In a faded photograph taken in 1896, some men gather out front of the sturdy Dickens County Courthouse. A windmill stands on the courthouse grounds in front of them, and a blacksmith´s shop stands idle in the background. A shiny cupola on top of the courthouse sits as a crown giving the humble air of dignity.
The Dickens County Courthouse is one of the most beautiful public buildings in West Texas. It was completed by general contractor E. L. Aiken on April 1, 1893 and has seen continuous daily use for the past 100 years.
Constructed out of native stone, the two story building is the oldest courthouse and was the first public building in the 54 county region of West Texas.
The only courthouse Dickens County has ever had, was built by master stonemason Pat Cornett. Mr. Cornett, who was also known as the courthouse builder of West Texas, was the construction foreman on all the rock work on the courthouse. He would go on to build several courthouses and jails in the new counties of West Texas.
Althrough changes have occurred over the years, the courthouse has retained much of its original charm and character, including its gray stone walls built from stone taken from a quarry outside of town. A rock quarry was located about 1 1/2 miles northwest of Dickens on what is now the Blackwell Ranch. This beautiful gray stone, which is not to be found anywhere else, was also used in building the present county jail. In the mid 1930´s highway 23 was built through our county and the rock used was out of this stone quarry. Through the years the good stone in this rock quarry has been depleted and now this gray stone is not to be found in this area.
In the early days, the big courtroom on the second floor served as a gathering place for community events. Sometimes preachers beat the Bible in the courtroom to save sinners. Also, politicians gave speeches there.
"They really were uptown," recalls County Judge Woodie McArthur. "They even had a three-hole outhouse."
During the holiday season, a native Christmas tree wrapped in strings of popcorn decorated the courtroom and couples danced on the freshly waxed floor to the happy sound of fiddle music.
The courthouse was a square building with a cupola on top. The roof was sheet iron and the courthouse could be seen for many miles. With many valleys and such steep pitch on the roof, it immediately began to cause trouble. Numerous instances in the court minutes were references to needed roof repair and leaks in the roof. Bats were also a problem. With bats came other problems. One instance in the district court minutes, court had to be adjourned and the upstairs fumigated to kill the fleas.
Due to the problems with the roof down through the years, the commissioners court finally decided they could never keep it from leaking. In 1936 a decision was made to tear off the old roof and replace it with a flat roof. The cupola was discarded in the dump grounds until an individual found a better use for it. They cut out the back of it and used it to raise baby chicks for years. At a later date, after a fire, the cupola was recognized and brought back to town and is now on display at the Dickens County Museum.
In 1959 central heating and air conditioning were added. Ceilings downstairs were also lowered. New windows and doors were installed. 1972 saw the next renovation of the courthouse. Floor covering, new walls, paint, new ceilings downstairs were all in this project. 1975 saw a major change in the appearance of the building. Outside walls were sandblasted and cleaned. White stucco had been applied several years before and this was cleaned off, leaving the building the natural gray color. All mortar was replaced around the rock and a sealer was sprayed on.
In the past few years, the only major renovations have been to the women´s and men´s rest rooms downstairs which were completely torn out and rebuilt.
In 1975 the courthouse was added to the National Historical Register. Having been declared a state historical building several years before this would be the first public building in the 54 West Texas counties to be given this honor by the National Historical Society.
Dickens County courthouse upstairs has remained nearly as it was when constructed. In the district courtroom most of the furniture was acquired in the 1890´s. A new judge´s chair and an addition on the judge´s bench are about the only things that have changed in the past 93 years in the courtroom.
During the term of County Judge Martin Pope the sign, DICKENS COUNTY, was erected in front of the courthouse. This was the first time the words Dickens County had ever been displayed on the courthouse. ©
Background graphic by Larry Bridges
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