Swisher County Courthouse, Tulia, Texas

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“The area was named for James Gibson Swisher, a veteran of the Texas Revolution. Swisher County occupies 896 square miles of level plains broken only by Tule Creek and its three branches, North, Middle, and South Tule draws. These intermittent streams have no appreciable effect on the terrain until they converge into Tule Creek in the eastern part of the county.”

“The area that is now Swisher County was long the homeland of Apachean cultures, who were displaced by the more warlike Comanches by around 1700. The Comanches ruled the High Plainsuntil they were crushed by the United States Army in the Red River War of 1874. During this war army troops crisscrossed Swisher County in pursuit of the Comanches, but no significant combat occurred in the county. However, after the battle of Palo Duro Canyon in late September 1874, the power of the Comanches was broken, and by the mid-1870s buffalo hunters were in the county exterminating the herds.”

“In 1876 the Texas state legislature carved Swisher County from lands previously assigned to the Young and Bexar districts. In 1880 four people were reported living in the area. Ranching came to the county as the buffalo were eliminated. Swisher County remained largely unsettled until the JA Ranch of Charles Goodnight expanded into the county in 1883. This activity led to Goodnight’s Tule Ranch, which occupied the entire eastern part of the county.”

“By the late 1880s the scattered residents of the county perceived a need for a local government, and a petition for organization was circulated in June 1890. An election held on July 17 formally organized the county with Tulia, a tiny settlement, chosen as county seat. Swisher County remained wholly a ranching county almost until the beginning of the twentieth century; as late as 1890 there were only 535 “improved” acres on the county’s seventeen ranches, and only 100 people lived in the area.”


“Santa Fe Railroad branch line from Amarillo reached Swisher County in 1906 and later connected the county to Plainview in Hale County. When the line was completed to Lubbock in 1910, Tulia and Swisher County were on a major north-south rail line. Railroad construction also led to the establishment of two Swisher County towns, Happy and Kress, which became new population centers on the railroad.”

“By tying the area to national markets and easing immigration, the new railroad encouraged economic development. By 1910 there were 510 farms and ranches in the county, and crop farming had become firmly established; almost 11,000 acres of sorghum, 2,700 acres of corn, and 4,200 acres of wheat was planted that year. By 1920, when there were 572 farms and ranches, 60,000 acres was planted in wheat, the county’s most important crop, and 35,000 acres was devoted to sorghum. Poultry raising was also becoming a significant facet of the local economy.”

“While the number of cattle in the county declined to 20,600 between 1920 and 1930, the number of acres under cultivation tripled. By 1930, 194,000 acres was planted in wheat, still the biggest crop; production of sorghum, cotton, and other crops also expanded. By 1930 there were 1,021 farms and ranches in the county, and the population had increased to 7,343.”

“Until nearly 1920 roads in Swisher County consisted of crude paths scraped in the earth. In 1920 the Ozark Trail, a highway network from Arkansas and Missouri through Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas, to New Mexico, came to the plains of Texas. Collingsworth, Childress, Hall, Briscoe, Swisher, Castro, and Parmer counties, along with Curry and Roosevelt counties in New Mexico, cooperated in raising $10,000 in 1920 to erect markers along already existing roads to mark the Ozark Trail from Oklahoma across Texas to New Mexico. The trail, made up of graded and “improved” roads in Texas, eventually evolved into a sophisticated road network.

“By the mid-1920s Tulia was linked to Nazareth, Dimmitt, and Bovina by State Highway 86, to Canyon and Amarillo by U.S. Highway 385 (now U.S. 87 or Interstate Highway 27), to Silverton by State Highway 80, and to Plainview and Lubbock by U.S. 385. The Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s dealt harshly with plains agriculture.”

“During the late 1950s and 1960s many feedlot operations were established to utilize the county’s abundant grain crops and to diversify the local agricultural economy. A comprehensive network of paved farm roads was also constructed during this period to replace the old dirt trails that led from farm to farm. As a result of the agricultural development in the immediate post-war era, the population of the county rose to 8,249 by 1950 and to 10,607 in 1960. Increased mechanization and agricultural consolidation later led to a continuing decline in the population, however, from 10,373 residents in 1970 to 9,723 in 1980 and to 8,133 in 1990. The census counted 7,581 people living in the county in 2014.”

“The population of the county is concentrated mostly in the small towns, which include Tulia (population, 4,771), the county seat; Happy (668, partly in Randall County); Kress (703); Claytonville, and Vigo Park (36). The remainder of the population resides on farms and ranches.”

- Handbook of Texas Online, Donald R. Abbe and John Leffler, “Swisher County

I was the guest of Tulia and Swisher County on August 15, 2016.


Swisher County Courthouse – 1890

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(Photo Courtesy: Terry Jeanson)

This was a simple, two-story, wooden courthouse, cut and dry for its time with no distinctions. So many more followed the same pattern this early on in history and this far out in the Panhandle. Keep in mind I mention the region for a reason. At this same time farther east, John Riely Gordon was designing some of the state’s finest courthouses. But out that way, cities had far more capital to afford the likes of Gordon’s work.

Elmer G. Withers would eventually swoop through here (though his style was a bit more modern than Gordon’s) and design a structure that Swisher County could ultimately afford by then.

This building was abandoned in 1909 for its replacement, but whoever inputs data into the Texas Historical Commission’s online files maintains that this structure could still be standing. I have my doubts.


Swisher County Courthouse – 1909

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(Photo Courtesy: THC)

Here’s an early look at the courthouse. As mentioned above, the architect was Elmer G. Withers. I can’t be sure of the contractor. Atop the central tower, a statue of the goddess of Justice is clearly visible, and other details of classic ornamentation are also present.

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(Photo Courtesy: Terry Jeanson)

With this photo, you can get a little better look at the ornamentation above each pediment. A building this grand was very typical in the circa-1909 era (even in the Panhandle by this time), but as the years wore on, the building would be stripped of some of its more antique elements.

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(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)

Here, in 1939, the building has begun its transition into a more modern style.

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(Photo Courtesy: Terry Jeanson)

This is a really fascinating image. It dates from 1962, as you can probably tell from the cars. This year is significant because this is when Swisher County decided to do away with their courthouse.

Remarkably, this structure survived the Great Depression (if it hadn’t, we’d be looking at a more Moderne design of something like Townes & Funk or Voelcker & Dixon today). Instead, the current Swisher County courthouse is more modern (little ‘m’, no ‘e’), meaning it originated between approximately 1955-1975. Typically, when counties demolished their courthouses to give Depression-era, work-starved men jobs, they did away with the entire building and started anew. I’ve found that in the sixties, counties were more likely to just remodel their courthouses into shells of what once was. This means keeping the core of the building intact, but “altering it beyond recognition”. Somehow, I think that’s almost worst.

I say this particular photo is fascinating because in it, you can see the demolition process has already begun. Look to the right of the image and you can see the crumbling bricks of one of the façades (the southern one, I believe).

According to the director of the Tulia Chamber of Commerce, the county was forced to undergo extensive renovations after a fire consumed much of the old courthouse’s interior. That makes sense, but still, I’m skeptical why an unrecognizable shell had to be created. I suppose it was just the trend of the time to start over with something more “modern”. See Titus County, who followed this fad as well. In my opinion, Tulia got the better end of the stick.

Lastly, here’s a brief synopsis from the Texas Historical Commission on how they describe this courthouse:

“Original structure was built in 1907 in Renaissance Revival style, with walls of red brick and details of tan sandstone. The original had projecting central bays and pedimented entrances. Each bay had pediments and a large finial on the roofline. The base of the structure was rusticated stone. The building was capped by a central octagonal dome. A 1962 remodeling removed all of the historic architectural elements and clad the building in brick. The character was completely altered beyond recognition and two winged additions were added the same year.”


Swisher County Courthouse – 1962

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(Photo Courtesy: THC)

And of course, here’s the final product. Behold, Frankenstein’s monster is alive!

The architects were Rittenberry & Rittenberry with Timmons Construction Co. serving as contractor.

Compare this image to the one above (if you can stomach it).

The main entrance, facing west on Maxwell AvenueDSC_1692
DSC_1694Signs of aging on the front stepsDSC_1693DSC_1695DSC_1701DSC_1706The northern entrance on Broadway AvenueDSC_1707DSC_1710DSC_1712DSC_1709DSC_1698DSC_1696The view of Maxwell Avenue from the front doorsDSC_1715DSC_1717A memorial on the courthouse property’s southwest cornerDSC_1719DSC_1723This is the southern façade. To my knowledge, this is where those crumbling ruins in the photo were, fifty-four years earlier.DSC_17252nd Street / Highway 86 from the southern doorsDSC_1732DSC_1730DSC_1755DSC_1729The Swisher County JailDSC_1711DSC_1708DSC_1748DSC_1700DSC_1699


Tulia & Swisher County
DSC_1702From another time…DSC_1743DSC_1758DSC_1760DSC_1769You know you’re within fifty miles of Amarillo when…DSC_1763

Previous Courthouse: Briscoe County

Next Courthouse: Randall County

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