Courthouses of the Northern Blackland Prairies

The Blackland Prairies of Texas belong to an ecological zone that stretches from roughly San Antonio to the Red River region around Paris. Agriculture has always been a primary part of life in this part of the state. Recently, I embarked out on a trip to the northern part of this region. The goal of this trip, aside from courthouses, was to get to Tyler at least thirty minutes before five o’clock in order to load a large shipment of personalized signs we had ordered on to the miniature trailer we lugged around the entire day.

The trip started at about seven forty-five when we left Granbury, headed northeast for DFW. About an hour and a half later, we navigated just south of Downtown Dallas on I-30 and soon crossed Lake Ray Hubbard to enter Rockwall County, our first stop. Back in 2011, we took a courthouse trip up towards Texarkana (and got Rockwall, Franklin, Titus, Camp, Morris, Cass, Bowie, and Red River Counties all in one day). Earlier this year, when I went to gather all my pictures, I discovered that these photos were missing. I have not found them to date. In short, it was necessary I revisit all these courthouses.

Upon entering the county, we exited 30 and drove quickly downtown to visit the “dollhouse-like” building on the Rockwall square. This courthouse is fittingly small for the state’s smallest county. The windows above the doors read: Historic Rockwall County Courthouse.

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The courthouse where the courts are still in use is a massive, much newer building just off of I-30. We paid a visit here as well.

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The trip was to consist mainly of redos, as this region is populated with several counties that require that. For our next redo of the day, we followed 30 northeast into Hunt County and stopped in Greenville (#28) to take another look at the 1929 Moderne structure that dominates the town square. “Entrances” on both the north and south sides of the courthouse are elevated above the street and are connected to the ground with large staircases. Both hold signs that read: NOT AN ENTRANCE. One enters the building through a security entrance underneath the stairs on the north side. I hadn’t caught this the first time around.

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We broke the Interstate trend next and went northeast through the Hunt County community of Commerce to access Delta County (#26), one of the smallest counties in the state.  The space of land between two large forks of the Sulphur River forms a shape very similar to the Greek letter Delta, and thus the county organized in this space was named as such. My original visit included stopping at the locally-famous Miller’s Pharmacy and Soda Shop. Unknowingly, we ran into local celebrity, Mabel Wheat who has worked at the shop for sixty plus years. She told us about how the original Delta County Courthouse had been demolished during the Great Depression as a WPA project. She had a lot of good information and was fun to talk to. In the small town of Cooper, it was easy to find the soda shop again, but unfortunately it was closed and Mabel was not around. So, we stopped at the standing modern building and then had lunch just off the Cooper square.

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Miller’s at the corner of Dallas and 1st, Downtown Cooper

After about an hour spent in Cooper, we headed south for Sulphur Springs (#27) and recaptured the great essence put off by the Hopkins County Courthouse, easily one of my favorites. The Sulphur Springs’ downtown square not only surrounds the courthouse, but a large public plaza containing a large veterans’ memorial and two unique one-way glass public restrooms that were featured in a news article not too long ago. I was eager to “try them out” if you will. These restrooms really are one of a kind.

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The next twenty miles were spent driving to Rains County (which we learned is the Eagle Capital of Texas [but unfortunately, we saw no eagles]) and its seat, Emory. This was the first completely new courthouse of the day. Another small courthouse for a small county. Its compact shape allows for now grand staircase leading to the second floor, only a small staircase “hidden away” immediately to the right of the second entrance. It’s an interesting building.

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The other completely new courthouse was in Wood County, the seat being Quitman, about twenty miles to the east. We were making good time. It was about one-fifty now as we left Emory and we arrived in Quitman about two-fifteen. The courthouse there stands at a very busy intersection. When photographing the eastern side of the building (facing the intersection), I had to be careful not to stand too far back in fear of being run over by one of the many eighteen-wheelers that thunder through the area. I learned during my time here that Quitman is the “Big Bass Capital of Texas.” Good to know.

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Forty miles or so to the south of Quitman is Tyler. When we began driving by downtown, we decided it best to make a stop to rephotograph the Smith County Courthouse before continuing on to get the signs. The courthouse is one of my least favorites. Standing six stories above the streets of Tyler, this skyscraper-esque, modern courthouse was constructed in 1955 and stands on the opposite side of the street from a large public square complete with a handful of veterans’ memorials and a large fountain. From downtown, we left the loop and went south on Highway 155 to get the signs. When that was over, we swung west around the looper to Highway 36 and started west for Canton in Van Zandt County, another retake and the final stop of the day. The original 1894 structure was a masterpiece of James Riely Gordon quite similar to its sister building in Sulphur Springs. It was demolished in the thirties and left behind a Moderne work of Voelcker and Dixon. Though, still on the Canton square is the original cornerstone and iron eagle that once graced the building.

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We left Canton around five-thirty and pulled into our driveway about two hours later. It was a long and impressive twelve-hour day.

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