Historical Documents

The Historical Document Room was opened to the public on October 24, 2006. The room is available for viewing historical documents from 1837—1925.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 Costs for preserving these invaluable historical documents range from $10 for a file to as much as $2,500 for a civil index book.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The process for preservation requires experts trained in handling historical documents, as the documents must be handled with extreme care.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Services Available in the Historical Document Room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Historical Documents Available Online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 Refurbished Cadillac

Judge Mark Davidson

For most of us, the last car trip we will ever take is one in which we will be horizontally laid out in the back of a hearse. For some reason, the majority of hearses in America are made from converted cars made by the Cadillac division of General Motors, although there have been Lincolns, and Mercedes Benzes also converted. Until 1908, all hearses were horse-drawn wagons with curtains placed on the side. Someone figured out that if they could turn an automobile into a “funeral coach”, they could move faster and therefore could perform more funerals in a day. That was the start of the hearse industry. For the first ten years, standards were crude. A horse drawn funeral wagon was placed on the chassis of a car that was slightly modified, and turned over to a funeral director.

So it was in 1918, when a Houston funeral director named I. S. Lewis decided to enter the automotive age, and contracted with the Texas Wagon Works company to place his horse drawn wagon on the back of a 1918 Cadillac. The job was apparently done properly, but Mr. Lewis was unwilling, or unable, to pay the bill of $123.47. In 2020 dollars, given a century of inflation, that is about $1,599.66. Wagon Works refused to release the hearse, and Mr. Lewis found himself without a wagon or a hearse until the case went to trial.

On July 9, 1920, a jury of 12 men listened to the evidence.[i] We know that it was a very short trial, since Judge Charles Ashe of the 11th District Court would hear 17 other motions that day and would try another jury trial. The attorneys for Texas Wagon Works were Byers & Cavanagh and the attorneys for Mr. Lewis were Woods, Barkley, and King. The jury ruled for the plaintiff.

Apparently, the business at Mr. Lewis’ funeral home did not improve during their hearseless period, and Judge Ashe ordered the hearse to be sold to satisfy the judgement. No record exists as to who bought it and what use was made of the purchase at the auction on the courthouse steps. One hopes that Mr. Lewis found the money and was able to help grieving families for many years, so that the last rides at the last rites of many Houstonians were in a Cadillac.

Even though women were allowed to vote in Texas in 1918, they were not allowed on juries until 1954.

Click here to view the historic case documents for The Case Of The Refurbished Cadillac.