Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Montague County Courthouse

From the earliest days of statehood, Texas county courthouses were often damaged or destroyed.  The main cause of destruction was usually fire, although sever weather often took a toll on these architectural beauties as well.  Cooke County’s first courthouse, a small log structure was leveled by a bull.  The nosy bovine found his way into the building leaving nothing but  topple logs and a trampled mess in his wake.  Montague County’s courthouse did not escape the courthouse curse.  disaster struck the county seat on more than one occasion.

The Montague County Courthouse as it stands today.

The first courthouse was a log building that was erected shortly after the county formed in 1858.  It was used until the end of the War Between the States.  This structure may have met a fiery doom, but there are no remaining records that resolutely prove what became of the first courthouse.

Montague County's second courthouse was destroyed by fire in 1873. Photo courtesy of the Montague County Historical Commission

A second courthouse was a frame structure that succumbed to fire in February of 1873.  During the time between the fire and the construction of the third courthouse, the county found temporary accommodations in which to conduct business,  They first rented a house from D S Hagler,  later, they purchased the Covington Saloon and converted it into a working courthouse.

Montague County's thrid courthouse, the first to sport a domed top. Photo courtesy of the Montague County Historical Commission.

By 1879, an impressive two story domed, native sandstone structure graced the county square.  The stately building met its demise at the hands of arsonists in March of 1884.  Three men, William and Frank Clark and Landy Howell doused the building with coal oil and struck the match that caused the irreplaceable loss of everything that was not stored in the vaults.  The arsonists were apprehended and placed in the Montague County jail.  Notations in the jail log books indicate that a mob broke the Clarks, Howell and eight or nine other prisoners out of jail.  They were eventually recaptured.  Due to the outrage in the county, their trials received a change of venue to Cooke County.  Howell,s case was dismissed, the Clark brothers each received a sentence of 10 years.

The fourth courthouse came close to not being built in Montague.  After the courthouse was destroyed in 1884, the citizens of Bowie tried to have the county seat transferred to Bowie from Montague.  The results of the poll were in Bowie’s favor, but did not meet the 2/3 majority required by law.

Montague County’s fourth courthouse. Photo courtesy of the Montague County Historical Commission

This courthouse was also built from native stone and sported a beautiful domed clock tower.  While this courthouse did not meet a fiery death, it was no match for Mother Nature.  On July 5, 1905, a tornado ripped through norther and central portions of Montague COunty.  The deadly storm claimed sixteen lives and leveled several churches and homes.  The clock tower was damaged beyond repair and was removed.  In April of 1912 another storm struck the courthouse tearing off large sections of the roof and breaking out several windows.

At this point the county commissioners deemed the county in need of a new courthouse.  In order to dodge another war for the county seat they took quick action.  The old courthouse was demolished and construction began on the new one during the spring of 1912, just weeks after the debilitating storm.

The last courthouse built in Montague County. Still in use today. This photo shows the building before the dome was removed. Photo courtesy of the Montague County Historical Commission,

This building is still in use today.  The grand structure originally had a dome.  The dome suffered structural damage in a storm in 1939 and was removed.

Today a grassroots campaign is in the works to raise the funds needed to replace the dome.  If anyone is interested in helping with this effort,  please contact me for more information.

A few other fun facts about the courthouse:

The fourth floor held the county jail until the new jail was erected in 1927.  The Masonic Lodge met in the vacated jail for a time.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Dr Ernest Johnson housed his doctor’s office in the basement of the courthouse.

At least one baby is known to have been born in the courthouse.

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Ringgold 1907 “In The News”

The following article is from the December 11, 1907 edition of the Fort Worth Star Telegram

RINGGOLD

The Ringgold State Bank’s report shows a very healthy growth in receipts and a very liberal patronage.

The new Methodist church, now under construction, is looming up.  Ringgold will soon have one of the nicest churches in North Texas.

The city has received 1400 bales of cotton this season, which has been far ahead of what was expected.  It was thought that 1000 bales would go against 1800 of last year.

W E Witt, a prominent farmer, living a few miles west of Ringgold has moved his family to Ringgold for the winter to take advantage of the schools.

The Ringgold high school’s first term has been a decided success and will end next Friday evening with a big entertainment.

On account of the large attendance at school the trustees have elected another teacher to help in the primary department.  Miss Beulah Hawthorne of Seago, Texas has accepted the position.

Forestburg’s Timid Ghost

In the summer of 1877, a Forestburg farmer related a most unusual sight.  Everyday around noon, he noticed a woman meandering across a nearby pasture.  She took the same route each day, walking diagonally across the field and into a thicket.  If he ignored her, she quietly and leisurely made her daily journey.  If he walked in her direction, she would scurry into the thicket.  After seeing her for several days, he decided perhaps she was a wild woman and called for  reinforcements to investigate.  The next day he rounded up his buddies, they strategically lined up around the perimeter of the pasture.  When the woman made her appearance, they all approached towards her, surrounding her on all sides.  She rushed into the thicket.  The curious searchers continued their advance, circling closer and closer to the thicket.  They  entered the thicket and searched every nook and crannie, but found no sight of the mysterious woman.

The next day, the noonday sun arose, and the woman made her daily stroll.

Hog Cholera at Belcherville “In the News”

The following article is from the Dallas Morning News, December 1898.

Hog Cholera at Belcherville
Belcherville, Montague Co, Texas, Dec 3 – There has been considerable hog cholera near here this fall and winter. This is the first visit of this plague for many years in this vicinity, but it is getting less severe in the death rate and will probably abate entirely very soon.

Stonewall Saloon

Stonewall Saloon Museum. Photo Courtesy of the Stonewall Saloon Museum

The Stonewall Saloon was built in 1873 by Saint Jo founder Irby Boggess.  It was the first permanent structure erected in the town.  It stands on the northwest corner of the town square.  It originally functioned as a saloon, and probably a supply house, to meet the needs of the cowboys traveling the Chisholm Trail, with the saloon downstairs and rooms above.

It continued as a saloon until the county voted dry.  In 1902, the building was being used as a restaurant.  In 1906, Mr Wiley purchased the building and converted into the Citizens Bank.  He added a vault and modernized the front facade of the building with a large picture window.

By the end of the depression, the town was no longer able to support two banks and the owner of competing bank, H D Fields, purchased and dissolved the Citizens Bank.  For the next few years the old saloon building was used for various commercial enterprises including a doctor’s office upstairs and a real estate business.  It was the head quarters of the Kenerey Brothers Oil Business until the late 1950s.

In preparation for the county centennial in 1958, under the hand of H D Fields, the building underwent a major restoration and it opened as the Stonewall Saloon Museum.  A large ornate mirrored back bar was purchased and hauled in from Floresville, Texas.  Swinging doors were added that sported area rancher’s and farmer’s brands.  Families donated items to be displayed in the new museum.  It became a major tourist attraction for the small town.  Stucco was applied to the exterior of the building at some point in the mid 1960s.  During its years as a museum Lewis Lauderdale, Leslie Hendricks, Boyd Whitson and Sue Yetter served as the curator.  All but Mrs Yetter, during their tenure, lived in a back room of the saloon.

Times changed and interest waned, and the museum closed for a number of years.  But was brought back to life in 1996 when it was purchased by Johnny and Rita Mueller.  They purchased the building and contents and remodeled the interior of the building to resemble an old timey western saloon and reopened the building  on weekends and special occasions as a museum.  They were forced to close when the northwest exterior wall collapsed.  The wall was repaired, but the family did not reopen the museum.

In 2011, a group of historically minded citizens banded together and purchased the building.  Their goal was to preserve the historic landmark building and to tell its story.  Not only its story as a saloon, but in all of its capacities, the saloon, the bank, and the museum.  Each chapter in the old building’s life touched the residents of Saint Jo and surrounding communities, each chapter has a story to tell.

Photo courtesy of the Stonewall Saloon Museum

While restoring the old building,  surprises were found at every turn.  Including corn cobs chinked in the wall as insulation and a .44 caliber shell under the floor.  But the most amazing discovery was the remnants of a 1870s German folk art mural on the wall behind the bar.  A portion of which is preserved in its original state for visitors to see.  A local artist, Joel Hale, recreated the mural in close proximity to where it was originally painted.

The caretakers of this historic relic are taking great pains to correctly preserve the old building.  They used historically correct mortar on the interior rock wall.  The original ceiling is still intact.  They lovingly removed the old, weathered, branded swinging doors in order to preserve them for a future display.

Saving the building itself was the first concern,  but soon they will begin the process of sorting through the contents that were carefully packed when restoration began, to see what items, donated so long ago, are still available for display.

The museum is currently opened to the public on Saturdays from 10am to 4pm and on Sundays from 1pm to 4pm.  Make plans to come see the old saloon, it is worth the trip.  The Boggess Volunteers are on duty and love to share the history of the Stonewall and Saint Jo.

Storm in Illinois Bend Scatters Jars of Fruit Over North Part of County “In the News”

I thought it might be interesting to add some old articles from the newspaper pertaining to Montague County.  These are quick and easy and don’t take the research time that the regular posts do, but it will be something to hold us over throughout the week.  They will be designated as “In the News”

28 March 1916 – Dallas Morning News

House Blown Away

Storm in Illinois Bend Scatters Jars of Fruit Over North Part County

Special to The News.  Gainesville, Texas, March 27 – News was received here today that a tornado swept through Illinois Bend, in this county, near the Oklahoma line, Friday night and did several thousand dollars damage.  Several homes and outhouses were blown away and two or three families were left entirely destitute.  The large Vaughn home there was blown away with contents, but the family escaped by taking refuge in a storm cellar.  One house that was destroyed contained 300 jars of fruit and these were scattered all over that section, some being carried into Oklahoma.  No loss of life reported.