“Reeves County comprises 2,626 square miles of land with flat and undulating terrain in its northern part and mountainous topography in the extreme south. Altitudes, including those in the Davis Mountains, vary from 2,538 to 4,210 feet above sea level. The Barrilla Hills rise abruptly with steep slopes to a height of 150 to 200 feet above the surrounding plain. About 85 percent of the county is covered by a broad gently-sloping plain topped by outwash material from the mountains.”
“The entire county is drained by the Pecos River. The main tributaries are Salt and Toyah creeks and Four Mile, Horsehead, and Salt draws. Two lakes provide water for recreation and irrigation: Red Bluff Reservoir on the Pecos River in extreme northwestern Reeves County and Balmorhea Lake in the southwest.”
“The Jumano Indians irrigated crops of corn and peaches from San Solomon Spring, where Balmorhea State Recreation Area is now located. Three Jumanos met the expedition of Antonio de Espejo near Toyah Lake in 1583, and guided explorers to La Junta by a better route. Settlers of Mexican descent farmed in the county’s Madera Valley from early times. In 1849 John S. Ford traveled along Toyah Creek and noted the productive land upon which the Mescalero Indians cultivated corn.”
“The first Anglo farmers arrived in Toyah Valley in 1871, when George B. and Robert E. Lyle began irrigating crops from Toyah Creek. Open range ranching first attracted white settlers to the Davis Mountains in 1875.”
“By 1881 the Texas and Pacific Railway built tracks through Reeves County. At that time section houses were constructed at Pecos and Toyah, which opened a post office that year and later became a shipping point for local ranchers. Pecos was named the seat of government when Reeves County was separated from Pecos County in 1883 and organized in 1884. Pecos constructed a three-room school in 1883 and opened a post office in 1884. The county was named for Confederate colonel George R. Reeves.”
“The name of the first community was Saragosa, which opened a post office in 1884. The name was changed to Lyles in 1891 and to Toyahvale in 1894. By 1885, when several ranchers herded cattle on the northern range of the county, Pecos reported 150 residents and Toyah had sixty. By 1890 the county population had expanded to 1,247, including seven African Americans, fifteen Chinese, and 351 foreign-born residents.”
“The census of 1900 showed sixty-three farms countywide, of which forty-one were operated by owners and twenty-two by tenants. Farms comprised nearly 900,000 acres and had 51,000 cattle. In that year the agricultural economy of Reeves County was affected when the state ended free use of its land. Agents were sent across West Texas to collect rents from ranchers on public land. Between 1901 and 1905, however, state law permitted sale of school lands in West Texas, allowing individuals to purchase four sections of land on generous credit terms. Reeves and other West Texas counties experienced a rush of new settlers, which continued even after the law was changed in 1905 to award land to the highest bidder.”
“Between 1903 and 1913 several new communities developed, but most were ephemeral. Both Alamo, renamed Pera in 1905, and Dixieland opened post offices in 1903. Other towns receiving post offices included Panama in 1904, Orla in 1906, and Hermosa and Arno in 1907.”
“Balmorhea began operation of both a school and a post office in 1908, and post offices were organized in 1910 at Pyle, Mont Clair, and Angeles; the latter moved to Orla some time later. Hoban received a post office in 1911 and Crystal Water in 1913. By the 1990s, however, only the post offices at Orla and Balmorhea were still in existence. The 1910 census reflects the effects of the school-land rush after 1901, showing the population more than doubled in a decade to 4,392, including 408 foreign-born, thirteen Chinese, and eighty-two African American residents.”
“In the early 1920s Pecos became the focus of Delaware Basin oil exploration and received substantial publicity, though little oil and gas were found in paying quantities. By 1930, however, oil excitement had brought a larger and more diversified population to the county. Of a total of 6,407 residents, 178 were African American and fifty-six foreign-born from fifteen countries.”
“Reeves County felt the impact of the Great Depression and the earlier drought, as cultivation of crops continued to decline into the 1930s. In 1930 the number of farms had risen slightly to 327, but farm tenancy increased. Only 114 farms were operated by owners, and 213 by tenants. Cotton remained a strong crop with 3,200 bales harvested, and over 7,000 tons of forage was produced on nearly 3,000 acres. Overall numbers of livestock decreased, and the value of livestock fell to half of its earlier total, though cattle numbers remained at nearly 24,000 head. By 1940 the county population climbed to 8,006.”
“In the 1970s Reeves County witnessed the development of three oilfields that added significantly to its economy: the Athens, Chapman Deep, and San Martine fields. Between 1939 and 1973 the county produced 37 million barrels of oil. The value of livestock soared to $83 million by 1978 but dropped to $68 million in 1982, by which time the number of farms had fallen to 149, and 34 percent of owners lived on their land.”
“Although by 1980 West Texas experienced a dramatic oil boom with greatly-increased drilling activity and an influx of new people to fill blue collar jobs, the population of Reeves County fell to 15,801 in that year, of which 3 percent were African American and 62 percent were Hispanic. In 1982 the county ranked twenty-seventh in the nation in highest percent of residents of Spanish origin.”
“As of 2014, 14,349 people lived in the county. About 19.2 percent were Anglo, 5.4 percent African American, and 74.5 percent. Incorporated cities included Balmorhea (population, 504), Pecos (8,870); and Toyah (92); unincorporated communities included Brogado, Orla (80), Red Bluff, Saragosa (185), Toyahvale (60), and Verhalen.”
“Reeves County is noted for its West of the Pecos Museum at Pecos and for Balmorhea State Recreation Area and Lake. The county celebrates a Rodeo Week, June Fest, Golden Girl of the West Pageant, Night in Old Pecos, and an 1800s Parade at Pecos in June; a Fourth of July Parade, Old Fiddlers Contest, and West of the Pecos Rodeo at Pecos in July; a Frijole Cookoff at Balmorhea and cantaloupe festival in August; and Fall Fair Festival at Pecos in October.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Julia Cauble Smith, “Reeves County”
I was the guest of Pecos and Reeves County on August 13, 2013 and returned to rephotograph the courthouse on July 4, 2015.
Reeves County Courthouse – 1886
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
Italianate scholars Martin, Byrne, and Johnston were the minds behind Reeves County’s first courthouse. The building followed a central-cross plan and stood two stories. Brick walls, window hood molds, and a charming bell tower were some of it most intriguing and endearing elements. The means of its destruction are unclear, but my guess is that it was paved over during the Great Depression to make way for a more modern looking courthouse.
Reeves County Courthouse – 1937
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
The Texas Historical Commission classifies the current Reeves County Courthouse as a Renaissance Revival structure, but I believe an infusing of the Mediterranean and Classical Revival styles describes it better.
This three-story, Spanish tile-roofed courthouse was designed by Trost & Trost, an architectural team of two brothers from El Paso. Their resume includes over three hundred buildings in El Paso, along with many others scattered across West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The contractor Pecos County chose to join the brothers in their construction project was J.L. Hair.
The Reeves County Courthouse faces northwest on 4th Street.
4th Street, as seen from the courthouse’s front doors
1930s-era stone ornamentation covers the building.
So do a local flock of pigeons…
Notable fallout shelter signs dot many courthouses of the Trans-Pecos and Panhandle.
The different-colored portions of the courthouse were additions built after 1937.
A large bird net’s been put up to try and battle these pigeons.
The backside of the building faces a parking lot and the Reeves County Sheriff’s Office nearby.
The Sheriff’s Office, viewed from the courthouse’s backdoor
One of the office’s trees was hiding this engraving.
The eastern corner
This is the three-tiered, eastern façade on Highway 285.
Pecos & Reeves County
The old US Post Office and Courthouse is just across Oak Street from the county courthouse. I’m fairly certain they were designed by the same architect.
This is the current US Courthouses. The much more expansive and modern complex is across Highway 285 from the county courthouse.
The West of the Pecos Museum is one of the area’s attractions.
Most notable among its exhibits is a replica of Judge Roy Bean’s courthouse. The real site is preserved in Langtry, a small, isolated community in western Val Verde County near the Rio Grande.
On Highway 285
Previous Courthouse: Pecos County
Next Courthouse: Loving County