“The area was named for Julius Real, the only Republican in the Texas Senate when the county was formed in 1913. Real County encompasses 622 square miles of the Balcones Escarpment on the southern edge of the Edwards Plateau; its terrain is characterized by sharply dissected canyonlands crossed by numerous streams, which flow from perennial springs in the water-bearing strata of the Edwards and Glen Rose limestone formations and descend the escarpment over beds of limestone, gravel, and calcareous soils.”
“Anglo settlers arrived in the Frio Canyon in 1856 when John and Nancy Leakey, along with several others, settled near the town that now bears their name. Sometime between 1856 and 1860 a settlement was also established downriver at Rio Frio. In 1867 Theophilus Watkins arrived there, and the following year he began to construct a gravity flow irrigation canal that operated for a century. Anglo settlement in the Nueces Canyon began during the same period.”
“In the spring of 1857 the United States military post of Camp Wood was established on the Nueces River near the site of the former San Lorenzo mission. The post was abandoned in 1861, when federal troops were withdrawn from Texas at the start of the Civil Warand was subsequently occupied by Confederate forces; following the war it was periodically used by Texas Rangers and the United States Army.”
“Hostile encounters with Indians, primarily Lipans who still passed through the isolated region, were relatively common during the early period of Anglo settlement, and as late as the 1980s residents still recalled hearing first-hand accounts of such incidents. Particularly well-known were the stories of the Schwander, Coalson, and McLauren families. In 1864 Lipans attacked the family of George Schwander, who was living in the abandoned ruins of the San Lorenzo mission, during his absence, killing his wife and abducting their son, Albert, who a year later was ransomed from Mexico. In 1879 at Half Moon Prairie, also in the Nueces Canyon, Indians attacked and killed Jennie Coalson, wife of Nic Coalson, and two children. In 1881, in the last Indian raid in Southwest Texas, Lipans struck the McLauren home at Buzzard’s Roost in the Frio Canyon while John McLauren was away, killing his wife, Kate McLauren, and teenaged Alan Lease, a neighbor who was living with the family.”
“In 1883 Edwards County, which included part of the area of present-day Real County, was organized. Bullhead served as the Edwards county seat from September of that year until 1884, when voters moved the seat to Leakey. The government of Edwards County remained at Leakey until April of 1891, when it was moved to Rocksprings after a disputed election. After Rocksprings was declared winner of the election, the results were contested by residents of Leakey (who themselves were accused of ballot-box stuffing). Judge Hunter, a local magistrate, organized a group of men, crossed the divide, and moved the county records from Leakey to Rocksprings during the night.”
“Though ranching has always dominated the local economy, crop farming was of some importance until the early twentieth century. In the late nineteenth century cotton, corn, oats, tobacco, and wheat were grown in the Frio Canyon. Also in Frio Canyon lumber was produced from indigenous cypress trees, which were cut and processed at water-powered mills. Freighting products and materials in and out of the canyons was another important early economic activity.”
“The raising and breeding of angora goats for mohair became particularly important to the local economy; by the early 1910s, when Real County was established, there were more angora goats in the area than in any other county in Texas. In the spring of 1913 the Texas state legislature established Real County from parts of Edwards, Bandera, and Kerr counties. The action was prompted by the isolation of the area and the difficulties residents experienced traveling long distances over bad roads to Rocksprings or Bandera (the seats of Edwards and Bandera counties, respectively) to conduct business. Leakey was elected county seat.”
“Angora goats remained an important part of the local economy but the number of goats steadily declined after the mid-1950s, when there were more registered angora goats in Real County than any other county in the United States. Thereafter the number of goats in the county dropped to 90,000 in 1959, to 60,000 in 1960, and to 18,000 in 1982. While ranching continues to dominate the local economy, some of the abundant local crop of pecans is marketed, and in recent years tourism and hunting have assumed increasing importance for the county.”
“Prior to 1948, when Farm Road 337 was completed, most travel between Camp Wood and Leakey was accomplished by way of Uvalde on the Nueces River to the south, a trip of ninety miles; as a result, people living in the county’s two canyons developed different identifications and loyalties. In the 1980s people in Real County were still inclined to differentiate between themselves on the basis of residence in one or the other canyon rather than identifying with one another as residents of a common county: the canyons, rather than the county, serve as the primary basis for group identity and organization.”
“There are a number of legends concerning lost or abandoned mines and buried treasure in the area. Some evidence indicates that a smelter once operated at the San Lorenzo Mission, and John Bell Hood, who prior to the Civil War commanded the military outpost at Camp Wood, reported signs of silver extraction (presumably by Spaniards), at the “Pepper Mine,” a shaft to the south of Meridian Mountain in the western part of the county. A. J. Sowell identified an abandoned shaft and stone fortification on the divide separating the Main and Dry branches of the Frio as the site of James (Jim) Bowie’s 1831 prospecting endeavors, though this is far from certain.”
“As of 2014, 3,371 people lived in the county. About 69.6 percent were Anglo, 1 percent African American, and 26.9 percent Hispanic. Communities in the county include Leakey (population, 430), the seat of government; Camp Wood (703); and Rio Frio (50). Leakey hosts a July Jubilee in the summer.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, John Minton, “Real County“
I was the guest of Leakey and Real County on July 25, 2015.
Real County Courthouse – 1917
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
In 1913 (the year Real County was established), a temporary building was created of which not much pertinent information remains. All we know is that it was roughly 22′ x 40′ in size and had two rooms. After a four year long controversy over the building’s location, Judge D.D. Thompson began announcing plans for a permanent courthouse as part of his election promises. That was in 1917.
That year, a simple, square-planned, two story rock courthouse began construction on the Leakey square. Designed by H. A. Reuter of San Antonio and constructed by McCleary and Scott of Kerrville, the Real County courthouse came into existence under the guise of a Classical Revival plan. Reuter described his work as having “fortress-like façades”, similar to those I imagine you find in the United Kingdom and Ireland as leftovers from medieval times. Local limestone was quarried from Tucker Hollow near Leakey to bring the building to life.
In 1978, the doors visible in the two images above were filled in and replaced with windows. The courthouse then became accessible via the large Ransom Annex, built adjacent to the original structure and completed that same year. It was designed by the firm Barton D. Riley & Associates. Effectively, the courthouse of today operates from within the annex, while the original building houses county offices.
The 1917 Real County courthouse, ninety-eight years after its construction
It’s quite a simple edifice. In my eyes, this is the most “plain” court building I’ve ever come across. That certainly doesn’t diminish its appeal, however.
The western façade, on Market Street
The western side has an “X” display of windows.The northwest corner
Scenes from the courthouse’s northern side
Access to the courthouse now comes from entrances tucked away at the sides of the original structure. These were built in 1978, when the large Ransom Annex was added.
Here you can see how a portion of the original structure was torn away to connect it with the annex.
The walls are made of locally-quarried limestone (taken from a hollow on the edge of town).
This window, on the northern side, was once the location of a door into the courthouse. When they added the annex in the 70s, they did away with separate doors to this part of the complex.
Seems a bad location for this, if you ask me…
Main Street, as seen from the northern side of the courthouse
A memorial to pioneers John & Nancy Leakey (for whom the town is named), the first white settlers in Frio Canyon, sits on the northwest corner of the courthouse lawn.
The northeast corner of the Ransom Annex
The annex faces east, on Evergreen Street.
The 1917 courthouse (at the end of the hall), viewed from the doosr of the 1978 annex
The annex’s southwest corner
The main façade, facing south on 4th Street
Like the window on the northern side, this one was also once a door.
4th Street, as seen from the southern doors
The southern entrance to the annex
On the Main Drag
Scenes from Real County
Tubing on the Frio River
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