Some of the earliest known human inhabitants of present-day Val Verde County consisted of nomadic people who occupied the natural rock shelters occurring along the region’s many canyon walls. Active between five and ten thousand years ago, these people left behind an archive of artifacts including their tools, burial sites and, most of all, a painted record of their belief system, an esoteric hierarchy of animal spirits and geometric designs that, despite their complexity and abundance, remain mysterious and indecipherable. The modern citizens that inherited this legacy comprised a diverse cultural integration as Spanish, Mexican, Native American, African American, and European American traversed and settled the region over the course of several centuries before organizing Val Verde County in 1885. Although the county encompasses over three thousand square miles, it remains sparsely populated, dominated primarily by rough, scrub savanna and deep canyons cut by draining waterways supplying the Pecos and Devils Rivers and, ultimately, the Rio Grande.
Val Verde County’s first, and only, courthouse was built in 1887 in the county seat of Del Rio. The Second Empire style courthouse featured Classical details and was designed by the architectural firm of Larmour and Watson. Jacob Larmour and A. O. Watson, prominent Texas architects during the late 19th century, were based out of Austin and designed several courthouses in counties across the state. Their design for Val Verde County included Mansardic roofing and ornamental wrought ironwork, bull’s eye windows containing lone star motifs, octagonal towers, and pedestal-mounted statues of both the Goddess of Justice and the Goddess of Liberty. The structure was constructed of tan-colored limestone thought to have been quarried from a site approximately six miles north of Del Rio in a location that was ultimately submerged by the waters of the Amistad Reservoir. The stonework is believed to have been completed by Native American masons.
The courthouse received significant modifications through the 20th century. The most dramatic occurred in 1915 when a third story was added to the structure. During this time, much of the interior details, including the Victorian hardware, was removed and replaced by more streamlined designs. In later modifications more details disappeared, including during a 1995 job to perform interior work in which much of the 1915 hardware was stolen.
In 2000, the county received initial funding from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program to begin planning the restoration. A subsequent construction grant was awarded in 2002. An assessment on the courthouse exterior, now over one hundred years old, determined that the masonry was in a severe state of deterioration. Many stones were fractured and no longer securely attached to the wall and large pieces of stone had already fallen from the building. The resulting gaps in the exterior wall allowed water to infiltrate the interior, causing damage to the interior wall plaster. The original limestone used for the construction was determined inadequate for building construction due to its natural composition, a factor taken into consideration during the 1915 modifications and addition. Although a source for the 1915 replacement limestone could not be determined during the restoration, a later source from Leander was substituted, enabling the Texas Historical Commission to complete the courthouse restoration project by 2004. On July 3, 2004, Val Verde County celebrated their newly-restored courthouse with a rededication ceremony.