Historical Documents

The Historical Document Room was opened to the public on October 24, 2006. The room is available for viewing historical documents from 1837—1925. These court records are not just paper, they are valuable sources of Texas' and Houston’s history. Some of the most badly deteriorated records have been restored and preserved by the Harris County District Clerk's Office. Those efforts have been honored with a 2004 Good Brick Award from the Greater Houston Preservation Alliance.

What Can I do to Help Save Harris County’s History?

The Harris County District Clerk’s Office has teamed with the Houston Bar Foundation to raise the funds needed to continue restoring and preserving Harris County’s past. The Houston Bar Foundation is accepting tax-deductible donations to preserve records. We do not suggest an amount for your donation as any amount is greatly helpful and appreciated.

Checks can be made payable to: Houston Bar Foundation Records Preservation and mailed to P.O. Box 4651, Houston, TX 77210. For a contribution form to include with your check, please click here.

In addition to preserving case files, bound volumes such as criminal case indexes, minute books, fee docket books and accounting books from as early as the Republic of Texas days are being saved. Costs for preserving these invaluable historical documents range from $10 for a file to as much as $2,500 for a civil index book. Donors who contribute an amount necessary to preserve one entire book may, if they wish, be recognized on the spine or outside cover of the book. Standard wording for such recognition will be, “In memory of _________,” “Graciously donated by ________,” etc. Other wording desired by the donor will be taken into consideration.

The process for preservation requires experts trained in handling historical documents, as the documents must be handled with extreme care. They are unfolded, pacified, then encapsulated in special Mylar plastic sheets to protect them from further damage caused by exposure to air and moisture. The process being used will preserve these records for up to 300 years and prevent further deterioration of our historical records.

Services Available in the Historical Document Room

  • Public viewing of original documents
  • Requested copies for $1.00 per page

Historical Documents Available Online

As a public service, the documents that are made available over the Web are provided at no charge. Please note, while the clarity of some of the documents is exceptional, the quality of others is poor. This is directly related to the quality of the original document as well as the penmanship of the scribe in some instances. Click below to begin viewing these priceless historical documents.
 

View Online

Historical Case Of The Month

The Honorable Judge Mark Davidson has been instrumental in the development of the Harris County District Court Historical Document Project. An avid legal history buff, Judge Davidson continues to write and serve as a special advisor to the ongoing Case Of the Month articles.

The Case of the Treacherous Trustees State of Texas v. Stewart, et al

By Judge Mark Davidson

The Texas Medical Center brings hundreds of thousands of people to its hospitals every year where world class health care is provided and many lives are saved. We all know of people that owe their lives to the dedicated women and men who work there. What very few people realize is that all of those people owe their lives to the tireless work of lawyers in a 1918 case called State of Texas v. Stewart, without which the Texas Medical Center would probably not exist in anything like its current form.

When George Hermann died in 1914, he left most of his estate to a trust with the direction that the proceeds of his estate was to be used to create a charity hospital for the people of Houston. He directed that the hospital was to be located across the street from a 385 acre plot of land he had donated to the city of Houston for the creation of a park. He named three friends, John S. Stewart, Julius J. Settegast, Jr., and T. J. Ewing, Jr. to act as initial trustees, with the express provision that they were to name four additional citizens to join them, and together they would liquidate his estate and use the proceeds to found Hermann hospital.

By 1917, three years after his death, nothing had been done. Some of Hermann’s real estate holdings had been sold at great discounts to relatives and girlfriends of the three trustees. The three had not even designated four additional trustees. No hospital had been built, or even started to be built. In short, the estate was being depleted without any efforts at building Hermann’s dream of a charity hospital.

Enter the District Attorney of Harris County, John Crooker, Sr. He had been elected District Attorney when he was only 30 years old, and immediately he became known as someone who would and could bring justice to anyone. Learning about the looting of the Hermann estate, he brought an action to remove the trustees on the ground of fraud. Bringing this action took courage, since the three were leaders in the community and were quite powerful individuals. Crooker was getting ready for trial when he was summoned to join the United States Army to fight in “The Great War”, today known as World War I. On his way out of town, he persuaded his friend James Elkins to act as District Attorney for purposes of trying the case.

The trustees that thought that the last minute substitution of counsel would work to their advantage did not know Elkins. He apparently dived into the minutiae of the case, and showed up for trial with three weeks’ notice. Legend states that he showed the three defendants the evidence he was getting ready to offer against them. On a piece of legal paper that still exists in the file, the three trustees wrote in pencil their resignations as trustees of the Hermann Estate. Judge Henry J. Dannenbaum of the 61st District Court accepted their resignations and dismissed the case as moot.

The successor trustees appointed by Judge Dannenbaum went to work setting aside the fraudulent deeds and building a hospital. The result – less than two years later, Hermann Hospital was founded. The presence today of the original building at the corner of Fannin and Cambridge Streets, across from Hermann Park, is the cornerstone of the Medical Center. It serves as a reminder of the lasting effect of Hermann’s generosity and the dedicated legal talents of John Crooker and James Elkins.

Click here to view the historic case documents for the Case of the Treacherous Trustees