Dickens County Courthouse, Dickens, Texas

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“The county was named for J. Dickens, who died at the Alamo. The broken terrain is surfaced by sandy, chocolate, and red soils. Croton and Duck creeks drain the county. The flat northwest part of Dickens County is above the Caprock on the Llano Estacado, and the rest, with rolling terrain, is below. The altitude over the county’s 931 square miles varies from 2,000 to 3,000 feet.”

“The Wanderers Who Make Bad Camps Band of the Comanches dominated the region before white settlement. The Comanches became fine horse-mounted warriors and hunters after they adapted their culture to the utilization of Spanish horses in the seventeenth century. The Comanche Indians hunted buffalo in summer and fall to provide most of their material needs. They met in an informal general assembly to decide the organization of their communal hunts, and war leaders made final decisions.” [Yes, that was really their name.]

“White hunters cleared the land of buffalo and wild horses in the 1870s, while Colonel Ranald S. MacKenzie‘s Fourth United States Cavalry subdued the Comanches in 1874 and 1875. MacKenzie’s base of operations against the Indians was located at Anderson’s Fort, also called Soldiers Mound, an army supply camp located near the site of present-day Spur. In 1876 the Texas state legislature formed Dickens County from land previously assigned to Bexar County.”

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“Until the first years of the twentieth century, settlers shunned the area because of its remoteness and slight rainfall. Instead of farms, huge cattle ranches (the Spur, Pitchfork, and Matador, took up most of the land. The Spur Ranch was started, for example, in 1878, with 1,900 head of cattle that Jim Hull drove from Refugio County. In 1880 only three homes, a schoolhouse, and twenty-eight people were in the county; most of the residents were apparently ranch hands.”

“[In 1891], the county was politically organized, with the town of Espuela (located on land belonging to the Espuela Land and Cattle Company, which now owned the Spur Ranch) initially designated as the county seat. Many of the settlers objected, however, because the Espuela Company refused to turn the townsite over to the county.”

“Of course, the underlying issue was whether the county and its government would exist for the benefit of the company or the nesters who were moving into the area in increasing numbers. The nesters commanded more votes, however, and in 1892 successfully forced an election to challenge the company on the issue. Dickens was subsequently chosen as the county seat, and by 1893 the town had a courthouse, a hotel, two stores, and a wagonyard.”

“By 1900, 197 farms and ranches had been established in the county, and the population had increased to 1,151. About 1,500 acres of county land was planted in corn, about 400 in cotton, and about 16 in wheat. Local farmers also raised poultry; 9,180 fowl of all kinds were counted in Dickens County that year by the United States agricultural census. Meanwhile, the cattle industry continued to dominate the local economy, as almost 58,750 cattle were counted in the county.”

“The Stamford and Northwestern Railway initiated service in 1909, thus ending the county’s isolation and encouraging marketing; that same year, Oran McClure began publishing the Texas Spur in Dickens for county-wide subscribers. By 1910 there were 349 farms and ranches in Dickens County, and the population had increased to 3,092.”

Windmills, a characteristic landscape feature throughout West Texas, provided water for thirsty livestock, cooling for various purposes, and irrigation for the garden. Several of Dickens County’s windmills became well known to county residents, including the Poison, where a nester had apparently tried to poison a cowboy; the John’s (1889), said to be the county’s first; and the Courthouse Windmills, which dominated the courthouse square from 1890 to 1935.”

“Between 1910 and 1930 the area developed rapidly, as thousands of new farmers moved into the county, encouraged by a cotton boom. Cotton farming took only 400 acres of county land in 1900, and only 5,481 as late as 1910; by 1920, however, a total of 35,494 acres was devoted to the crop, and by 1929 cotton cultivation in Dickens County had expanded to 95,525 acres. Production of cereal grains, especially sorghum, also increased during this period, and poultry production grew; in 1929 county farms raised more than 52,000 chickens and sold 158,773 dozen eggs.”

“Many local farmers suffered devastating losses during the depression years of the 1930s, however, and their hardships were aggravated by the intense drought of 1934 and the failure of livestock feed crops. Farmers and cattlemen applied for federal aid to feed cattle and hogs, or accepted twelve dollars each for sickly animals that were destroyed as unfit for marketing. Meanwhile, the cotton boom collapsed; by 1940, cotton was raised on only 49,364 acres.”

“Since the 1940s the mechanization of agriculture has combined with other factors (such as the severe droughts of the 1950s) to continue depopulating the area. After 1940 the county’s population dropped to 7,177 by 1950; to 4,963 by 1960; to 3,737 by 1970; and to 3,539 in 1980. In 1992, an estimated 2,571 people lived in Dickens County.” 

- Handbook of Texas Online, John J. Leffler, “Dickens County

I was the guest of Dickens and Dickens County on August 15, 2016.

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Dickens County Courthouse – 1893

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(Photo Courtesy: THC)

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(Photo Courtesy: Terry Jeanson)

When a courthouse built in 1893 is the only one its county has ever had, you can rest assured it was made of hearty stuff. The Dickens County Courthouse is no different. It was made from thick, tough, locally quarried stone and has certainly lasted the years. During its construction, its architect pitched in to dually serve as contractor too. His name was E.L. Aiken and he crafted this quant building in the Romanesque Revival style.

A nice excerpt from the Texas Historical Commission describes this courthouse best:

“Designed by E. L. Aiken, the Dickens County Courthouse was built in 1893 in the traditional quadrilateral form with intersecting halls defining county offices on the ground floor, and the county courtroom dominating the second floor. During construction, Aiken petitioned the Commissioners’ Court and received permission to build the stairway on the north end of the hallway instead of the south end of the hall as shown on the plans. The four elevations are of simple rock-faced masonry, quarried locally, with square windows and arched entries. The main entry on the west side is marked by a double arch and a recessed bay topped by a pediment. The north and south facades feature projecting ornamental balconies that shelter the entrances. On either side of these entrances a pair of chimneys once rose above the roofline. The building originally featured a molded cornice, hip-roofed pavilions with round finials, and a polygonal central tower that terminated with a domed cupola. The tower was removed and replaced with a flat roof and a featureless cornice in 1936. Additional changes made at this time include extending the east side of the building 20 feet, incorporating a basement into this addition for storage of county records, adding new doors and windows, painting the interior and exterior of the building and replacing the original wood and coal stoves with a new heating system. Other changes that have been made to the building include the installation of storm doors and windows, along with new central heating and cooling systems in 1960, the addition of a new vault to the county clerk’s office in 1962, and the recent removal of the non-original paint from the exterior walls.”

As mentioned above, the tower and molded cornice met their end in 1936. That year, the county elected to transition to a simple, flat, cement roof. Admittedly, there’s not a lot to it today. Nugget Construction Company, from Spur, was responsible for this major alteration.

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(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)

The addition of storm doors and windows and the installation of the courthouse’s central heating and cooling system were both done by an Abilene-based group called West Texas Utilities Company.

At some point in the history of the building, significant work was done to the foundation and the original ceilings were dropped.

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The Dickens County Courthouse’s main entrance, facing west on Montgomery Street
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A fairly empty Montgomery, as seen from the western side of the building
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The courthouse was under a serious restoration project when I arrived in Dickens. Usually, there would have been a fenced walkway leading up to this door.
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The power saws were buzzin’ while I walked around.
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DSC_1187This is the southern façade of the courthouse.
DSC_1186DSC_1191I didn’t see what this building was, but I imagine it’s either an AgriLife Extension Office or a county office of some kind. Comment if you know. It’s on the southern side of the courthouse lawn.
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Carrier air conditioning units line the building’s eastern side.
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Just your average courthouse propane tank…
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This is the Dickens County Annex, completed in 2014 (across Crow Street from its historic counterpart).
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A splash of color like this is pretty refreshing out here on the plains.
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This is the eastern (and normally rear) entrance. The truck there belongs to one of the restoration workers diligently laboring inside.
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It’s a hallmark of courthouses that desperately need restorations: a tangled hub of wires.
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The northeast corner
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Yeah, that restoration couldn’t have come sooner.
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The northern façade
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This entrance was “rocked in” during that same 1936 renovation that took the tower.
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Had there still been a door, this would have been the view from it. That’s 5th Street / Highway 114.
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The courthouse is looking pretty good from the northwest corner.
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Thanks to the THC, of course
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I love these windows.
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Restoration workers are hard at work to give this thing back its 1893 glow.
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Dickens

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On 4th Street. H.A.C. Brummett was apparently a well-known and ‘colorful’ lawyer in Dickens County for many years. The decades have weathered his office’s wooden beams and sprouted trees on either side where none existed before. It’s an interesting find.
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The Dickens County Jail and Sheriff’s Office
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Highway 114 (connecting Dickens with Crosbyton in the west and Guthrie in the east)

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Spur & Dickens County

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Self-explanatory

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