“The county was named for Martin Parmer, an early settler and Texas Revolution veteran. Parmer County occupies 859 square miles of level plains surfaced by sandy, clay, and loam soils. These soils support some native grasses, but now the land is largely cultivated and produces abundant corn, sugar beets, and potatoes, as well as sorghums, cotton, wheat, hay, and soybeans. The elevation ranges from 3,800 to 4,202 feet above sea level, and the county is bisected from northwest to southeast by Running Water Draw, an intermittent but flood-prone creek.”
“Apaches occupied the Panhandle-Plains until they were pushed out around 1700 by the Kiowas and Comanches, who ruled the Texas High Plains between 1700 and the end of the Red River War in 1874. After their defeat and removal to Indian Territory, the Parmer County region was opened for white settlement.”
“In 1876 Parmer County was established by the Texas legislature from lands formerly assigned to the Bexar District. No settlement occurred in the county until 1882. In January of that year the Capitol Syndicate agreed to build a new state capitol in return for 3,000,000 acres of land in West Texas. Parmer County lay entirely within the lands granted to the Chicago syndicate for its huge XIT Ranch. For the rest of the century Parmer County remained unorganized and unpopulated, except for the XIT cowboys. The 1890 population of seven grew only to thirty-four by 1900, and ranching dominated the region.”
“In 1898 the Pecos and Northern Texas Railway Company began construction of a ninety-five-mile branch line from Amarillo to the Texas-New Mexico border. On this line, which was eventually to run from Amarillo to the Santa Fe main line in Belen, New Mexico, grew several communities in Parmer County. Parmerton appeared in 1898 as a Capitol Syndicate townsite, while Black, Friona, and Bovina appeared the same year as switches and townsites on the line.”
“Farwell, established in 1904 and surveyed in 1905, was founded by the syndicate as a central point from which the company could administer the sales of XIT lands. The appearance of Farwell led to the quick demise of Parmerton. In 1904 the Capitol Syndicate launched a campaign to sell the holdings of the XIT Ranch to land speculators, smaller ranchers, and farmers. Between 1904 and 1910 farmers slowly but steadily arrived to establish new operations, and by 1910 there were 161 farms and ranches in the county.”
“By 1920 there were 212 farms and ranches in the county; about 15,000 acres was planted in sorghum that year, along with 1,300 acres of corn and 5,370 acres of wheat. Meanwhile, reflecting this early growth, the population of the county rose to 1,555 by 1910 and to 1,699 by 1920. During these early years of agricultural development, the citizens decided to organize the county and establish a local government. Accordingly, a petition for organization passed through the county in May of 1907. On May 7 an election to choose county officials and a county seat was held. Parmerton became the county seat, but in another election held in December 1907, the county’s voters chose Farwell to become county seat in 1908.”
“The agricultural growth of the years between 1904 and 1920 set the stage for greater expansion that occurred in the county between 1920 and 1930. A tremendous amount of range land was put into production, and the population grew accordingly. By 1930 the county had 818 farms and ranches, and 100,000 acres was planted in sorghum, 11,000 acres in corn, 2,500 acres in wheat, and 4,500 acres in cotton. Poultry raising was also becoming a significant part of the county economy; more than 62,000 chickens were reported in the county in 1930, and local farmers sold 255,000 dozens of eggs that year.”
“Though cattle ranching was declining in its relative importance to the local economy, there were almost 15,375 cattle reported in Parmer County that year. Reflecting these trends the population of Parmer County more than doubled during the 1920s; by 1930 it was 5,869. The growth slowed but continued during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Cropland harvested in the county grew from 225,000 acres in 1930 to 281,000 acres in 1940; by that year, there were 915 farms in the county.”
“Though Parmer County declined somewhat during the 1940s, the area regained its economic impetus in the 1950s, when rapid growth was encouraged by a dramatic increase in irrigated farming, as irrigation wells were drilled into the huge Ogallala aquifer. The county’s population grew from 5,787 in 1950 to 9,583 by 1960.”
“There were 10,509 people living in Parmer County in 1970 and 11,038 by 1980. The population declined during the 1980s, however, and in 1990 the area’s population was 9,863. The census counted 9,908 people living in the county in 2014. About 36.6 percent were Anglo, 1.6 percent African American, and 61.4 percent Hispanic.”
“As the farm economy of the county expanded, a transportation network emerged to handle the crops and to link the county to the outside world. In 1913 the Pecos and Northern Texas Railway built a branch line from Farwell to Lubbock to complement its earlier line to Amarillo. While the automobile was becoming a vital part of America’s everyday life, a road network was built in the county. By the early 1920s a crude graded road, State Road 33 (now U.S. Highway 60), linked Farwell to Amarillo via Bovina, Friona, Hereford, and Canyon, while an even cruder track (later U.S. Highway 84) tied Farwell to Lubbock via Muleshoe and Littlefield.”
“During the 1930s both of these routes were paved, and the primitive system grew to include dirt-surfaced farm and ranch roads. After World War II a building and paving boom resulted in the road network of the 1980s.”
“In 2002 the county had 660 farms and ranches covering 576,461 acres, 79 percent of which were devoted to crops and 15 percent to pasture. In that year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $603,910,000, placing Parmer County among the leading Texas counties in farm income; livestock sales accounted for $531,867,000 of the total. Beef cattle were the county’s most important product, but crops such as wheat, corn, cotton, grain sorghum, alfalfa, apples, and potatoes were also raised there.”
“Most of the people who lived in Parmer County resided in the towns and communities of the county; the remainder of the population resided on farms or ranches or in close proximity to the many feedlot operations found in the county. By 2000 nearly one-half of the county’s residents were of Mexican descent. Communities included Farwell (population, 1,287), the county’s seat of government and an agribusiness and trade center; Friona (3,911); Bovina (1,761); Lazbuddie (248); Lariat; Oklahoma Lane; Black; and Rhea.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Donald R. Abbe, “Parmer County”
I was the guest of Farwell and Parmer County on July 27, 2013 and returned to rephotograph the courthouse on August 16, 2016.
Parmer County Courthouse – 1907 (Parmerton Hill)
Shortly after the Pecos Valley and Northern Texas Railroad began incursion into the area that had recently become Parmer County, the origins of a town site were plotted at the site of the railroad switch. Aptly named, the community was designated “Parmer Switch”. The area, equidistant between Bovina and Friona, eventually became known as Parmerton Hill.
In May of 1907, this community became the Parmer County seat and a one-story, wooden frame courthouse was built to serve the area’s needs. However, facing a decline in public support for Parmerton Hill as the seat, a second county seat election was held that December that inevitably declared Farwell the new center of county business.
A mere seven months as the fledgling county seat left Parmerton Hill with hardly enough time to build a suitable courthouse, let alone develop a flourishing city. There was, as such, little to move to Farwell except the residents. Much like the small town, the wooden frame courthouse would come to fade away into the plains (after it eventually burned). Today, all that’s left of Parmerton Hill is a historical marker and the rusted railroad switch that gave the community its original name.
Parmer County Courthouse – 1916 (Farwell)
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
In 1879, the 16th Texas Legislature, in need of a new Capitol building, appropriated 3,000,000 acres of Panhandle land to use in the financing process. Three years later, in 1882, a special session of the 17th Legislature negotiated a deal with a mostly British syndicate headed by two brothers from Chicago: Charles B. and John V. Farwell. In exchange for construction services for a massive new Capitol (the one that still stands in Austin), the team would be paid with these three million acres of Texas land.
Farwell, the namesake community of the primary investors in the Capitol Syndicate, was established in 1904 as the headquarters from which they could sell lands in their newly established XIT Ranch. Elected as the county seat in December of 1907, Farwell utilized the wooden frame courthouse relocated from Parmerton Hill for several years until a fire brought it to ashes.
The brick courthouse that followed was designed by C. Risser & Co. in the Classical Revival style. It was built by the W.M. Rice Construction Co., who also oversaw the completion of a number of other courthouses of similar style throughout the same time period.
At some point in history (most likely after the ADA was passed), an elevator was added to the courthouse. Rather than create an external shaft for it, county officials had it installed in front of the main entrance. Today, the western doors are permanently sealed.
The Parmer County Courthouse, facing west towards the intersection between 3rd and Avenue D S
The no-longer-accessible main entrance stands in front of the current courthouse elevator.
The tree-lined view from the main doors, looking out towards 3rd Street
The courthouse lawn is one of the most forested you’ll find in this part of Texas.
The southern entrance, facing Farwell’s public park
Here’s the view from those doors.
Just inside: the courthouse interior’s wooden paneling is a leftover from the 1970s.
An elevator where the front doors used to be
Farwell and Parmer County
The “Farwell Skyline”
On 3rd Street
Also on 3rd Street is Farwell’s marker commemorating its place on the Ozark Trail.
The city’s dual water towers rise up from the local park nearby.
(Photo Courtesy: Google Maps)
Of some note, Farwell is one of only three county seats in Texas to physically touch another US state (along with El Paso and Orange). The Texas-New Mexico state line forms the exact western border of this little town. Heading over to New Mexico for lunch or to grocery shop is always a very distinct possibility for residents.
In this mostly agricultural county, cotton is still very much king.
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