Mitchell County Courthouse, Colorado City, Texas

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“Mitchell County is in the prairie of west central Texas, bounded on the east by Nolan County, on the south by Sterling and Coke counties, on the west by Howard County, and on the north by Scurry County.”

“Colorado City, the largest town, is in the northeastern part of the county, roughly 229 miles west of Fort Worth. The area was named for Asa and Eli Mitchell, prominent participants in the Texas Revolution. The county embraces 912 square miles of prairieland surfaced mainly with sandy, red, and dark soils. The altitudes range from 2,004 to 2,616 feet above sea level.”

“The main physical feature is the Colorado River, which enters the county from the north and flows through the center. The river traverses the Callahan Divide, a line of hills that extends from east to west in the southern part of the county.”

“The history of Mitchell County in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries was characterized by Spanish exploration and Indian domination. Because of their interest in the Jumano Indians, the Spanish made a series of expeditions through West Texas in the seventeenth century. Though no major explorations took place in what is now Mitchell County, the expeditions traveled through the area.”

“Comanches of the Penateka band settled in the region in 1780 and controlled the area of the future Mitchell County until 1875, when Ranald S. Mackenzie of the United States Army moved them onto reservations.”

“In 1876 the Texas legislature formed Mitchell County from the Bexar District; since it had virtually no permanent settlers at the time, the county was assigned to Shackelford County for administrative purposes. During the late 1870s settlers began to enter. The early settlers in the county, mostly buffalo hunters, included J. Wright and John W. Mooar, George Wandell, and I. F. Byler. In 1880 the census counted 112 residents in the county.”

“As a result of population growth in the late 1870s, elections were held on January 10, 1881, to organize Mitchell County. Colorado City was chosen the county seat, and J. R. Dobbins became the first county judge. A. W. Dunn, generally known as the “father” of Colorado City because he owned the first store there, became the first county treasurer. Cattlemen first moved into the county with their herds in the late 1870s; until the early twentieth century the economy of Mitchell County was dominated by cattle ranching.”

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“During the settlement period merchants and traders also occupied the county, anticipating the construction of a railroad through the area. In the early 1880s the Texas and Pacific Railway was built through the county to Colorado City, and by April 16, 1881, the day the first train arrived, that town’s population had reached 300. By 1882 four railroad stations had been established in the county. The railroad led to an instant boom in Colorado City; between 1881 and 1885 the town grew rapidly in population and prosperity.”

“Within this four-year period Colorado City emerged as a major shipping center to rival Dodge City and Abilene as a cattle town. By 1884 it had several saloons and beer parlors, scores of general stores, lawyers, doctors, and a population of about 3,000.”

“The boom died, however, partly as a result of a series of natural disasters in the late 1880s and 1890s. The first major setback was the severe drought of 1886, which was followed by the most terrible winter of the decade; cattle starved. In 1890 the agricultural census counted thirty-five farms and ranches in the county, but only 2,645 cattle were reported that year. That year only 124 acres of county land was planted in corn, the county’s most important crop. According to the United States Census Bureau, 2,059 people were living in the county in 1890.”

“By 1900 Colorado City had lost its prominence as a cattle town, and the previous commercial importance of Mitchell County had passed. Ranching remained at the center of the local economy, but farmers were beginning to establish themselves in the area. In 1900 more than 60,000 cattle were reported on 232 farms and ranches.”

“The climate of Mitchell County was and is suitable for the cultivation of cotton and sorghum. Cotton, first planted in the county in 1898, became the leading crop after 1900. In 1910 more than 32,000 acres of county land was dedicated to cotton production. By 1920 cotton was planted on almost 48,000 acres of land in the county, and another 17,395 acres was devoted to sorghum culture.”

“The economy suffered serious reverses during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Droughts and regulation of crop production by the federal government combined to drive down cotton acreage by about 50 percent over the course of the decade; by 1940 only 65,479 acres in the county was devoted to growing the fiber. The crop reductions particularly hurt the tenant farmers. By 1940 the number of farms in Mitchell County had dropped to 1,119, and 604 of these were operated by tenants. These developments drove down the population of the county to 12,477 by 1940.”

“Oil, discovered in the county in 1920, helped to stabilize the economy during the 1930s; after World War II it became an important source of jobs and income, even after petroleum prices plunged during the 1980s.”

“Cotton and sorghum continued to be the main source of agricultural revenue for the county, which in 1982 produced 27,319 bales of cotton, 18,116 tons of dry hay, 93,040 bushels of sorghum, and 28,027 bushels of wheat. Ranching also remained important. In 1982 Mitchell County produced 22,389 cattle and calves, 438 hogs and pigs, 7,376 sheep and lambs, 651 horses and ponies, and 50,855 pounds of wool.”

“Communities in Mitchell County include the county seat, Colorado City (population, 4,025), Loraine (592), Westbrook (245), and Buford. Recreational sites include Lake Colorado City State Recreation Area, Champion Creek Reservoir, and the Colorado City Museum.”

- Handbook of Texas Online, Julius A. Amin and John Leffler, “Mitchell County

I was the guest of Colorado City and Mitchell County on July 5, 2015.

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Mitchell County Courthouse – 1883

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(Photo Courtesy: THC)

The first courthouse in Mitchell County came two years after the area’s formal organization. Standing two stories tall, it was an Italianate structure designed by Martin, Byrne, and Johnston that was relatively simple save its square cupola, steeple, and mansard roof. It was the kind of courthouse built to last, as its nearly identical counterpart in Kent County made it all the way to the 1950s.

The thing was, where this courthouse was concerned, Mitchell County officials had mistakenly built it in the path of a planned road for the developing city. There was no choice, therefore, but to promptly demolish it.

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Mitchell County Courthouse – 1885

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(Photo Courtesy: THC)

Reeling from the mistake, Martin, Byrne, and Johnston returned to Mitchell County two years later. As if to make up for the major zoning disaster, the three designed a disproportionally more elaborate structure to take its place by echoing the plans Austin architects Jasper N. Preston and F.E. Ruffini had employed in Bastrop County.

It lasted much longer than its predecessor did, but it still did not manage to survive the 1920s.

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Mitchell County Courthouse – 1924

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(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)

Popular West Texas architect David S. Castle added Mitchell County to his courthouse resume in 1924. Succeeding the Martin, Byrne, and Johnston variant soon came a striking, brick, Classical Revival structure. It was constructed by the work of contractor J.H. Reddick.

An extensive remodeling project was undertaken in 1965 that included the installation of a significant central air conditioning unit. This renovation led to the permanent covering of windows on the eastern and western sides of the building in an effort to keep the building cool. The size of the second floor district courtroom was also reduced in order to accommodate the space the installation required.

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The courthouse faces east on Oak Street.
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DSC_4739The northern entrance, meanwhile, sits on 4th Street.
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The Mitchell County Jail is just behind the courthouse, but this complex is the Sheriff’s Office. It’s just between the two.
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Good luck getting out of it.
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Next door is the county annex. Its plainness can be blamed on a Sixties/Seventies origin.
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If there were ever windows around the courthouse’s rear side, they exist no more. This is the northwest corner.DSC_4758Along the main façade
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DSC_4754M for Mitchell
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What a view those windows must have…
DSC_4767Oak Street
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DSC_4765A look inside
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The southern entrance, on 3rd Street
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DSC_4778Out back
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This is the southern façade of the Mitchell County Sheriff’s Office. Picturesque, right?
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Out in front of the courthouse is a bust of…well, I’m not sure who this is.
DSC_4735The birds don’t seem to like him, at any rate.

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Colorado City & Mitchell County

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Eastbound on I-20 from Big Spring, en route to Colorado City
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“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). No mention of what the church is supposed to look like, I suppose. You can find this on 4th Street.
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At Walnut & 2nd
DSC_4810Colorado City is brimming with historical buildings. Unfortunately, most seem to be defunct.
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Another soul claimed by the plains
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Previous Courthouse: Howard County

Next Courthouse: Nolan County

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