Following a stormy night in Wichita Falls, I awoke to the sound of thunder. A light rain was falling as I made my way to the only Starbucks between Fort Worth and Amarillo for my morning wakeup call. Mission accomplished, I made a second stop in downtown to photograph the courthouse from a distance. I was able to get a few photos before the rain started up again.
Leaving Wichita Falls, I continued north and west on US 287 to Vernon, seat of Wilbarger county, Texas. The rain had stopped but the low, threatening clouds remained as I arrived at the courthouse square in downtown Vernon. This is a classic courthouse, dating from 1928, and designed by the firm of Voelcker and Dixon of nearby Wichita Falls.
During my visit to downtown Vernon I learned that the birthplace of one of my favorite musicians, Roy Orbison, was nearby. Alas, it's only an empty lot!
Moving along, I left the clouds behind as I cruised along US 287 to Quanah, seat of Hardeman County. This is the last county along the Red River border with Oklahoma. Being in the east with Bowie County, there are 11 Texas counties along the south bank of the Red River. However, in all my courthouse road trips, I have yet to see the Red River. Sigh.
Okay, this was an unusual combination: rattlesnakes and tornado shelters! It did bring back a memory from my childhood, however. Long, long ago, when I was a child, we lived in a house in the country, south of Abilene. In the backyard was an ancient storm cellar; dug into the rocky ground and reached by a wooden door that led to a earthen room below ground. Here, I was told by my parents, we would go when a tornado threatened. Then, and only then, would we retreat to this shelter. Otherwise, we children were warned to stay away from the storm shelter; it was home to rattlesnakes! Good to know Hardeman County offers the same dilemma...tornado or rattlesnake? Which will you choose?
You'll see in the photo above that storm clouds were once again appearing on the horizon. Quanah was the end of my northwestward drive and, just in time, I turned south along Texas Highway 6, the very road that runs both ways through College Station, and headed for Crowell, seat of Foard County.
Foard County had all of 1,336 citizens in the 2010 census. It's not overly crowded. The 1910 courthouse, like more than a few in Texas, is missing its original dome, thanks to a nasty 1942 tornado. Said tornado also destroyed the porticoes on each side of the building. Lacking the funds to repair the building, the county decided to do without them. And do without them they have, for going on 73 years.
It was now lunch time, so I stopped by what may very well be the only restaurant in Foard County, the Crowell Dairy Bar. Joining the old timers for a delicious cheeseburger and fries, I enjoyed listening to their reactions to all of the rain that had fallen in Foard County this spring. They were, to a person, delighted with the first substantial rainfall in many years in this part of Texas. After lunch I headed southeast towards Baylor County, the 224th Texas county in my courthouse odyssey. The storm clouds were building in the early afternoon, but I pushed on.
Seymour, the seat of Baylor County, is blessed with a 1967 era "modern" courthouse. You know what I mean; a low, banal building that screams boring. Or, public library. (which is also housed in this building)
Seymour also featured this unusual look: a roofless building on the square with a window separating the outside from the inside that is now outside.
Done with the five new counties on this road trip, I drove south to Throckmorton to see the newly completed restoration of the Throckmorton County courthouse. It's a beauty. Well done!
While in Throckmorton I also checked on one of my many commercial ventures in Texas. Magneto service, anyone?
From Throckmorton I intended to drive to Abilene, via Albany. Unfortunately, the road to Albany was closed and I was directed to a detour via Breckenridge. From there I headed south, to Cisco, where I encountered a severe storm, with hail and the first tornado of my Texas courthouse project. I sat out the hail storm under the canopy of a Sonic Drive-in in Cisco. For some reason, all of the spaces at the Sonic were occupied during the storm! I wasn't even aware of the tornado that touched down in the vicinity until I reached Abilene. Just as well; I didn't have to chose between the tornado and the rattlesnakes!
October was my final courthouse road trip in 2014: Throckmorton, Archer, and Graham counties, plus a second visit to Stephens county. Since then, I've waited for spring to arrive in the upper Red River valley so I could begin what should be the final push to complete my first circuit of all 254 counties in Texas.
On Friday, May 8 I left Houston in the morning and drove west on I-10 to Sealy, then north on Highway 36 to Cameron, where I turned right on Highway 77 and followed it to Waco, seat of McLennan County. It has been a wet spring in Texas (how long has it been since we could say that?) and this weekend proved no exception. Light rain fell along my route until shortly before I arrived at the courthouse in Waco, where the sun was shining on the white dome of the McLennan County courthouse. This was my third visit to this courthouse. It had been partially covered in scaffolding the first two times, but no more. However, now Lady Justice, atop the dome, is missing her left arm and the scales of justice, too! I must find out what happened...
Okay, her left arm, with the scales of justice, blew off in a windstorm in 2014.
Leaving Waco in my rearview mirror, I continued north on I-35 to I-35W and through Fort Worth, where, just north of the city I exited onto US 287 and headed northwest to Wichita Falls. The weather was very nice that afternoon as I drove along US 287. It wasn't until I neared the Wichita County line that dark clouds began to appear on the horizon. I wasn't surprised. This area of the state had been experiencing daily build-ups of severe storms. Fortunately, I arrived in Wichita Falls about 4:30 PM and the storm didn't arrive until about 6:00! In the intervening period I had time to visit the Wichita County courthouse in all its "altered beyond recognition" glory.
I made it to the Candlewood Suites in Wichita Falls just before the weather "deteriorated" and heavy rain, high winds and hail descended on the city. And so ended day one of my trip.
My fellow architect and Texas courthouse enthusiast, Brantley Hightower, has published his long awaited book, The Courthouses of Central Texas. Judging from the splendid photographs and drawings Hightower has made available on his website for the past few years, this book should be an instant classic. I'll have more to say after my copy arrives. In the meantime, you can order your own copy from the University of Texas Press or from Amazon.com.
Leonard G. Lane, Jr., AIA
- Chronological Order (of my visits)
- County List (alphabetical)
- Texas Courthouse Blog
- James Riely Gordon, Architect
- Eugene T. Heiner, Architect
- Henry T. Phelps, Architect
- Alfred Giles, Architect
- Corneil G. Curtis, Architect
- Wesley Clark Dodson, Architect
- Lang & Witchell Architects
- Voelcker & Dixon, Architects
- Wyatt C. Hedrick, Architect
- David S. Castle, Architect
- Page Brothers, Architects
- James Edward Flanders, Architect
- Pierce, Norris, Pace & Associates, Architects & Engineers