The Texas legislature created Wharton County in 1846, incorporating part of Stephen F. Austin's original land grant from Mexico. The William Kincheloe family donated land on the east bank of the Colorado River for a courthouse square, and the home of first county treasurer Daniel Kincheloe served as a temporary courthouse.
A framed building (1848) and two-story brick building (1852) served as courthouses on Monterey Square until the county considered a new edifice in the 1880s. Judge W.J. Croom favored a new building, while A.H. "Shanghai" Pierce and G.C. Duncan led several landowners in signing a petition and filing injunctions to stop the county from proceeding. In 1888, the Commissioners Court ordered plans from Houston architect Eugene T. Heiner for a courthouse and jail. Heiner, a founding member of the Texas State Association of Architects in 1886, also designed Judge Croom's home (1895), Wharton Public School (1899), and other public, commercial and residential buildings in Texas.
Litigation delayed construction on the courthouse until November 1888. Completed in August 1889, it featured Second Empire and Italianate styling, including a mansard roof decorated with pediments, truncated roofs, limestone detailing, arched windows, corner quoins, and a tall central clock tower. The salmon-colored brick came from
Colorado River clay deposits. Major alterations by architects J.W. Dahnert (1935) and Wyatt C. Hedrick (1949) resulted in new wings and entries, removal of features, and stucco exterior finish in the Moderne style. The altered structure served the county until the 21st century, when a unique and far-reaching preservation effort resulted in its full restoration.