in September 2013.

His resume included the Port Arthur Police Department, Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, Orange County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission, Groves Police Department and Bridge City Police Department.

Holmes tenure in law enforcement earned him the East Texas Peace Officers Association’s Award of Excellence in 2011.

The text to the 1989 Texas historical marker reads as follows:

The growth of the petrochemical industry in the southern part of Jefferson County in the early 1930s resulted in the need for extended county government services.

State legislation was required in order to enable the county to build a subcourthouse in Port Arthur. Introduced in the Legislature by local elected officials, a bill was passed on April 30, 1931, and plans were made to build a new south county office facility to serve this part of the county.

Funded as a project of the Federal Public Works Administration (PWA), construction of the building began on August 10, 1935, and was completed the following year. The first floor housed offices of county commissioners and other officials; the second floor contained court facilities; and the third floor was occupied by a jail.

Still in service as a county facility, the structure is an ornamental example of the art modern style as typically interpreted by PWA projects in the 1930s. Prominent features include stylized classical detailing, eagles capping the pilasters at the entry, floral banding, and allegorical medallions.

A one-story addition was built in the 1970s.

David Ball: 409-721-2427