Monday, May 9 would be the last day of my 9 year trip around the 254 counties of Texas. I left Amarillo and followed US 60 to Panhandle, turned north on Texas 207 and headed towards Borger. From Borger, I continued north, passing through Stinnett and its grand courthouse and then angling northeast towards Hansford County, #251. This area at the top of the panhandle is rolling prairie, supporting cattle and crops alike. Spearman, the seat of Hansford County is also the windmill capital of Texas. There's a fascinating collection of historic and contemporary windmills in a park on the south side of town.
Lunch in Spearman was at the ubiquitous Dairy Queen, my "restaurant" of last resort on the Texas courthouse trail. Heading west on Texas 15 I crossed some very productive farmland. It was a beautiful afternoon and the wind was blowing "not too much." Two weeks later I saw pictures of a massive tornado crossing this area. Not on my trip, thank goodness. I arrived in Stratford, Texas, seat of Sherman County, #252, in mid-afternoon. I had started to photograph the exterior of the Sherman County courthouse (1922) when the County Sheriff crossed my path in front of the building and introduced himself. When I explained my courthouse project he offered to give me a tour of the courthouse, beginning with the county jail, which is in the basement. I spent the next 45 minutes learning all about the courthouse and jail, including a photograph, taken in the courthouse in January 1938. The photograph documented the presentation of a Thompson submachine gun to the Sherman County Sheriff's Office by the FBI. I'm told by the sheriff that the FBI gave one of the guns to each county sheriff in Texas...
Leaving Stratford in my rearview mirror, I pointed the car southwest on US 54, the straight as an arrow road leading to Dalhart, Texas, the seat of Dallam County, #253. Dalhart is barely in Dallam County -- the south side of Dalhart is in neighboring Hartley County. The Dallam County courthouse is located on a small square in the downtown area.
And then my trip, my circuit of the state's 254 counties, was over. I stood outside of the Dallam County courthouse and thought about my courthouse trail experiences for a while. My reverie was broken by a call from my colleagues at Chelsea Architects in Houston, congratulating me. After the call I was overcome with emotion and fatigue. But, soon enough it was time to get back in the car and find my way back to Amarillo. After all, I had one more day left on this road trip...
Sunday morning. I headed west from Amarillo on IH 40. My first stop was Vega, Texas, seat of Oldham County, #247.
Vega is the second county seat of Oldham County. The original seat was the community of Tascosa, on the Canadian River. Tascosa is no more, but in its place is Cal Farley's Boys' Ranch. On the property is the 1884 Oldham County courthouse, now a museum. A ranch staff member was kind enough to open the building for me. The museum contains many historic objects, among them an impressive collection of barbed wire. There's also a Boot Hill Cemetery; a reminder of Tascosa's wild west days in the 19th century.
Leaving the Canadian River valley behind, it was only a few miles north to Channing, Texas, seat of Hartley County, #248. Channing is a very small community, but it's on the former Santa Fe Railroad and is home to the XIT Ranch general office. The courthouse "square" is just another block on Main Street.
Northeast of Channing is Dumas, Texas, seat of Moore County, #249.
Traveling east from Dumas on Texas 152, I soon entered Hutchinson County, #250. Stinnett, Texas is the seat of Hutchinson County. There's a large, grand courthouse in Stinnett, but most of the county's population lives a few miles south, in Borger, Texas.
As I drove back to Amarillo Sunday afternoon I couldn't help but be excited about Monday's courthouse road trip. I had only three counties left to visit: Hansford, Sherman, and Dallam.
Saturday, May 7, I headed northeast on US 60 from Amarillo through Panhandle and Pampa. My first stop was Miami, seat of Roberts County, #243 on my chronological list. Miami is located in the southeast corner of Roberts County, on the former Santa Fe, now BNSF railroad. Miami isn't pronounced like the city in Florida. It's "my-AM-uh," Texas. Whatever. The little community of about 600 is on the south slope of the Red Deer Creek valley, a tributary of the Canadian River. I arrived mid-morning of a beautiful spring day. The little courthouse is a jewel; one of my favorites.
Leaving Miami, I continued on US 60 northeast to Canadian, Texas, the seat of Hemphill County, #244. Like Miami, the town of Canadian is located in the Red Deer Creek valley, just south of the Canadian River. Canadian is a delightful town, with many historic buildings and views that go on forever. I truly enjoyed my visit and look forward to returning soon to this idyllic part of Texas.
After a BBQ lunch at the Cattle Exchange restaurant in Canadian I followed US 60 across the Canadian River and on to Glazier, Texas where I turned north on Texas 305 and soon entered Lipscomb County, #245, the northeastern most county in the panhandle. This lightly-populated county has few towns. The small (population about 38) community of Lipscomb serves as the county seat. It's located near the center of the county in a shallow valley.
Turning left, I then drove west on Texas 15 to Perryton, Texas, seat of Ochiltree County, #246. Perryton is located on US 83, a major highway that, unlike Texas 305, does enter Oklahoma.
Leaving Perryton, I drove south on Texas 70, crossing the Canadian River valley again before taking Texas 283 back to Miami for another look. Approaching the community from the northwest the Roberts County courthouse stands out above the canopy of trees along Red Deer Creek. After some more photography in Miami I headed back to Amarillo on US 60, through Pampa and Panhandle.
Headed east on IH-40 from Amarillo on the morning of Friday, May 6. At Shamrock I turned left on US 83 and drove 16 miles north to Wheeler, Texas, seat of Wheeler County. The courthouse is located in the center of town in a green, tree shaded square. This is county #240 in my courthouse chronology.
Heading west, northwest on Texas 152, I crossed the rolling prairie of Wheeler County and soon arrived in the small crossroads community of Mobeetie, Texas, known as the "mother city" of the Texas panhandle. (I'm not kidding.) Mobeetie was the first seat of Wheeler County. A storm destroyed the town in 1898 and a few years later Wheeler, the town, became the seat. The 19th century jail is the only remaining county building in Mobeetie.
West of Wheeler County is Gray County, #241 on my courthouse trail. The county seat is Pampa, Texas.
Lunch time is always an important moment on the courthouse trail. On this day I was fortunate to drive by the Coney Island Cafe in downtown Pampa and noticed the sign. I stopped and had a memorable meal at this iconic Pampa eatery. What you should know before dining here is that everything they serve (except for the pies) comes with chili, mustard, and onions. Be forewarned!
The man sitting next to me at the counter strongly recommended the ham sandwich. So, that's what I ordered, without the onions. I ate it and a piece of pie and left with the reassuring knowledge that I'd probably never have another ham sandwich like that again... On the way out of town I stopped for a Cherry Lime at Ted's Drive-in. Then, it was on to Carson County, #242 on my list. The county seat is Panhandle, Texas, an original name if there ever was one.
I visited the Carson County courthouse late on a Friday afternoon. Needless to say, it was deserted, except for a few county employees. My standard approach when visiting courthouses is to walk around and through them and photograph whatever is visible, with the exception of people, particularly any prisoners. So, following an exterior walk-around, I made my way through the building, including the dark, but not locked district courtroom on the second floor. I could see that people were watching me, but I don't stop and greet the employees unless they approach me first. I've found from experience that stopping to talk always results in a rather lengthy chat. Not that I don't want to visit, but I'm typically on a schedule that doesn't allow for that much time. However, as I left the front door of the courthouse that afternoon, I was followed by a gentleman onto the front porch. He introduced himself as the County Judge and asked what my interest was in the Carson County courthouse. I gave him my card and explained my visit. We then had a pleasant conversation about the courthouse, it's upkeep, and other issues of common interest to us both. I told him how impressed I was by the courthouse lawn and he gave credit to a county employee who tends it. Without a doubt, the courthouse lawns in the northern panhandle are the best in Texas! Especially so when they've had sufficient rains.
Southwest Airlines got me from Houston to Amarillo on time. I rented a car and drove into town; downtown, to be exact. I had a reservation at the Marriott Courtyard in the historic Fisk Building (1928). It's a wonderful hotel. I had a splendid room on the southeast corner of the 7th floor. The views were terrific: to the south was the historic Santa Fe Building (1930), now a Potter County office building. Looking northeast, I could see the Potter County courthouse, too. After a pleasant walk around this downtown neighborhood I had a delicious Tex-Mex dinner and a good night's sleep. The next morning I began my visits to the counties of the northern panhandle, beginning with Wheeler County.
Last fall I had the pleasure of presenting my courthouse project to attendees at the annual Texas Society of Architects convention in Dallas. Afterwards, Bills Echols, AIA, Project Manager for Tarrant County's Facility Management office, invited me to visit the Tarrant County courthouse for a behind the scenes tour. On Friday, April 8, 2016 I took Bill up on his offer. What a tour I had! Bill introduced me to his colleague, Tracy Pelle, AIA, Assistant Director of Construction Services, and away the three of us went. First up was a top to bottom tour of the recently completed Tarrant County Civil Courts Building, by HOK/HKS architects.
This elegant court building is directly east of the historic 1895 Tarrant County courthouse. The new Civil Courts Building replaced a previous building that occupied the land adjacent to the west facade of the 1895 courthouse.
This building is now gone and the land on the west side of the courthouse is once again open, allowing views of the west facade of the historic courthouse. Hooray for progress!
By the way, the new Civil Courts Building offers wonderful views of the east facade of the historic courthouse.
Following the tour of the Civil Courts Building, Bill and I entered the attic of the 1895 courthouse and began a vertical journey up and into the courthouse clock tower. This area was rehabilitated in 2012 and offers incredible views of the building structure, including the iron framing that supports the courthouse roofs.
The tour began with some stairs, followed by some "not for the weak at heart" ladders that are the only access to the upper reaches of the tower. We eventually came upon the 1895 bell, cast by the Seth Thomas Clock Company, that rings each hour.
The bell ringer is linked by a steel cable to an elaborate mechanical clock mechanism one level above, that also controls the large clock faces on each side of the courthouse tower. Here's a view of the gears that turn the clock shafts.
We were almost 200 feet above the street, so of course I had to take a look outside of the west side of the building.
Finally, no tour of the Tarrant County courthouse would be complete without seeing the model of the building constructed entirely of matchsticks!
On Saturday, April 9, I drove to Waco, seat of McLennan County. I was there for a Sons of the Republic of Texas banquet that evening, but I took the opportunity to send some time along the banks of the Brazos River, where I encountered throngs of well-dressed teenagers and their families, posing for pictures before a high school prom.
I also noted that Lady Justice, high atop the county courthouse, is still missing her left arm. I guess new arms don't grow overnight...
Sunday morning I began my drive back to Houston, stopping along the way at Marlin, seat of Falls County. The county courthouse is still difficult to see and photograph through the surrounding trees, but the roses were in bloom on the courthouse square.
After photographing the Falls County courthouse for the second time, I ventured a few blocks away and came upon the former Hilton Hotel (1929-30) in downtown Marlin. I learned that this was the 8th hotel opened by Conrad Hilton, who began his career in Texas. Alas, the building is vacant and not in very good shape.
Across the railroad tracks is a building and historic marker is the explanation for such a grand hotel in what is a rather small Texas town: hot mineral springs. Like the town of Mineral Wells in Palo Pinto County, these springs were the basis for a resort community that thrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Texas, attracting visitors from all over the country. Those days are history now, but the buildings still survive, ghosts of a time long gone.
My spa treatment completed, I continued on to Franklin, seat of Robertson County, to view the recently restored historic courthouse. Check out my Robertson County webpage for the "before" photographs. Here is the "after" view of the restored 1881 courthouse.
I returned home Sunday afternoon, full of renewed enthusiasm for the endless variety of Texas cultural history available for the courthouse tourists. My next courthouse trail road trip is scheduled for May 5 through 10. I'm flying to Amarillo for 5 days of travel around the top of Texas: the 15 counties north of Interstate Highway 40. With these counties I will complete my initial circuit of the 254 Texas counties! Fortunately, this weekend's trip proved there will be no shortage of new courthouse material for me to explore and photograph during the coming years...
I stopped in Giddings to check on repairs to the courthouse on my way home following my July 12 - 17 road trip. Repairs are ongoing. Below is some information on the current work to stabilize and repair this historic courthouse, with photos I took on Friday, July 17, 2015.
"Throughout its history, the [Lee County] Courthouse has experienced numerous and ongoing problems related to differential foundation movement and associated distress cracking. In 1911, partial underpinning of the south and west foundations was implemented. Further repairs were completed in 1979 and from 2001 to 2004.
"In 2008, cracks were noted in the plastered walls and load-bearing masonry. A geotechnical investigation confirmed that the majority of the distress was likely caused by the interaction of the underlying expansive clay soils that support the foundation. When the perimeter of the Courthouse was inundated with surface water due to poor drainage, the soil at the foundation edge heaved, whereas the central core remained stable. Stress cracking at the arched and perpendicular connecting masonry walls was a result of the movement and subsurface soil conditions.
"To stabilize the perimeter foundation, a continuously reinforced, concrete, shallow spread footing was installed below the existing foundation. The existing storm-water drainage around the perimeter of the Courthouse was revised to provide a slope of 2% away from the building. A perimeter trench was installed to capture surface water runoff and connect the roof downspouts. A French drain system was installed at the bottom of the existing footing; continuous around the perimeter of the Courthouse; and included new drain lines, filter fabric, gravel fill, and cleanouts. Furthermore, the subgrade waterproofing barrier was removed and replaced at the masonry walls below grade."
ICRI Award of Merit: Historic Category Submitted by Wisss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc.
There's even a YouTube video about the foundation repairs:
"The building was rededicated on October 8, 2004. In 2014, the county was awarded a $450,000 Round VIII emergency grant for above-grade repairs to masonry, doors, windows, and interior finishes affected by structural movement, which was addressed by foundation stabilization work using a Round VI $804,233 emergency grant awarded in 2010." Texas Historic Commission
"Lee County will make critical architectural and structural repairs to the Lee County Courthouse and seek to restore it to its 1898 splendor thanks to a $50,000 community development grant from the Lower Colorado River Authority and the City of Giddings. The grant through the LCRA Community Development Partnership Program will help weatherproof the courthouse while helping to preserve the historic building. A number of repairs will be made to address the building’s air and water infiltration issues. Exterior repairs made possible by the grant will include reinforcing cracked brick masonry and re-anchoring the stone arches and lintels. Distorted wood windows and doors also will be repaired, and the gutters and membrane roof system will be replaced." Lower Colorado River Authority
Following my 15 county road trip last week, I've been selecting and editing photos for the "banner" atop each county webpage. It's often a challenge to find a photo that fits the very wide banner format and can be presented in an abstract composition. Here are the 15 photos I've prepared for the new county pages:
On Sunday, July 12, 2015 I drove from my home in Houston to Lubbock, with brief stops in Callahan County (Baird) and Nolan County (Sweetwater) to photograph the courthouses.
Monday, July 13, I visited and photographed courthouses in Hale County (Plainview), Swisher County (Tulia), Castro County (Dimmitt), Deaf Smith County (Hereford), and Randall County (Canyon).
Tuesday, July 14, I visited and photographed courthouses in Potter County (Amarillo), Armstrong County (Claude), Donley County (Clarendon), Collingsworth County (Wellington), and Childress County (Childress).
Wednesday, July 15, I visited and photographed courthouses in Hall County (Memphis), Briscoe County (Silverton), Floyd County (Floydada), Motely County (Matador), and Cottle County (Paducah). I drove through Crowell and Vernon before ending my day in Wichita Falls.
Thursday, July 16, I revisited the Wichita County courthouse and then spent time in the Wichita County archives collecting documents on the architect Herbert Voelcker before driving south on US 281 and 183 to Austin.
Needless to say, I have many images to edit and 15 new county webpages to create. More blog posts to follow...
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!
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