“The county was named for John Hemphill. It comprises 904 square miles of rolling plains and rugged terrain, broken by two major rivers and dozens of creeks. The Canadian River flows easterly across the north central part of the county, and the Washita River flows west to east across the southern part. Red Deer Creek is the major tributary of the Canadian in the county; Gageby Creek is the largest county tributary of the Washita.”
“The Long expedition, an American venture, certainly crossed the county in 1820, as did Josiah Gregg in 1839. Capt. Randolph B. Marcysurveyed several routes to California in 1849, including one that crossed Hemphill County along the divide between the Canadian and Washita rivers. During the 1870s buffalo hunters entered the Panhandle, and by 1878 the last of the great southern herd had been killed.”
“At the same time, the Indians were crushed and moved to reservations in Indian Territory. In the Red River War of 1873–74 the United States Army defeated the Comanches and Kiowas in their Panhandle refuge. Several military encounters occurred in Hemphill County, including the famous Buffalo Wallow Fight, which took place in the southern part of the county on September 12, 1874. The defeated Indians were forced into Indian Territory in 1875 and 1876.”
“The era of open-range ranching began in Hemphill County even before the end of the buffalo. In 1875, A. G. Springer established a temporary ranch in the eastern part of the county, and a handful of other settlers followed in 1876 and 1877. Hemphill County was formed by the Texas legislature in 1876. Investors began to purchase lands in the county for large-scale ranching during the late 1870s, when the Cresswell Ranch, headquartered in Roberts County, came to occupy much of western Hemphill County.”
“But the sale of school lands and state lands, begun in the mid-1880s, coupled with the terrible winter of 1886, spelled the end of the open range. By the late 1880s stock farmers and smaller ranchers began to take over the range. The early 1890s saw a county covered with smaller, privately owned and fenced ranching operations in place of the unfenced, public-domain, free-range empires. The arrival of the railroad also had much to do with this transformation.”
“The Southern Kansas Railway Company, a Santa Fe subsidiary, began to build a line into the Panhandle in 1886. The tracks crossed Hemphill County during 1887 and reached the town of Panhandle in 1888. The railroad allowed easier access to the outside world and encouraged settlement in the area. It also spawned three townsites, Mendota, Canadian, and Glazier.”
“The arrival of the railroad and the founding of Canadian led to the establishment of county government. Hemphill County was attached to Wheeler County for administrative purposes until 1887, when a petition for organization was circulated. An organizational election was held in July of that year, and Canadian was made county seat. Though Hemphill County developed steadily during the late nineteenth century, in 1900 it remained an isolated ranching area. The number of ranches grew from forty-two in 1890 to seventy-six in 1900; during the same period the population increased from 519 to 815.”
“The area’s economy began to diversify after 1900, partly because of the expansion of the local railroad industry. When Canadian became a railroad division point in 1907, a great deal of railroad construction and employment followed; the situation lasted until 1922, when the division point was moved eastward to Oklahoma. Farmers also began to arrive after 1900 and take up the level, tillable land. The number of farms and ranches in the county grew from 76 in 1900 to 249 in 1910, 328 in 1920, and 401 in 1930.”
“A boundary dispute involving Hemphill County arose in the 1920s. As a result, a United States Supreme Court decision in 1930 led to the relocation of the 100th meridian, the eastern border of the Panhandle, approximately 3,700 feet to the east. This strip, 132 miles long, expanded Lipscomb, Wheeler, Hemphill, Collingsworth, and Childress counties at the expense of Harmon, Ellis, Beckham, and Roger Mills counties in Oklahoma.”
“By 1930 crops were grown on 86,000 acres in Hemphill County. Meanwhile, the cattle industry remained vital to the local economy; in 1930 the agricultural census counted over 55,000 cattle in the county. Poultry was also beginning to become significant; by 1930 almost 28,000 chickens were counted on local farms, and that year the county’s farmers sold more than 137,300 dozen eggs. As the county’s economy grew and diversified, its population increased, from 3,170 in 1910 to 4,280 in 1920 and 4,637 in 1930.”
“Growth was stifled in the 1930s, however, when the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl wiped out many local farmers. Cotton acreage dropped by more than 50 percent, to only about 6,900 acres in 1940. Overall, farm acres dropped from 674,104 to 529,786, and the number of farms dropped to 349. Hundreds of people left the county, and the population declined to 4,170 by 1940. Subsequently, between the 1940s and the 1970s, the mechanization of agriculture combined with other factors to depopulate the area further. The population of Hemphill County dropped to 4,123 by 1950, 3,185 by 1960, and 3,084 by 1970. During the 1970s, however, the county grew, thanks to a rapid expansion of oil production.”
“Though oil was discovered in the county in 1955, production remained relatively small for several years; in 1960, for example, it was about 413,200 barrels. But it reached almost 999,000 barrels in 1974 and more than 1,891,000 barrels in 1978. Meanwhile, the county population grew to 5,304 by 1980. Oil production dropped to about 1,414,000 barrels by 1982, however, and to about 726,000 barrels by 1990. In 2000 about 505,000 barrels of oil and more than 8 billion cubic feet of natural gas were produced in the county.”
“In 2002 the county had 239 farms and ranches covering 546,373 acres, 85 percent of which were devoted to pasture and 15 percent to crops. In that year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $92,490,000; livestock sales accounted for $92,027,000 of the total. Fed beef and stocker cattle were the most important elements of the county’s agricultural economy. Crops included wheat, sorghum, and hay.”
“Most of the people in Hemphill County live in Canadian (2000 population, 2,233); Glazier, the county’s only other town, had forty-eight residents in 2000. The rest of the population lives on farms and ranches.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Donald R. Abbe, “Hemphill County”
I was the guest of Canadian and Hemphill County on May 30 & 31, 2014.
Hemphill County Courthouse – 1909
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
For the twenty-two years between county organization (1887) and a second courthouse’s construction (1909), a less spacious building was utilized. With no readily available surviving photos, we can’t be sure what it looked like, but I’d assume it was a wooden frame, two story edifice that lacked any distinguishable characteristics. I could be wrong, but the architectural trends of that time period would point to me being correct.
In 1890, St. Louis architect Robert G. Kirsch was employed by Hemphill County to construct a jail in downtown Canadian. His two-story, red brick design is currently the oldest public building in the county and served until 1982.
Nineteen years later, Kirsch was called back to design a new courthouse. Drawing on clear influences from the jail building he’d crafted, he presented commissioners with a three-story, red brick, Italianate courthouse plan that included a commanding tower over the main façade. Kirsch’s work was accepted and the county paid $31,278 for their new court building. Gillcoat & Skinner served as the original contractors.
A 1964 renovation replaced the original doors and windows with metal variants, a second in 1982 saw the advent of a new jail building, and a full scale restoration in 2011 brought new life to the courthouse. When I arrived in 2014, the interior was still undergoing that same project.
Rounding a bluff into the Canadian River Valley and the city that bears its name
The commanding presence of the Hemphill County Courthouse faces northeast on Main Street.
The courthouse interior, as viewed through the northeast doors
The eastern façade and parking lot, on 5th Street
A large annex and jail complex (1982) sits to the southeast of the courthouse.
The annex’s main entrance, on Purcell Avenue
Two unique buildings
Both the historic courthouse and jail can be seen from the annex’s handicap ramp.
Built in 1890, the jail is the oldest public building in Hemphill County.
The courthouse’s northwest façade, as seen from 4th Street
Main Street, as seen from the courthouse’s main doors
A very impressive veterans memorial stands on the northern corner of the lawn.
Canadian & Hemphill County
Main Street, Downtown Canadian
The road ‘dead-ends’ into the Canadian Depot.
Two colorful train murals cover the overhead doors.
On one side of the depot is Canadian City Hall…
…and on the other is the Canadian Fire Department.
On the way out of town, one might spy “Aud”, a metal dinosaur sculpture created by a local man. His purpose for it was to give local children a landmark to symbolize they were getting close to home. Only in Texas.
Previous Courthouse: Lipscomb County
Next Courthouse: Roberts County