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Donley  County
Donley County

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Texas | Architecture | Courthouses

County Seat - Clarendon, Texas
Donley County

Recorded Texas Historic Landmark
The oldest functioning courthouse in the Texas Panhandle

300 S. Sully Street

by Lou Ann Herda

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Clarendon TX - Restored 1890 Donley County Courthouse
Donley County Courthouse (after 2002 restoration)
Photo courtesy Rhonda Aveni

The Present Donley County Courthouse
- Clarendon, Texas

Date - 1890
Architect - Bulger and Rapp
Style - Romanesque revival
Material - Brick and stone

If 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.

Donley 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.

This is 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, Clarendon was one of only three towns in the Panhandle. Saints Roost is now like Atlantis, under water (the Greenbelt Reservoir, to be exact). Clarendon has been the county seat since 1882.

Incidentally, 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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Donley County

Donley 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.
Clarendon TX - 1890 Donley County Courthouse. original condition, old photo
1890 Donley County Courthouse, complete with tower and turret.
Photo courtesy THC

The 1890 Donley County Courthouse

The 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.
Clarendon TX - 1890 Donley County Courthouse 1939 photo
Donley County Courthouse as it appeared in 1939
Photo courtesy TXDoT
Clarendon TX - Donley County Courthouse, after 1936-37 alteration, old photo
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/

Stained 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 sense?)

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.

The 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.

February, 2002
Copyright Lou Ann Herda

Clarendon TX -  Restored 1890 Donley County Courthouse in snow
Photo courtesy Rhonda Aveni
The Restored 1890 Donley County Courthouse
Photos & Captions courtesy Terry Jeanson, September 2007
Clarendon TX - Restored Donley County Courthouse
"The 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 Jeanson
"The 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 the attic."
Clarendon TX - Restored Donley County Courthouse Tower
The restored corner tower
Clarendon TX - Restored Donley County Courthouse back view
"Courthouse back facing S. Jefferson St. A breezeway separates the small back section from the courthouse main."
Clarendon TX - Restored Donley County Courthouse interior front entrance
View of front entrance from the staircase.
Clarendon TX - Restored Donley County Courthouse staircase
"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."
Clarendon TX - Restored Donley County Courthouse district courtroom
"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."
Clarendon TX - Restored Donley County Courthouse stained glass
"The 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."
Donley County Courthouse TX Press Tin Ceiling
"First 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."

Clarendon TX - Donley County Courthouse historical marker
"The Donley County courthouse historical marker has been updated to include the information about the restoration which was completed in 2003." - Terry Jeanson
Historical Marker Text
Donley County Courthouse
Designed 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 Panhandle.
Recorded Texas Historic Landmark

Clarendon TX - Donley County Courthouse cornerstone
1890 Donley County Courthouse cornerstone
Photo courtesy - Terry Jeanson, September 2007
More Texas Cornerstones

*History of Donley County, 1990
Thanks to Rhonda Aveni, secretary to County Judge Jack Hall, for gathering the information for me and for being available when I came through town. - Lou Ann Herda
References and Additional Reading

See Clarendon, Texas
Donley County
More Texas Courthouses
Texas Historic Preservation

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