“The county is named after the Frio River, which flows northwest to southeast through the county. Pearsall, the county seat, is located on the Missouri Pacific Railroad fifty miles southwest of San Antonio and seventy miles east of the United States-Mexican border at Eagle Pass. Interstate Highway 35 passes north to south through the communities of Moore, Pearsall, and Dilley. The county’s center lies two miles southwest of downtown Pearsall, near 28°52′ north latitude and 99°07′ west longitude. Frio County forms a rectangle thirty-seven miles east and west and thirty miles north and south; it comprises 719,360 acres or 1,133 square miles.”
“Frenchman René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, who recorded his travels across the northwest corner of the county in 1685, was probably the first European to set foot in the future Frio County. Canadian Louis Juchereau de St. Denis traveled across the county in 1714 on the Old Presidio Road, a trail blazed by Domingo Terán de los Ríos in 1691. Martín de Alarcón traveled a path through the midsection of the county in 1718 on his way to establish San Antonio de Valero Mission.”
“Gen. Juan de Ugalde in the eighteenth century, Antonio López de Santa Anna in 1836, and Adrián Woll in 1842 are thought to have made camp near the Presidio Crossing in northeastern Frio County. The crossing was so named because of the numerous cannonballs, swords, and sabers reportedly found there. It was still in use in 1990.”
“Frio County was formed by the Texas legislature from parts of Atascosa, Bexar, and Uvalde counties on February 1, 1858, but was not organized until May 22, 1871. In the interim the county remained under the jurisdiction of Bexar County. In accordance with the 1871 legislative mandate the county seat was named Frio and located on the William Eastwood Rancho near the Presidio Road Crossing. This site was chosen because of the promise of irrigated farming offered by the Frio River, as well as the townsite’s proximity to the Presidio Road.”
“The decade between 1870 and 1880 was a period of rapid development. The county population rose dramatically from a reported 309 in 1870 to 2,130 in 1880.”
“Frio City developed as a “cowboy capital” and outpost cultural center of Southwest Texas during the 1870s; ranchers in the area controlled huge numbers of cattle on expansive landholdings. Other settlements developed at Bigfoot, Moore Hollow, Brummet, and Tehuacana in the northeastern part of the county; Bennett Settlement and Bishop Hollow in the southwestern part of the county; and Todos Santos in the western part of the county.”
“Fencing of range and pastureland and the arrival of the International-Great Northern Railroad in the early 1880s fostered the growth of what were to become Frio County’s major townships, changed its political make-up, structurally molded its transportation system, greatly altered its cattle industry, and added impetus to its embryonic farming industry. Established at fifteen mile intervals along the I-GN, the communities of Moore, Pearsall, and Dilley rapidly expanded beyond their original railroad depots and cattle-holding pens.”
“An attempt to choose a county seat closer to the center of the county than Frio City was defeated in September 1877. Six years later county voters approved making Pearsall the county seat by a vote of 227 to 81. The first term of the county commissioners’ court held in Pearsall began on August 27, 1883. During the summer of 1883 a general exodus from Frio City to Pearsall left the former with only five homes and two businesses. It was soon a ghost town.”
“In 1900 Frio County had 394 farms; by 1910 it had 918 farms and 100,122 acres of improved land. Livestock in 1910 totaled 34,213 cattle, 6,414 horses and mules, 5,666 sheep, and 2,911 goats. The major crops were cotton, hay and forage crops, and corn. Several thousand acres was planted with citrus and nut trees.”
“In 1929 most farm laborers in Frio County were Mexican migrant workers, who harvested cotton, spinach, and onions on a contract basis. Monthly laborers were paid from twenty-five to forty dollars, with houses furnished.”
“Cotton remained the county’s chief agricultural crop, with 52,018 acres under cultivation, or 62 percent of all cropland harvested in the county in 1930. The boll weevil infestation and the general economic collapse during the Great Depression reduced the cotton-farming to only 857 acres by 1940. In 1920 nineteen gins were operating in Frio County, but by 1942 no cotton was ginned there.”
“As early as 1930 N. H. Hunt, A&M county agent for Frio County from 1934 to 1958, promoted the cultivation of peanuts as a substitute for cotton. By 1970 peanuts were Frio County’s largest money crop; income from peanut culture was $5,776,900 and that from cattle was $3,276,000.”
“By 1970 small farms were no longer prevalent in Frio County. The use of expensive farm machinery had forced average farm acreage to expand to meet the payments necessary to operate profitable farms. The 73,884 acres of harvested cropland included 30,076 planted in sorghum, 17,596 in peanuts, and 10,208 in melons and vegetables. In 1982 the county produced more than 23,262 tons of watermelons; Frio County was thus the top producer in Texas at that time.”
“Oil reserves in Frio County were first exploited around 1930 by the Amerada Petroleum Corporation; by 1936 Amerada had more than 85,000 acres leased for oil exploration.”
“In 1989 agribusiness and the oil business remained the dominant economic enterprises in the county. Farmers and ranchers of Frio County made $41,705,000 in 1989. The leading products were peanuts, $17,465,000; beef cattle, $9,848,000; vegetables (mainly Irish potatoes and spinach), $5,076,000; cotton, $2,100,000; and hogs, $1,133,000. Hunting grossed $1,740,000.”
“Despite a small decline in recent years Frio County has seen an overall growth in population over the past half century. Between 1940 and 1980 the number of residents increased from 9,207 to 13,785. During the 1980s, however, the area’s population showed a modest drop, and in 1990 the number of inhabitants was 13,472.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Ruben E. Ochoa, “Frio County“
I was the guest of Pearsall, Frio Town, and Frio County on August 13, 2014.
Frio County Courthouse – 1878 (Frio City)
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
The stories of abandoned courthouses are often the best. The tales of by-gone eras, where cities that barely remain today once flourished proudly with a courthouse at the center of all attention, are just fascinating to me. “Frio City”, once a popular “cultural center” on the South Texas plains, was one of them and went through two major changes in its time.
The first was the International-Great Northern Railroad’s arrival in Frio County. Headed southwest for Laredo, the line didn’t pass through Frio City, and chose instead to route itself through some of the county’s younger settlements farther to the southeast (like Pearsall and Dilley). This brought a crippling effect to Frio City, as the newer towns grew and began thriving. Eventually, Pearsall was named the new county seat, and Frio City lost everything it had.
As it began drying up, it’s understandable why the second large change happened: the name switched from Frio City to Frio Town.
This new ghost town was left with five homes, two businesses, a cemetery, jail, and courthouse in 1883. In the days since Pearsall has been county seat, this is the most Frio Town has ever thrived. The transition into the twentieth century would only bring more harrowing blows to the community.
Today, all that remains of Frio Town is the public cemetery (on one side of the road), and the ruined remains of the courthouse on private property (on the other side of the road). Sometime in the 1900s, after Frio Town had just about disappeared, the land was acquired by the Slaughter family, (a major area rancher since the time of Frio Town’s heyday). I understand that today is it owned by the Roberts family.
The image you see of the courthouse above is a complete photograph, meaning that all four walls are standing. These are hard to come by. There’s one other I’ve seen online, but the quality is not great, so I won’t include it. Beyond these two, there is only one more that I know of…and that’s because I saw it in person.
(Special Thanks to Mrs. Angie Tullis, Frio County Clerk)
Mrs. Tullis allowed me to photograph this photograph, which hangs in her office in the current Frio County courthouse. She said that one of the county’s late judges had been fascinated with the courthouse and photographed it some years ago. Then, as a gift, she’d received it years later. I love this photo because of the gas pump out front. It just goes to show that Frio Town hadn’t completely died yet when this was taken.
The courthouse, architect unknown, was aided in construction by local rancher W.J. Slaughter. This is, believe it or not, Frio County’s third courthouse. Frio Town had two more before this one, but they burned.
Thankfully, this one hasn’t burned…but I’m not sure the fate it’s received is preferable. As of August 2014, the 1878 courthouse sits in crumbling ruins sixteen miles northwest of Pearsall in an overgrown field. It’s like a massive tombstone, rising from a sea of mesquite as the only reminder of what had once been Frio Town.
And it would seem they’ve had problems with trespassers before. A large tree trunk was dragged in front of what looks like once could have been a private road with accessibility to the courthouse.
Unfortunately, the closest I could get to the 1878 courthouse was the highway. But, at least it’s visible without trespassing.
Frio County Courthouse – 1904 (Pearsall)
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
Designed in the Renaissance Revival style by Henry T. Phelps, and constructed by R.O. Langworthy, this building originally contained a slate roof (which was removed 1911). Its third floor, bell tower, and hipped roof were all removed in the 1930s. Another major renovation came in 1950.
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
Here’s how it looked in 1939.
Frio Town, Bigfoot, & Frio County
CR 140, en route to Frio Town
The Slaughter Family, one of the area’s earliest groups of settlers
Bigfoot, Texas anyway…
This little town even boasts a museum!
Previous Courthouse: La Salle County
Next Courthouse: Nueces County