“Morris County comprises 256 square miles of the East Texas timberlands, an area that is heavily forested with a great variety of softwoods and hardwoods, especially pine, cypress, and oak. The terrain ranges from gently rolling in the north to hilly in the south, with an elevation ranging from 250 to 600 feet above sea level. The northern one-third of the county is drained by the Sulphur River, and the remainder is drained by Cypress Creek.”
“The time of first European exploration of the county can not be conclusively determined. If, as is sometimes hypothesized, Luis de Moscoso Alvarado crossed the area of Morris County in 1542, this territory is the among the earliest explored areas in the state. The first European contact with the area, however, might not have occurred until after the founding of Le Poste des Cadodaquiousin what later became Bowie County by the French in 1719. Although the French occupied the fort for more than fifty years, little is known about their activities. It seems probable, however, that they did explore as far to the south as Morris County.”
“Before the existence of Morris County, five counties included all or part of its territory. In 1820 the area was organized as Miller County, Arkansas. In 1836 the tract became Red River County of the Republic of Texas. In January 1841 the Congress of the republic established Paschal County for judicial and other purposes and designated Daingerfield county seat. The act establishing Paschal County was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court the next year because it did not provide the county with representation in the legislature. Subsequently, part of what was to become Morris County became part of Red River County, and the rest of the area was part of Bowie County. In 1846 the First Legislature of the state of Texas established Titus County, which included all of the territory in present Morris County. Morris County was demarked from Titus County on March 13, 1875, and probably named for William W. Morris. The county was organized on May 12, 1875, with Daingerfield as the county seat.”
“During its early years the county was rural, agricultural, and sparsely settled. The 1880 census records the total population of the county as 5,032. Most of the residents lived on the county’s 710 farms. As in the rest of East Texas, the two principal crops were corn and cotton. Almost 75 percent of the 29,160 improved acres was devoted in roughly equal portions to these two crops in 1879. Most of the county’s farmers owned some livestock. The census of 1880 recorded 1,738 milk cows, 2,842 other cattle, 13,555 hogs, and 882 sheep in the county. But the county had no large livestock operations.”
“With a surface area of 164,000 acres, Morris County is one of the smallest counties in the state. Still, in 1880 the county’s agricultural resources were largely untapped. Less than 18 percent of the county’s land was actually in cultivation in 1880. For the next forty years the agricultural economy expanded steadily. By 1920 the number of farms had grown from 710 to 1,745. The number of improved acres grew from 29,160 to 71,688. Cotton and corn remained the two major crops, accounting for just over 75 percent of all lands in cultivation.”
“Morris County was hard hit by the Great Depression, which began for agriculture in the 1920s and continued through the 1930s. By 1930 the value of farms in the county had dropped from its 1920 high of more than $5.4 million to $2,631,977. The number of farms in the county had dropped slightly, from 1,745 to 1,572. Cultivated land had fallen to 57,167 acres. Most of that land, 36,686 acres, was devoted to cotton. In 1890, 59 percent of the county’s farmers had owned all or part of the land they farmed. By 1930 only 30 percent owned all or part of their land.”
“The existence of sizable deposits of iron ore in the area had been noted as early as 1819, and crude mining operations had been carried out in the area before the Civil War. The war effort [in WWII] demanded massive amounts of iron, and the federal government moved to tap these deposits through the United States Defense Plant Corporation with the construction of a blast furnace in 1943. The plant, which had been constructed at an estimated cost of $30 million, had a tremendous impact on the county’s economy.”
“The Lone Star Steel Company leased the plant from the government in 1947 and in July 1948 assumed full ownership. The plant was employing 1,100 workers by 1949, and with completion of a steel mill in the early 1950s, the number of workers employed exceeded 3,000. During the years after World War II opportunities elsewhere, increasing mechanization, and diversified operations caused a decline in the number of farms in the county, from 1,210 in 1940 to 379 in 1982. During this period the size of the average farm increased from just under 100 acres to 195 acres.”
“The combination of diversified agriculture and manufacturing provided a more broadly based prosperity than the county previously had. Around the steel mill and the town of Lone Star the change was particularly pronounced. As one national news magazine described it: “tidy brick homes replaced ramshackle farmsteads and worn cropland was replanted as forest.” In 1981 Morris County ranked twenty-ninth among the state’s 254 counties in per capita income—the highest among the sixteen counties in the northeastern corner of the state.”
“In the early 1980s financial problems for the county’s largest employer, Lone Star Steel Company, caused serious economic problems for many residents. In August 1982 the company suspended operations indefinitely, and in 1983 the county had an unemployment rate of 24.2 percent. Although Lone Star resumed operations in November 1983 it never returned to production at pre-1982 levels. In 1990 the county’s unemployment rate was 13.6 percent, still above the national average, but by 2000 it had dropped to 5.7 percent.”
“In the early twenty-first century steel manufacturing, agriculture, and timber were the key elements of the area’s economy. Lone Star Steel, operating on a 600-acre site near Lone Star, manufactured a wide variety of steel products and employed about 2,000 workers.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Cecil Harper, Jr., “Morris County“
I was the guest of Daingerfield and Morris County on July 15, 2014.
Morris County Courthouse – 1882
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
This courthouse was designed by the firm Peterson & Stuckey. The Texas Historical Commission describes it as a:
“2-story brick structure. Bays defined by simple pilasters with capitals of corbeled brick; rectangular plan with walls projecting in steps so that 18 rooms benefited from corner light and ventilation.”
Some time between 1882 and 1973, the county ceased using this one. In 1973, county officials made a peculiar decision to move into a new structure that was far more modern. Thankfully, they didn’t demolish the older version, but it remained vacant until approximately 1998. By 2001, a renovation funded by the law firm Nix, Patterson, & Roach was completed. From that point onward, the building was converted into their law office. It still stands.
The spire of the retired courthouse can just be seen over that line of trees.
The courthouse sits facing a small traffic circle that connects Coffey, Jefferson, and Webb Streets, in addition to Linda Drive.
The law office is closed for visitors, but I snapped this picture through the doors.
A little garden and minuscule fountain are tucked away on the south side of the office.
Morris County Courthouse – 1973
I have nothing to say about this building, except that it was designed by a firm called Pierce, Pace, & Associates.
A breathtaking view of Union Street for your viewing pleasure
The rear entrance, facing west
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