Sabine County Courthouse, Hemphill, Texas

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“Sabine County covers 546 square miles in the Redlands region, which is covered with longleaf pine, oak, and hickory forests. The southern part of the county is gently rolling to hilly with loamy surfaces and deep reddish, clayey, iron-rich subsoils. The northern part has sandy acidic loamy soils with very deep reddish clayey subsoils.”

“Sabine County was named for the Sabine River. The original inhabitants of the area were the Ais tribe of the Caddo Indians. Probably the first Europeans in the area were members of the Moscoso expedition in the early 1540s. In the early 1700s Louis Juchereau de St. Denis led three expeditions into Texas, one of which took him through what is now northern Sabine County, along the Old San Antonio Road, which later became the main route of travel to Texas. Thereafter the area slowly began to be settled. Original land grants from Spain and Mexico took up 220,000 acres; the largest, made to Juan Ignacio Pifermo in 1794, encompassed 17,713 acres near the site of later Geneva.”

“Before 1832 the area was part of the Municipality of Nacogdoches. It belonged to the Municipality of San Augustine from 1832 until 1835, when it became the Municipality of Sabine. A ferry across the Sabine River was established in the northern part of what became Sabine County. This ferry is thought to have been called El Paso de Chalán until 1796, when Michael Crow established Crow’s Ferry. It operated until 1812, when it was purchased by James Gaines and renamed Gaines Ferry. Gaines served as alcalde of the Sabine District of the Municipality of Nacogdoches in 1824.”

“With the aid of Gaines Ferry, communities began to develop in the area. In 1825 Haden Edwards received a land grant to settle 800 families there, but due to his involvement in the Fredonian Rebellion, he was forced to leave Texas. In 1828 the town of Milam was established in the northern part of what is now Sabine County. Lorenzo de Zavala was given a settlement land grant, but because a section of his grant was in an area forbidden to foreign settlers, they did not receive title to their land until 1835. At that time a census listed the population of the Municipality of Sabine as 1,240.”

“Shortly before the outbreak of the Texas Revolution, Benjamin Holt, Jesse Parker, and Absalom Hier served as delegates from the Sabine District to the Convention of 1832 in San Felipe de Austin. Mathew Caldwell and William Clark, Jr., served as delegates to the Convention of 1836 and were signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence. During the Runaway Scrape Texans fled to Louisiana across Gaines Ferry. Benjamin F. Bryant, in response to Sam Houston‘s call for troops, organized the volunteer Sabine Company, which served at the battle of San Jacinto in 1836.”

“After the victory at San Jacinto, the government of the Republic of Texas began to organize. On December 14, 1837, Sabine County was organized and its boundaries defined. John Boyd represented the county at the First and Second congresses of the Republic of Texas, and Matthew Parker was appointed the first chief justice. The county boundaries have remained unchanged since its establishment; however, when the area was known as the Municipality of Sabine, it encompassed parts of present-day San Augustine, Jasper, and Newton counties.”

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“Milam was the original county seat, but as early as 1850 settlers began to petition the government for a more centrally located county seat on the grounds that Milam was more than five miles from the geographic center of the county. In August 1858 an election was held, and 160 out of 260 votes were cast in favor of relocation. However, the election was invalidated because there was not an official survey proving Milam was outside the five-mile limit. On November 11, 1858, after a survey found Milam to be six and three-quarter miles from the center of the county, another election was held, and a majority again voted for relocation. J. A. Whittelsey, Alex Harris, John H. Smith, George L. Clapp, and C. K. Blanchard, acting as the Sabine County Court, used a survey by E. P. Beddoe and ordered that the county seat be located at the center of the county. The new town was named Hemphill, in honor of John Hemphill, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, who at the time was serving as a United States senator.”

“Sabine County’s population grew from 1,021 in 1847 to 2,498 in 1850, of which 1,556 were Anglo-Americans and 942 were African-American slaves. The population was 2,750 in 1860. During the Civil War the county was the scene of a Confederate supply trail along which cattle were driven to Natchez, Mississippi. The war’s toll on the civilian population resulted in assistance by the Confederate government to families of those serving in the army, and in February 1864 Chief Justice J. A. Whittelsey compiled a list of 334 people eligible for relief.”

“The economy of Sabine County gradually recovered after the Civil War. The number of farms increased to 1,064 in 1900, and the primary crops were cotton, corn, and sweet potatoes. The population went from 3,256 in 1870 to 6,394 in 1900 to 12,299 in 1920. The number of farms increased slightly to 1,270 in 1920. Cotton bales ginned went from 2,409 in 1910 to 2,919 in 1920 to 4,760 in 1929, with a high of 8,209 in 1926. The county had eighteen manufacturing establishments in 1920.”

“Railroads first came into Sabine County in 1902–03 when the Gulf, Beaumont and Great Northern Railroad laid a track north from Jasper County. In 1948 the railroad was leased to the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway, which merged with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe in 1965. The Lufkin, Hemphill and Gulf Railway ran eastward through Bronson in 1912 and reached Hemphill in 1916; the track was abandoned in 1938.”

“The era of the 1920s to the 1950s was a period of general decline for Sabine County, with the population decreasing to 8,586 in 1950. This was due partly to the effects of the Great Depression, the cutting out of the virgin timber in the area, and the establishment of Sabine National Forest in 1933, which removed 112,000 acres of timber from cutting. The number of farms increased to 1,598 in 1940 and then dropped to 873 by 1950, with farm value decreasing by one-third.”

“During the 1930s two Civilian Conservation Corps camps, one near Pineland and one near Milam, helped the Texas Forest Service build fire watchtowers and roads and assisted in the planting of pine seedlings in Sabine National Forest. The corps also helped with the construction of the Red Hills Recreation Area. Another New Deal project, the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, was established in Hemphill to implement crop and livestock programs to help reduce excess production. In 1933 the State Highway Department took over the ferry at Pendleton, the site of Gaines Ferry, when the county could no longer afford the expense.”

“In 1937 the bridge was completed, but later destroyed by a flood and replaced in 1967 by a second bridge. Electricity was brought to Sabine County in 1938 by the Deep East Texas Electric Cooperative, which was originally funded by the Rural Electrification Agency.”

“Construction began on Toledo Bend Reservoir in 1964. The impoundment of water began in 1966, and the electrical plant was finished in 1969. Toledo Bend, the largest man-made lake in the South, covers 181,000 acres, over a third of which are in Sabine County.”

“In 1984 Congress set aside 9,946 acres for the Indian Mounds Wilderness Area, administered by the Yellow Pines Ranger District of the United States Forest Service, in Hemphill. The district also supervises the operation of the Red Hills, Willow Oak, Indian Mounds, and Lakeview recreation areas.”

“In 1982 the county produced 58,744,000 cubic feet of gas and 36,244 barrels of oil. The population was 9,586 in 1990. Manufacturing remained steady, while the number of farms decreased to a low of 224.”

“In 2002 the county had 219 farms and ranches covering 30,808 acres, 38 percent of which were devoted to crops, 33 percent to pasture, and 29 percent to woodlands. In that year Sabine County farmers and ranchers earned $6,853,000 (down 39 percent from 1997); livestock sales accounted for $6,479,000 of that total. Poultry, cattle, vegetables, and fruit were the chief agricultural products. About 16,726,000 cubic feet of pinewood and more than 1,573,300 cubic feet of hardwood were harvested in the county in 2003.”

“Hemphill (population, 1,215) is the county seat; other communities include Milam (1,535), Pineland (839), Bronson (377), Brookeland (300), and Geneva (200). Billing itself “The Fishing Capital of the World,” the county offers a wide variety of recreational activities, including fishing in Toledo Bend Reservoir and hunting in the Sabine National Forest. It also has a Mayfest and a county fair in October.”

- Handbook of Texas Online, Matthew Hayes Nall, “Sabine County

I was the guest of Hemphill and Sabine County on July 11, 2016.

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Sabine County Courthouse – 1906

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(Photo Courtesy: toledo-bend.com)

This courthouse comes to us in the Beaux Arts style as the fourth to ever stand in Sabine County. As the third to stand on the present site, it succeeded a smaller structure that burned in 1875, and a small (but slightly larger than its predecessor) frame building as well.

Architect N.A. Dawson developed the designs, and a James Barney Lewis assisted him in bringing the courthouse to life.

Approximately three years after its construction, a fire broke out on September 25, 1909. The inferno seriously damaged the building’s top two floors and completely destroyed its tower. Soon after, a reconstruction effort was launched. It adhered in all areas to Dawson’s original plans except the previously flat roof was converted into a hipped one. That project was completed in 1910 and was supervised by J.B. Lewis.

Lastly, a Works Progress Administration project in 1938 saw a complete remodel of the building, part of which included the removal of the courthouse dome.

That gives us the version that stands today.

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(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT) (This photo came one year after the remodel, in 1939).
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This is the main entrance, on Main Street. It’s on the only side with stairs.
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The banisters open up like a warm embrace, beckoning patrons forward.
DSC_8633DSC_8634DSC_8635The northwest corner
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The historic Sabine County Jail…
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The western entrance, on Texas Street
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The southern façade, as viewed from across Worth Street
DSC_8658DSC_8662DSC_8685DSC_8683It’s certainly sealed now, but I suspect this used to be a public well. It’s on the southeast corner of the property.
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Here’s the view from the southern side. There’s no entrance here, but a walkway all the same.
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The eastern side of the courthouse faces Oak Street.
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This the view of Main Street from the top of the courthouse stairs.
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At the base of the stairs is a memorial celebrating Sabine County’s bicentennial.
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There is also a memorial to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia, which heartbreakingly disintegrated during its return to Earth above East Texas in 2003, killing all seven of its brave crew. Debris was scattered over a massive radius following the disaster, and Hemphill was located near the epicenter of that range. Locals reported finding gruesome relics like the shuttle’s nose cone and even some human remains along county roads and in woods just outside of town.
May the crew rest in peace.
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Hemphill & Sabine County

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In case you didn’t know, Sabine County is “The Fishing Capital of the World”.

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Previous Courthouse: San Augustine County

Next Courthouse: Jasper County

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