Kent County Courthouse, Jayton, Texas

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“Kent County, in West Texas, is bounded on the north by Dickens County, on the west by Garza County, on the east by Stonewall County, and on the south by Scurry and Fisher counties. It comprises 878 square miles of rolling, broken terrain, part prairie and part mesquite woodland, drained by the Salt and Double Mountain forks of the Brazos River.”

“Comanches of the Wanderers band dominated the area in more modern times; they were a people even more restless and wide-ranging than the other Comanches, who flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as mounted hunters and raiders.”

“In 1872 Ranald S. Mackenzie and his soldiers routed the Comanches at Treasure Butte, southeast of Clairemont. Treasure Butte is also famous as the supposed site of Mexican treasure, but seekers of it have not yet been rewarded. When the buffalo were locally exterminated and the Indians removed, the country was opened to settlement.”

“Kent County was marked off in 1876 from Bexar and Young counties and named for Andrew Kent, one of the so-called “Immortal Thirty-two” from Gonzales, who became immortal by dying at the Alamo (some scholars question that the number was thirty-two, or that they were all from Gonzales). Until Kent County was organized, Scurry County assumed the duties of judicial administration.”

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“Cattleman R. L. Rhomberg settled in Kent County in 1888 and named a midcounty settlement Clairemont for his daughter, Claire. The county did not attract many settlers. In 1890 the census counted only 324 residents, scattered over forty-eight farms and ranches. Almost 4,200 cattle were counted in Kent County that year, but farming of the four major county crops (corn, oats, wheat, and cotton) occupied less than 500 acres total.”

“Kent County was organized in 1892 with Clairemont as the county seat, and settlement accelerated. By 1900, 899 people lived in the county and 134 farms and ranches had been established. Oats (3,330 acres) and corn (1,069 acres) were the county’s most popular crops, but the cattle business continued to dominate the economy; almost 29,600 cattle were counted in Kent County that year. In 1909 the Stamford and Northeastern Railway built a line across the county’s northeast corner.”

“As the railroad encouraged the settlement of Swedes and others, Jayton was founded in the eastern part of the county in 1909. By 1910 Kent County included 326 farms, and the county population had reached 2,655.”

“The county continued to grow during the 1920s. In 1920, it had 412 farms and 3,335 residents; by 1930 the farms numbered 588 and residents 3,851. Like other West Texas counties during these years, Kent County became less dominated by the cattle industry and more focused on crop production. In 1920 the census counted fewer than 18,000 cattle, while cotton, the most important crop, was planted on 19,410 acres; and more than 7,200 acres was planted in corn and wheat that year.”

“Unlike some nearby counties, Kent County never really recovered from the agricultural decline brought on by the Great Depression and the subsequent disenchantment with dry-land farming. By 1950, only 2,249 people lived in the county.”

“Fortunately, petroleum production helped to balance the economy after World War II. Oil was first discovered in Kent County in 1946, and production was 17,944 barrels in 1948; it rose to 6,007,000 barrels in 1956, then dropped during the early 1960s before rising again.”

“The population dropped to 1,727 in 1960, 1,434 in 1970, 1,145 in 1980, and 1,010 in 1990. Jayton became the county seat in 1954, after a two-year political struggle. Clairemont’s growth had long been retarded by lack of rail service, and after 1954 the town was largely abandoned. As of 2014, 785 people lived in the county.”

“Jayton (population, 516) has more than half of the county’s residents. Girard, Clairemont, and Polar are other communities. The county’s highway network includes State highways 70 and 208 (north to south) and U.S. Highway 380 (west to east). Hunters are attracted to the area, and tourists visit the scenic Croton Breaks nearby in Dickens County.”

- Handbook of Texas Online, William R. Hunt, “Kent County

I was the guest of Jayton and Kent County on July 28, 2013, and I returned to rephotograph the courthouse on August 15, 2016.

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Kent County Courthouse – 1893 (Clairemont)

“The site was established as the county seat on land owned by R. L. Rhomberg when Kent County was organized in 1892. The town was named for Claire Becker, a relative of Rhomberg.”

“A courthouse and jail were constructed from local red sandstone and completed in 1895. By that time the town had several stores, a bank, a newspaper, and a hotel.”

“The population, a reported 150 during the 1930s and 1940s, grew to 300 in the 1950s, when the town’s five businesses indicated a small-scale oil boom.”

“The lack of an adequate water source, declining cotton prices, and the removal of local oil camps, however, forecast an end to prosperity. After a two-year court battle Jayton became county seat in 1954. Loss of the county offices and consolidation with the Jayton schools in the 1950s caused a rapid decline.”

“The Clairemont courthouse burned shortly after the records were transferred to Jayton, and only the bottom story was preserved.”

“In 1990 and 2000 the population of Clairemont was recorded as fifteen.”

Handbook of Texas Online, Charles G. Davis, “Clairemont, TX

I was the guest of Clairemont on August 15, 2016.

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 (Photo Courtesy: THC)

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(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)

Made from red sandstone surely quarried at a nearby fork of the Brazos, this impressive Italianate courthouse was a stark landmark jutting up for miles among the barren plains of early Kent County. It was designed by notable firm Martin, Byrne, and Johnston, who were also responsible for Mitchell County’s earliest courthouse. Claremont’s was virtually a replica of that structure, except Mitchell County employed bricks and Kent County used sandstone in construction. Also, at some point, the tower of the Clairemont version was removed.

As Clairemont experienced its sad, gradual descent towards obscurity, pressure rose to move the county seat to Jayton. After two years of political fighting, that change came in 1954. After a successful election to move the seat, county records were promptly removed from this building and hauled away. Shortly after, on April 12, 1955, a blaze struck the Clairemont courthouse and destroyed its roof and second floor. Only later was the county able to salvage the first floor.

Standing at one story only, a new, metal roof was built over the courthouse where the second floor had once stood. For several years beyond that point, the lonely structure was used as a community center. However, as the population of Clairemont dwindled, and Jayton assumed more than half of all residents of Kent County, I’m assuming its use became infrequent if not nigh on defunct. That’s my own speculation, anyway.

Remarkably, it still stands. Of course, I had to go and see it for myself.

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Settlers named this the Salt Fork of the Brazos (see if you can tell why).
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Here it is: all that’s left of the Clairemont courthouse.
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“Downtown”‘ Clairemont, viewed from the front doors
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Highway 380
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Years alone out here has brought the courthouse its fair share of carvings and graffiti.
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You can tell from the eastern façade that the original courthouse couldn’t have been very wide.
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Looking northeast
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The northern entrance
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The courthouse is, quite literally, falling apart.
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Here’s the view from the northern entrance. In the distance are the rugged plains between Clairemont and Dickens County.
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Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 3.13.18 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-21 at 3.14.11 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-21 at 3.14.36 PMScreen Shot 2016-08-21 at 3.14.54 PMDSC_0990Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 3.13.51 PMDSC_0988Its empty halls speak to the hollow memory of what this building once was. Such is the sad tale of so many of its contemporaries that dot the unrelenting Texas plains.
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Along the courthouse’s western side
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I wonder if whoever parked this here knew that it’d be the last time it ever ran?
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Here’s the full building, seen from Highway 380.
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Across the highway from the courthouse
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No trip to Clairemont would be complete without a stop at the old Kent County Jail.
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Built in the early 1890s, it is one of the oldest and most historically intact jails in the state.
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The jail’s been hit even worse with graffiti.
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Nearby
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Kent County Courthouse – 1957 (Jayton)

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Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of readily available information on this courthouse. I find that certainly surprising, since it’s only sixty years old.

I can tell you that the architect was Wyatt C. Hedrick, and the primary materials were steel, stone, and concrete. Such is typical of modern courthouses, a style typical of the region and time in which this was built.

This is only the second courthouse ever built in Kent County, and the only one to ever stand in Jayton. I find it remarkable that every courthouse ever constructed in this county still stands.

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Double Mountains, rising from the plains in nearby Stonewall County
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The courthouse faces west upon the intersection of N Main Street and W Main Street. That’s where FM 1083 meets TX-70.
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The view from the front doors
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The main entryway (running west-east)
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The district courtroom holds the same sleek and sophisticated look I’m sure it had in 1957.
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 Some of these folks held court in Clairemont, as well.
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The northern façade is heavily shaded.
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The northwest corner
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Around back
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This is the eastern façade…
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The southeast corner
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The distinction amid layers between concrete and rock is a fascinating design to me.
DSC_0907The southern entrance…
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Jayton

DSC_0845A tribute to county pioneers stands across the road from the courthouse.
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I suppose The Chronicle hasn’t made it to any Jayton front doors for some time now.
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Previous Courthouse: Garza County

Next Courthouse: Stonewall County

 

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