Panhandle Round 2, Day 2

After our stomachs settled from the Big Texan Steakhouse and a good night’s rest, we woke up ready to go courthousing. Our first stop (other than breakfast) was downtown. While we were here in Amarillo, I wanted to rephotograph the Potter County Courthouse (#78). Like Childress, I photographed myself at the much less grand entrance, and wanted to see the other side. The courthouse is a towering Moderne structure of several floors. The lawn around it is well maintained.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 8.45.20 PMAs decided last night, the next stop was back in Panhandle, one county over. The drive was quick and by already returning to rephotograph the Carson County courthouse, I was able to see the inside.

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The morning was ticking on and we needed to get started visiting new courthouses. We headed north of Panhandle and crossed into Hutchinson County around ten o’clock. The way the highway runs, one enters Borger first. It’s the county’s largest city, but is not the seat. That honor belongs to the small town of Stinnett, about ten miles north of Borger. There, a massive Texas Renaissance building looms down on the town.

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Photographing it from certain angles became a challenge, not only due to its size, but due to the sun’s position at this hour. I became disheartened because of some of the shadows cast upon the building. Hopefully, during the editing process, I’ll be able to right some of this inconvenience.

Having done my research before embarking on this trip combined with my fascination of Native American History, I knew that the Battle of Adobe Walls Site was somewhere nearby in Hutchinson County. Two battles actually took place here, when a settlement called Adobe Walls existed. It was Indians versus the US army and both battles went down in history, famous. A woman in the judge’s office at the courthouse said there wasn’t much to the site, but if we wanted to see it, it wasn’t hard to find. Following her directions, we followed the highway north for about ten miles before encountering a directional sign that read: Adobe Walls —>.The sign gestured to a small county road that cut across flat farmland all the way to the horizon.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 8.54.25 PMKnowing that we would never have a need to come this way again, we made the decision to make the trek. The farmland ended abruptly about another ten miles to the east and we entered a curvy road that wound above the valley below.

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We followed it all the way to its end, where a locked gate prohibits entry into the Turkey Track Ranch. Nearby the ranch entrance is a series of monuments paying tribute to those lost in Adobe Walls. The site of Adobe Walls is peaceful, located in a relatively isolated valley where only cows and ranchers exist. It’s hard to imagine a town once stood here.

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A panoramic view of Adobe Walls

After the eventual journey back to the highway, we turned south and reentered Stinnett for the sole purpose of switching paths. Our next destination was Dumas, seat of Moore County (#79). It was not on the official redo list, but I added it.


Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 9.34.33 PMIt was a good thing I did that too. While photographing its southern side, a woman pulled up and asked if I was taking pictures of the courthouse. I told her yes, and she inquired as to whether I had been up to see the district courtroom on the third floor. Shortly before meeting Shelly, the court reporter, I had been up to see the courtroom, but only photographed it through the door. I relayed this to her and she told me she could personally take us up to see the inside. She said it would be worth our time.

It sure was! From the outside, this 1930s Moderne building does not look like it could boast such an impressive courtroom as it does. Shelly said that the county has only paid approximately $200,000 for the restoration of the courtroom back to its original 1930s Art-Deco look. We were impressed. Most wood was original, she said, except for that of the jury box, judge’s seat, and her own.

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About the time we arrived in Dumas, I had begun to regret the one-hour detour of Adobe Walls. However, after leaving the courthouse I realized that if we hadn’t gone to the site and arrived in Dumas when we did, we would not have had the chance to see this wonderful room. It worked out for the best.

We stopped for lunch at the Alley Cafe in Dumas. The entrance is in an actual alley adjacent to the courthouse square. We both had sandwiches so that we could get back on the road in a timely manner. Next up was Sherman County (#152), the first county of the trip that bordered the Oklahoma Panhandle. Stratford, the seat, is a small town with a quiet downtown and courthouse with little to no activity.

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It took us a while to find the courtroom. We checked both the ground and second floors before realizing it was behind a mirrored door off the first floor. It’s made of two-way glass. You can’t seen in it, but you can see out of it. That’s the first time I’ve seen this used in a Texas courthouse.

I took over the wheel next for the fifty-eight mile drive east to the seat of Hansford County, Spearman. A 1933 courthouse model sits at one end of the “main stretch.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 9.37.26 PMAs we were photographing it, Sheriff Tim Glass came out of the front doors, saying, “When you take pictures of the courthouse the sheriff comes out to see what you’re doing.” He was curious about the project and had a few pieces of information about the building to share with us. He gave us permission to see the courtroom as well. Unique devices hung from the ceiling that appeared to be half fan/half light. They looked to be original.

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The small fan blades rest atop the lighting fixture.

Ochiltree County (pronounced “Ock-il-tree, not Oh-chill-tree as I had thought) was next up, another county where farms roll on for miles and miles with little else. The seat of Perryton is a town that appears to have survived the years. It’s of fairly large size in both area and population. The courthouse here made #154, meaning there were exactly one hundred courthouses left to this project from this point. I didn’t realize this until later that evening. This one dates from 1928 and features some impressive ornamentation on the front façade.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 9.38.47 PMWe arrived in Perryton close to closing time, making the Ochiltree County Courthouse the final one of the trip we could go inside. Tomorrow was Saturday and all the courthouses would be closed.

The sun was nowhere close to setting, but we could tell it had begun the journey down as we finished with Perryton. Our final stop of the day lay ahead, nestled in the rolling plains of Lipscomb County. This county forms the very top right corner of the Panhandle, bordering both the Oklahoma Panhandle and Oklahoma proper. The county’s biggest city, Booker, is partially in both Ochiltree and Lipscomb Counties. It’s also the northern most city in Texas that is completely within the state, made second otherwise by Texhoma, which hugs the border with Oklahoma. We stopped here to get pictures of the Lipscomb/Ochiltree County Line signs and for snacks at a gas station.

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Highway 15 runs east-west through Booker, and connects it with the Oklahoma border some twenty/thirty miles away. We followed it east past the community of Darrouzett and finally made a turn south. Down this new path (TX 305), we traveled to the community of Lipscomb, one of the least populated county seats in the state, bested only by Mentone in Loving County. A mere thirty-nine people live here. The courthouse was of course closed, but I doubted it would have looked much different had I got there before 5:00. The Lipscomb “square” is nearly deserted. The hoots of the doves in this area provided the only sound short of the occasional lawnmower.

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I noticed by peering in to the courthouse through the doors that there were no stairs. However, the building stands three stories. I didn’t give it much thought until passing around the southern side where I found the addition of an elevator shaft. That makes sense, I thought…upper floor access is by an elevator. I must have just not seen the doors. That’s half right.

Turns out, this elevator shaft has an external entrance, meaning to go up to any floor, one has to walk outside and use this device. I didn’t see the elevator on the inside because there wasn’t one. This is a most unique afterthought.

Screen Shot 2014-05-31 at 9.41.00 PMWe left Lipscomb County while the sun was still up and entered its southern neighbor, Hemphill County. Here, the seat is Canadian, named for the river it was built around. As we rounded a bluff, Canadian spilled out before us. The tower of the Hemphill County Courthouse can be seen for miles.

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As soon as we passed the city limits, I knew I liked this town. It was a welcome relief from typical Panhandle cities, small dots nearly lost among the great plains. Canadian reminded me of a Panhandle version of Fredericksburg, Kerrville, or Bandera. The hills here are not as plentiful with color, but the area is reminiscent of the Hill Country.

The plan was to stay here for the night, photographing the courthouse once tonight with the current sunlight conditions and returning again in the morning to see if the light was any better. It was important to me to get the pictures right here. The courthouse, like the town itself, goes against the Panhandle stereotype. It proved to be my favorite of the trip. It is truly a beautiful building.

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We checked in at the Best Western Oasis (a fitting name for the town of Canadian) and proceeded to have dinner nearby. We planned on getting up earlier tomorrow than we had today, so we soon went to bed, dreaming of courthouses.

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