Howard County Courthouse, Big Spring, Texas

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“Howard County, on the High Plains of West Texas eighty miles west of Abilene, is bordered by Glasscock, Martin, Dawson, Borden, Scurry, and Sterling counties. It lies at the eastern tip of the Permian Basin and at the foot of the escarpment marking the beginning of the Edwards Plateau, which extends 200 miles to the south.”

“The county comprises 901 square miles and is drained by the North Concho River and Morgan and Wild Horse creeks.”

“From an early period Big Spring, on Sulphur Draw, had been a favored watering place for Skidi Pawnees and Quahadi Comanches, who fought for its possession and for the herds of buffalo and antelope that wintered there. The spring, now dry, long provided the only reliable source of water within 100 miles.”

“Capt. Randolph B. Marcy of the United States Army described the area in 1849, but it remained unsettled until after the Civil War. The first known settler to have come to the region was William Travis Roberts, who moved from Georgetown, Texas, in 1870 and settled at Moss Spring, twelve miles southeast of Big Spring. When the spring site was bought by Will Wardell and Frank Biler, Roberts moved his headquarters a mile and a half up the draw, dug the first well in the county, and built a dugout to live in. Until the coming of the Texas and Pacific in 1881, Brownwood was the supply point for settlers and mail was brought from Fort Concho.”

“The Wolcott Ranch is said to have installed the first of many windmills in the county. Other early settlers were L. F. McKay, who installed the pumping equipment for the railroad and remained to become a citizen of the county, and the Earl of Aylesford, who bought 37,000 acres of land in the county in 1883 and built the first permanent structure in Big Spring.”

“Howard County was formed from Bexar County on August 21, 1876, and named for Volney Erskine Howard, a United States congressman from Texas in the 1840s and 1850s. It was attached to Mitchell County in 1881 for legal administration, then organized in 1882. Big Spring was designated as county seat. For a time Howard County was responsible for the legal administration of Lynn, Terry, Yoakum, Dawson, Cochran, Gaines, Andrews, Borden, and Martin counties.”

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“Construction of the Texas and Pacific Railway in 1881 benefited Howard County and particularly Big Spring, where a railroad-maintenance shop provided a stable payroll. The arrival of the railroad also spurred the growth of Big Spring into a major trading center. The town became an important shipping point for livestock and produce, and a supply point for an area extending from Lovington, New Mexico, to the Big Lake country in Reagan County and northward to ranches in the Post and Lubbock area.”

“In 1881 the railroad commissioned J. B. D. Boydstun to establish an agricultural experiment farm. He planted fruit trees, tomatoes, and melons and tried cotton in 1883. His first modest cotton crop had to be shipped to Sweetwater for ginning. Encouraged by Boydstun’s successes and offers of inexpensive land, numerous new settlers moved to Howard County to try farming. During the 1880s and 1890s the population grew rapidly.”

“In 1880 the entire county had a population of only fifty; by 1900 the number of residents had increased to 2,525. Among the county’s notable residents in its early years was Harvey Wallace Caylor, who in 1893 moved to Big Spring, where he painted portraits and western scenes and wrote for western magazines.”

“The rise of farming eventually brought to an end the glory years of the great ranches. C. C. Slaughter’s Long S Ranch, second in size only to the XIT Ranch in West Texas, at one time included a large part of Howard, Dawson, Borden, and Marion counties. But droughts, falling prices for cattle, and rising land costs forced many cattlemen to sell out. By 1919 Slaughter’s holdings were down to 500,000 acres and the great ranch era was ending.”

“During the 1920s a new sector of the economy opened-oil. Small surface pools of crude were noted in the area as early as 1880, but the first test drilling in 1886 was disappointing. In 1919 and 1920 S. E. J. Cox set off a speculative boom after he encouraged investors to put up money for land. His efforts, however, resulted in no producing wells, and in 1923 Cox, along with his famous employer, the polar explorer Dr. Frederick A. Cook, were convicted of oil-land fraud. In 1925, however, oil was discovered in the Howard-Glasscock field; on April 18, 1926, the well Otis Chalk No. 1 came in, and the real boom was on.”

“The discovery ushered in a new phase in Howard County history. Wildcatters, speculators, and others lured by the prospect of easy money flooded the county. Between 1920 and 1930 the population grew more than threefold, from 6,962 to 22,888, and the county had unprecedented prosperity.”

“Although Howard County, like other Texas counties, suffered during the depression, oil partly mollified the situation. The increased demand for oil during World War II helped to spur the recovery of the economy, as did the establishment of Big Spring Army Air Force Bombardier School. The base, which was closed after the war, reopened in 1952 during the Korean War as Webb Air Force Base and continued to operate until it was closed for good in the 1970s.”

“Other significant industries include oil and gas production, petrochemicals, and clothing and other light manufacturing. Major employers include Howard College in Big Spring, Big Spring Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and a federal prison.”

“After World War II the population of Howard County increased from 26,722 in 1950 to 40,139 in 1960; the largest rise was in the number of Mexican Americans, whose presence steadily mounted after 1950. But despite the continuing influx of Hispanics, the county population declined, as numerous younger residents moved to larger cities. In 2014 the population was 35,651. Of those, 52 percent were Anglo, 7 percent African American, and 39.4 percent Hispanic. The largest communities in 2014 were Big Spring (28,339), Coahoma (846), and Forsan (223). Area attractions include Big Spring State Recreation Area, Comanche Trail Park, Moss Creek Reservoir, and the annual rodeo and rattlesnake roundup.”

- Handbook of Texas Online, Christopher Long, “Howard County

I was the guest of Big Spring and Howard County on July 5, 2015.

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Howard County Courthouse – 1884

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(Photo Courtesy: THC)

I can’t tell you anything about this courthouse except that a man named J.H. Milliken built it and it was condemned in 1907. What a shame.

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Howard County Courthouse – 1908

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Otto Lang of the Dallas firm Lang & Witchell is credited with this Classical Revival courthouse. It was made of red sandstone and completed even before Big Spring’s streets were. Construction work was provided by L.B. Westerman.

It was demolished in the 1950s, but a Mr. Simon Terazzas reportedly bought the structure’s stones and used to them to build a home on the southwest side of town. It’s claimed to still stand, but I can’t confirm.

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Howard County Courthouse – 1953

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(Photo Courtesy: THC)

Made from brick, concrete, and tile, this modern courthouse was brought to life by the firm Puckett & French. A Big Spring resident describes it as “soviet-style”. I’ll let you be the judge of that.

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The Howard County Courthouse of today faces southeast on 4th Street. This is the rear entrance.

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A densely covered eastern corner

DSC_4650This is the northeastern façade, facing Main Street.

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It sports Howard County’s Veterans Memorial.

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DSC_4665The courthouse’s main façade is much more shaded than its backdoor counterpart. This side faces slightly northwest on 3rd Street.

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The view from the main doors

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DSC_4678Scurry Street’s entrance faces slightly southwest.

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This is the southwest corner; the Hotel Settles looms in the background.

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DSC_4687This is the smooth and sleek southeast entrance.
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DSC_46673rd Street, Downtown Big Spring
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Scenes from Downtown
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Near the courthouse is the historic Hotel Settles, a once-thriving establishment that was started with Big Oil money in the Thirties. Wouldn’t you know it that architect David S. Castle was behind this one? Unfortunately, it closed its doors in 1982 after the strain of the late 70s West Texas oil bust, but was purchased G. Brint Ryan in 2006. It then underwent a subsequent, remarkable, and extensive renovation project. Today it serves as Big Spring’s single luxury hotel. You can make reservations and/or learn more about it: here. Its story is a truly fascinating, but seldom heard, one of architectural rebirth out this way.
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Just off of Highway 87, on the southern side of town
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One of the area’s major employers is the massive VA hospital in southern Big Spring.
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But oil and natural gas haven’t gone anywhere either.

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Previous Courthouse: Glasscock County

Next Courthouse: Mitchell County

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