“Randall County has an area of 922 square miles that extends over an eastward sloping tableland broken by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, which flows through Palo Duro Canyon, and its tributaries, Palo Duro and Tierra Blanca creeks.”
“During the historical period, various nomadic Plains Indian tribes, including the Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne, hunted buffalo in the area and utilized the canyons as winter camping grounds. The expedition of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado crossed the area in 1541 and probably camped for a fortnight in Palo Duro Canyon. Pedro Vial crossed the northeast corner of the county on his way from San Antonio to Santa Fe in 1786, and in July 1788 Vial and Santiago Fernández traversed the canyon as they returned to Santa Fe from the Jumano country.”
“In the 1870s the slaughter of the buffalo and the battle of Palo Duro Canyon drove the Plains Indians from the area and opened it up to settlement. Randall County was separated from Bexar County in 1876 and named for Horace Randal, Confederate brigadier general killed at the battle of Jenkins’ Ferry, Arkansas, in 1864; a clerical error doubled the l in the name. Settlement began in 1876 when Charles Goodnight drove 1,600 cattle into Palo Duro Canyon and established his Old Home Ranch as the first JA Ranch headquarters.”
“The county was unorganized from 1876 to 1889 and was attached successively to Jack County (1876–79), Wheeler County (1879–81), Oldham County (1881–83), Donley County (1883–85), Oldham County again (1885–89), and Potter County (1889). At first, county organization was contested by the big ranching element led by Lee John Hutson, manager of the T Anchor, who sought to restrict the flow of homesteaders into the area.”
“However, 200 petitioners led by Lincoln G. Conner successfully arranged for an election, held in July 1889 at Conner’s dugout. Canyon City (later Canyon), which Conner had laid out earlier that year, was elected county seat, with forty-five qualified voters participating. Six of the new county officers were T Anchor employees. The first school in the county was taught in the fall of 1889 by Emma Turner at the old wooden shack that had served as a courthouse. The county population rose from 187 in 1890 to 963 in 1900. All but one of the inhabitants in 1900 was white, and only eighteen were foreign born.”
“From the beginning, ranching established itself as the county’s major industry. Fenced pastures replaced the open range after 1881, registered Herefords were first brought into the area in 1883, and cattle numbered 35,000 in 1900. Farming grew more slowly. The first farmer was W. F. Heller, later the first county clerk, who in 1887 established his homestead on Tierra Blanca Creek some two miles from the T Anchor headquarters. Oats and sorghum were early crops; alfalfa was grown successfully in 1888.”
“The Pecos and Northern Texas Railway built westward through the county from Amarillo in 1898 and helped bring settlers and a market for crops; in 1910 the Santa Fe completed the Llano Estacado Railway from Floydada to Canyon. As a result the decade 1900 to 1910 was a time of dramatic growth for Randall County, as the population increased by over 300 percent to 3,312 inhabitants.”
“During the same period the number of improved acres increased elevenfold, to reach 94,404 acres by 1910; most of the land was planted in wheat and in forage crops. In the same decade the size of the average farm fell from 6,014 acres to 767 acres, further evidence of a shift from a predominantly ranching to a mixed ranching and farming economy.”
“Though the county population and economy were relatively static between 1910 and 1920, Randall County experienced new growth in the 1920s. The population reached 7,071 in 1930, and the number of farms more than doubled, from 383 in 1920 to 843 in 1930. Cattle ranching continued to be of primary importance, with almost 37,000 head on county farms in 1930. Sheep ranching, which was introduced into the county by 1900, reached an all-time high of 13,200 head in 1930.”
“Better farming techniques, increased use of irrigation, and such government work programs as the Civilian Conservation Corps are said to have helped Randall County weather the depression and Dust Bowl years. The county prospered and modernized in the 1940s. Sharecropping almost disappeared; by the end of the decade only twenty-three tenants remained. By 1950, 86 percent of the county’s 667 farms had electricity, and 84 percent had tractors; mules had practically disappeared.”
“Beginning in the 1940s, Randall County became increasingly urbanized. The extension of Amarillo south from Potter County into north central Randall County in the 1940s increased the county population to 13,774 by 1950. As Amarillo and its metropolitan area continued to grow, the county population almost tripled during the 1950s, to reach 33,913 residents in 1960; it was 53,885 in 1970. Three-quarters of the 75,062 people living in Randall County in 1980 lived in Amarillo. The population of the county overall rose to 89,673 by 1990 and to 104,312 by 2000.”
“In 2002 the county had 748 farms and ranches covering 512,300 acres, 53 percent of which were devoted to crops. In that year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $261,309,000; livestock sales accounted for $250,164,000 of the total. Beef cattle, corn, wheat, sorghum, and hay were the chief agricultural products. No significant mineral resources have been discovered in the county. In 2000 the county economy primarily consisted of agribusiness, education, tourism, and some manufacturing.”
“Palo Duro Canyon, with Palo Duro Canyon State Park (deeded to the state in 1933), is an important attraction. Each summer the outdoor drama Texas draws large numbers of people to the park. In Canyon the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum provides an important tourist attraction, and Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1939, provides recreational opportunities in the southwestern part of the county.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, H. Allen Anderson and Mark Odintz, “Randall County”
I was the guest of Canyon and Randall County on August 15 & 16, 2016.
Randall County Courthouse – 1892
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
An excerpt I found from the Texas Historical Commission can provide you with anything and everything you’d ever want to know about this courthouse.
“On August 13, 1889, the first Commissioner’s Court of Randall County ordered advertisements for bids for the construction of a new courthouse. The building was to be of frame construction, about 50 feet wide and 45 feet deep, two stories high, and set on a good stone foundation. The lower story would be divided by a hall with three offices on either side, and the upper was to have a large courtroom and two jury rooms. The cost of the structure was not to exceed 6,000 dollars. The contract was awarded on September 10th to J. T. Service for 8,200 dollars and construction was started immediately. The courthouse constructed in Canyon by Service was not the county’s first. A temporary 20 by 30 foot two room shack was constructed across from the square to house records until the new courthouse was completed. After it was vacated by the county, the temporary building became Randall County’s first school. The second courthouse appears to have been built according to county specifications. Constructed in the Second Empire style, the building had a Mansard roof with two arched dormer windows per side. The transition between the metal shingled Mansard roof and the flat metal roof behind was marked by decorative wrought-iron cresting. The building’s front facade was emphasized by a truncated tower with matching mansard roof and cresting. The tower’s front was adorned with fish scale shingles and bulls-eye window with its sides and rear being almost entirely enveloped by the building’s roofline. Two brick chimneys per side projected from the roof of the side facades just above the cornice line. The four facades were quite similar with a bracketed Italianate cornice and polychromatic paint scheme. Alternating single and paired pedimented two over two double hung windows penetrated each facade with a matching transomed double entrance door centrally placed at the building’s front. Siding was wood clapboard with a 4 to 5 foot wide strip of fish scale shingles marking the transition between the first and second floors. Sometime around 1902 the mansard roof and tower were removed in favor of a hipped roof with a central tower. This change was presumably made to relieve persistent leak problems in the courthouse’s flat metal roof. The courthouse served many functions for the citizens of Randall County. In addition to county business, the building housed church functions, general assemblies, lectures and weekend dances.”
The Joseph Tracy Service served as architects and contractors here.
In 1908, the building was relocated from the courthouse square, and a year later was sold to a local N. Thompson for $2500. He converted it into a rooming house that stood for fifty-five years. In 1964, it was demolished for a parking lot.
Randall County Courthouse – 1908
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
(Photo Courtesy: randallcounty.com)
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
Robert G. Kirsch provided the designs for the county’s second courthouse, a building much more elaborate than its predecessor. Gillcoat-Skinner Co. built it.
Here’s another one of the THC’s long-winded accounts on a courthouse:
“Robert G. Kirsch designed the Randall County Courthouse in 1909. The Classical Revival style building is constructed of brick and highlighted with terra cotta and cast stone trim elements. The structure is essentially rectangular in form, with the north and south elevations forming the long sides of the rectangle and the east and west elevations forming the short sides. The first two floors of the building were initially constructed in a cross-axial configuration that has since been compromised by partition walls added to create more office space. The original configuration also incorporated two two-story courtrooms, with decorative plaster cornices and ceilings, that occupied the third and fourth floors. The original windows on the first three floors have been replaced. The replacements are double-hung with wooden frames. On the fourth floor, the original windows have been covered on the exterior with stucco panels. Each of the four exterior facades features a projecting central entrance bay, which is clearly defined by brick pilasters with stone bases and capitals. Heavy classical cornices, supported at each end by equally substantial console brackets, hover above the entry doors. An elaborate cartouche is centered atop each of these entrance cornices. Each of the elevations is capped by an entablature composed of a series of ornamental courses of brickwork and cut stone caps. Additional construction has obscured the north and south elevations to some extent, but only one modern addition, a bridge on the second floor of the north elevation, is connected to the original structure. The original clock tower has also been removed.”
Over the years, the central clock tower and original wood windows were removed. 1956 and 1968 saw additions on the south and north sides, respectively. The northwest portion of the first floor was removed to install a boiler room, and a load bearing wall was taken off the third floor also.
(Photo Courtesy: Terry Jeanson)
Here’s a picture of the courthouse without its tower. This was only within the last decade before the building was restored (2009 – 2010), a process which included rebuilding its unique tower.
(Photo Courtesy: Terry Jeanson)
This was the addition built in 1968 (on the northern side), but it was promptly demolished when work began on the exterior restoration.
The grand, main façade
4th Avenue from the main doors
While I was in Canyon, the courthouse wasn’t in use. A sign mentioned that offices were in another building, but the time period for their return wasn’t made clear. Whether the county is still using this building or not, I can’t be sure. The state of the interior (seen through the windows) doesn’t give the impression that it is.
Just look at this!
And of course, this. I’d like to hear the reasoning for installing a restroom in a room with a large, publicly accessible window. Just not quite sure about this one…
15th Street from the western doors
The southwest corner
5th Avenue from the southern doors
The southeast corner
The cornerstone is on the northeast corner.
The northwest corner
Scenes from Randall County
On the way to Palo Duro Canyon
“The Grand Canyon of Texas”
Palo Duro really is a breathtaking sight. I recommend the trip if you’re ever in the Canyon area.
We observed the canyon from an outlook above for a few minutes, and then descended into it.
As the sun was getting ready to set for the day, several animals were starting to come out.
Palo Duro Canyon’s signature rock formation is called The Lighthouse. It’s not accessible by road, so I wan’t able to get any pictures of it, but it is a popular hiking destination. This is the beginning of the Lighthouse Trail. Since it was mid August when I was here, these warnings were clearly necessary.
This isn’t the Lighthouse, but it looks enough like it from a distance.
Previous Courthouse: Swisher County
Next Courthouse: Oldham County