COUNTY COURTHOUSE Recorded
Texas Historic Landmark
County Seat - Clarendon,
The oldest functioning courthouse in the Texas
S. Sully Street
by Lou Ann Herda
courtesy Rhonda Aveni|
|The Present Donley
County Courthouse - Clarendon,
Date - 1890
Architect - Bulger and Rapp
Style - Romanesque
Material - Brick and stone
you're like me, when you hear the name Texas
Panhandle, you probably think blue northers and the Palo
Duro Canyon. It gets cold, cold in the Panhandle
where there's hardly anything but barbed
wire fence to keep out the brisk Arctic wind in the winter.
County is one of the squared counties located in the Panhandle.
Formerly the domain of Plains Apaches and later the Comanches and Kiowas, this
region was once overrun with buffalo
until White men settled in the latter 1870s. Many battles ensued between the tribes
and the Whites, including the decisive Red River War of 1874-75. Thereafter, the
Indians were put on reservations in Indian Territory, and the buffalo
were slaughtered. With the buffalo
gone, vast cattle ranches
could be established.
about when Methodist preacher Lewis Carhart established "Saints Roost" up in those
parts. Actually, Carhart called his no-liquor, no-gambling Christian colony "Clarendon"
after his wife, Clara. But local rowdies gave it its nickname since they weren't
allowed to be rowdy there. Carhart's motto, "Christianity, Education, Temperance,
Civilization - Westward," set high expectations for the townspeople. Nevertheless,
a saloon and dance hall were going to be erected by some outsiders at one point.
This didn't set well with several local cowboys, who offered to scalp them if
they didn't leave. It took legendary cattle driver Charles
Goodnight to persuade the business owners to pack up and leave. He gave them
ten hours to go, and, by golly, they were gone before that. By the early 1880s,
was one of only three towns in the Panhandle.
Saints Roost is now like Atlantis, under water (the Greenbelt Reservoir, to be
has been the county seat since 1882.
the August 2, 1879, edition of the Clarendon News, which claimed that there
was to be "no whisky forever in Clarendon,"
made comment on the Sunday law. This so-called law extended between the hours
of midnight on Saturday until midnight on Sunday, during which time no shopping
or trading was allowed. It appears that a drought had laid siege on the land and
that "to many old guzzlers, it seem[ed] an eternity between drinks." I guess they
were guzzling lemonade since whisky wasn't allowed.*
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County is named for Stockton P. Donley, skilled criminal lawyer and elected Texas
Supreme Court Judge. He didn't live in the Panhandle,
but he's said to have been as clever an attorney as Patrick "give me liberty,
or give me death" Henry. Donley County, created in 1876, was also cattle country,
with the JA Ranch (established that year by Goodnight
and John Adair), the RO Ranch, and Carhart's Quarter Circle Heart Ranch covering
most of the area.
Donley County Courthouse, complete with tower and turret. |
Photo courtesy THC
1890 Donley County CourthouseThe
Romanesque Revival stone and brick courthouse is the third temple of justice
for the county. The stone base was supposedly taken from the previous courthouse,
which was a two-story stone edifice. Colorado architects C. H. Bulger and
Isaac Rapp had designed the current building to have a tower in the northeast
corner, a conical turret roof over the stair in the southeast corner, and other
decorative roof elements.
The original roof had had its share of problems.
It was initially sheathed with pressed metal shingles which shed water poorly.
That led to damage to the interior structure. The entire third floor and the roof
were removed and replaced between 1936-37.
County Courthouse as it appeared in 1939|
Photo courtesy TXDoT
courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/|
County Courthouse today (after 2002 restoration) |
Photo courtesy Rhonda Aveni
glass windows in arched openings still remain as hints of its Victorian era roots.
Columns with alternating courses of smooth and textured stones support the arches
of the tower base. The building itself is very imposing, situated next to the
modern courthouse annex that doesn't match it at all. A ranch house would be more
fitting out in these parts, but since Clarendon
was dubbed "the Athens of the Panhandle," having a fancy Romanesque courthouse
would make some sense. (Wait. Wouldn't a Greek Revival courthouse make even more
One of the most famous cases to be tried here was in November
1909 when G.R. Miller was sentenced to die for murdering two young men. He was
hanged from the brand new scaffold several blocks from the courthouse in what
was to be the last legal hanging in the Panhandle.
I guess you can say that they built the scaffold especially for him.
courthouse is undergoing renovation, courtesy of the Texas Historic Courthouse
Preservation Program. The word from the current judge's office is that the courthouse
will look like it did when it was first built, if not better. Completion date
is set for November 2002.
Copyright Lou Ann Herda
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front of the courthouse facing S. Sully St. Part of the restoration included the
reconstruction of the third story of the two front towers." - Terry
The Restored 1890 Donley County CourthousePhotos
& Captions courtesy Terry
Jeanson, September 2007
side of the courthouse facing W. Third St. A major undertaking of the restoration
included updating antiquated plumbing and electrical systems and making the building
more accessible. Large cracks in the brick and stone have been repaired along
with the sections of mortar that had deteriorated and sections of the cornice
which had fallen off. Holes in the exterior had led to a major bat problem in
restored corner tower|
back facing S. Jefferson St. A breezeway separates the small back section from
the courthouse main."|
of front entrance from the staircase.|
inside the front entrance. The stairs lead up and turn into the left corner tower
on the front side of the courthouse as evidenced by the stair-step windows on
the front of the building."|
|"The second floor
district courtroom spans the building. A painting of the county's namesake, Stockton
P. Donley, is displayed at the rear of the courtroom."|
stained glass in the front central window. Private donations and the generosity
of county citizens made it possible to restore many things that the grant money
from the Texas Historical Commission did not cover."|
floor hallway. From what I've read, the pressed metal ceiling was not an original
feature of the courthouse and was added about ten years after it was built."
|"The Donley County
courthouse historical marker has been updated to include the information about
the restoration which was completed in 2003." - Terry
by the architectural firm of Bulger and Rapp, and built by Troutman Brothers Contractors,
both of Trinidad, Colorado, this distinctive public building opened in November
1891. The original Romanesque Revival design included prominent towers, contrasting
red brick and quarried limestone, and complex projecting elements. Work in the
1930s resulted in removal of the entire third floor, as well as many architectural
details. The county restored the courthouse to its original splendor and rededicated
it on July 4, 2003. Today, it is the oldest functioning courthouse in the Texas
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark