“Lord I’d give anything to be / Down on the Rio Grande” – Johnny Rodriguez, “Down on the Rio Grande”
If you can’t judge from these photos, lighting conditions in Cotulla during the trip’s last morning were anything but good. The pictures I got last night were far better. I shouldn’t have really returned to the La Salle County courthouse. However, I did get to see the restored interior.
There were better things to see ahead. So after this quick revisit to #199, it was time to head northeast into Frio County, for #200!
The county seat of Pearsall is about thirty-five miles northeast of Cotulla on I-35. In fact, it was the last county seat situated on 35 for me to visit. The others (Gainesville, Denton, Fort Worth, Hillsboro, Waco, Belton, Georgetown, Austin, San Marcos, New Braunfels, San Antonio, Cotulla, and Laredo) had all been done thus far.
There are two exists for Pearsall off of 35 northbound…and we missed both. We had to go north of town for a mile or two until we could find an exit and turn back for town.
About a year ago I discovered a website that detailed some of Texas’ retired courthouses. Having only been to the retired Irion County courthouse in Sherwood at that time, I wasn’t aware that there were so many more. One of these courthouses I discovered was in northwestern Frio County in what remains of Frio Town (the original county seat).
It was constructed in 1878 and served the community of Frio Town until it washed up. When the railroad bypassed the town in favor of Pearsall, the life of the community died, leaving the courthouse and jail abandoned out on the frontier. When I first learned of this, I spent many hours at the computer, trying to gather what information I could about it.
Eventually, I discovered that its location is on private ranch land. This was disappointing. I had really wanted to be able to see it in person. After some time, I read one account of people visiting it, claiming that they’d been able to glimpse it from the highway. That was motivation enough for me. I decided that whenever I made it down to Frio County, I would add Frio Town to my list.
Well the time had arrived. My excitement was mounting as I photographed the courthouse.
Inside the courthouse, I went to open the glass-paneled door to the commissioners’ courtroom, and found it locked. Peering inside, a saw a portrait done of a building I recognized to be the Frio Town courthouse. My grandfather saw me trying to take the picture through the locked door and stepped into a nearby office, presumably to ask for the key.
A moment or two later, he called me into the office and said, “There’s a picture of it here.”
Inside the office, I met county clerk, Angie Tullis and one of her possessions.
She explained that one of Frio County’s past judges had wanted to photograph the Frio Town courthouse and had captured this view of it. Some time after he had passed away, his wife had brought in the picture to Mrs. Tullis as a gift. She now hangs it on her wall proudly.
She told me that before Frio Town had completely dried up, the courthouse’s first floor had served as a small grocery store. Note the antique gas pump out front. To the best of her knowledge, this is the only photo of the Frio Town courthouse in existence in which all four walls stand. I’m very lucky to have seen it. If you see this, Mrs. Tullis, I’d like to thank you again for letting me take a picture of your picture.
My grandfather asked her if any of the building could still be seen from the road, and she told us that only wall was left. That didn’t shake me. I was determined to see this courthouse…or whatever was left of it.
From Pearsall, we drove northwest into the countryside on CR 140, with the destination of Frio Town.
Within just a few miles’ drive, we had arrived at the sea of chaparral that now covers Frio Town. All that’s left to be visited is the cemetery.
The cemetery was really neat. Besides having to check every other step for rattlesnakes, I enjoyed paying tribute to the people of Frio Town that remain here. The historical marker next to the gate reads, “One of the few physical reminders of the historic Frio Town community, this cemetery stands as a testament to the county’s early pioneer history.” Well said.
However, not every grave is historic. Some are semi-recent, belonging to people who live on ranches in the area. I assume the owners of the ranch the courthouse is on will be buried here.
Speaking of the courthouse, that was our next and last stop in Frio Town.
I knew from the research I’d done, that the courthouse was east of the highway. So, as we drove back in the direction of Pearsall, we looked out to the left of the car, hopping to catch a glimpse of it. And just when I thought we might not find it…there it was, rising over a sea of mesquite trees.
Once I’d finished photographing what I could, we started the drive back towards Pearsall. But, something was off. I didn’t feel right about it. It felt like we were giving up…when we’d already succeeded. I just knew there was more to be seen. At my urging, we turned back around. I was looking for an open gate, a dirt path, something, anything to get me to that courthouse.
And there was a trail. But unfortunately, we seem to have not been the first ones to venture out to the Frio Town courthouse. The small dirt road leading to it has now been barricaded with not just fencing, but with a fallen tree.
The owners have most likely had problems before. I suppose it’s for the best that I wasn’t able to go on the property…that would’ve been trespassing after all.
However, by turning back around, I discovered a clearer view of the courthouse that exposed more of it for pictures.
If courthouses could die, this one’d be not long for this world. After I got home, I found a picture online of it that I’d never seen before. It looks to have been taken from the exact same angle I chose. Because of this, you can compare what the courthouse ruins looked like in February 2010 and what they looked like in August 2014.
(Left Photo Courtesy: Greg’s Texas County Courthouse Tour, Greg Wurzbach)
I expect, within a few years, the courthouse will meet the same fate as Frio Town. It is such a shame. Anyone interested in seeing what’s left of this courthouse better hurry. Here’s proof that it’s fading…fast.
So I said goodbye to Frio Town and we headed towards Atascosa County, the final stop of the trip. I came to the Atascosa County courthouse originally in July 2013 as part of my first trip to South Padre Island. Last month, when I’d been back through the area to redo the courthouses from that trip, we’d skipped over this one. Now was the time to come back.
We headed north on the Interstate towards the town of Devine, but exited off before we could get there. From the small community of Moore, we headed east for Atascosa County. But prior to crossing the county line, we found ourselves in a “dot on the map” called Bigfoot, Texas. Funny.
I was shocked to find a historical museum in this tiny town. One of the exhibits there that can be seen from the road is a replica of the cabin the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed in. While the real cabin has been lost to history, an even more accurate replica is on display at the historic site in Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas. I’ve been to both it and Bigfoot’s version and I wouldn’t say they’re look-a-likes. You can be the judge of that.
Next up came the Atascosa County courthouse in Jourdanton (pronounced “jur-dun-ton”). It’s as dominating a structure as I remember.
Once again relying on locals for a lunch opinion, we headed over to the Rock House Cafe.
With South Texas behind us, we drove north to San Antonio to regain familiar territory. The drive back up 281 to Granbury was mostly spent recalling my memories of the last four days, and how great a trip it had been.