Gray County Historical Markers

Gray County Historical Markers

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Gray County Courthouse, Pampa

Army engineers began mapping the area beginning with J. W. Abert near Hoover and Lefors in 1845, followed by an expedition led by Randolph B. Marcy with George B. McClellan in 1852. These expeditions were followed by the arrival of buffalo hunters and traders. Native Americans were removed to Indian Territory after the Red River War of 1874. The federal government established Fort Elliott in 1875 in adjacent Wheeler County, after the first cantonment settled in eastern Gray County earlier that year.

Ranchers settled the area as early as 1877, and were soon followed by land syndicates which established vast ranches. In 1882, the Francklyn Land and Cattle Co. purchased approximately 637,440 acres in Gray, Carson, Hutchinson and Roberts Counties. In 1886, English bondholders foreclosed on the land, which became part of the newly organized White Deer Lands Co., which operated the Diamond F Ranch.

In 1888, the Southern Kansas Railroad extended its line through the Panhandle toward Amarillo, through present-day Pampa. Thomas Lane, a telegraph operator, manned a section station at the rail switch, and became the first postmaster when White Deer Lands manager George Tyng applied for a post office in 1892. The name of the station changed from Glasgow to Sutton, and finally to Pampa, so named because Tyng saw a similarity to the flat terrain of the Argentine pampas (plains) he had once visited.

In 1902, White Deer Lands began to sell its holdings, leading to a land rush in Gray County. Printed brochures and a display at the station house boasted of the produce raised in the county, in order to entice future land buyers traveling through by train. In 1916, White Deer Lands built its third and last office building, from which land sales were conducted until 1957. In 1970 the 2-story brick building became a museum.

The county was organized in 1902, and the first courthouse constructed in Lefors by S. B. Owens, architect, and Henry Weckesser, contractor. Located in the center of the county, Lefors was home to some of the first settlers. That same year, Pampa was laid out north of the railroad, encompassing 38 blocks, bordered on the north by Browning, east by Wynne, south by Atchison, and west by West. As a farming and ranching center, the population of Pampa remained under 1,000 until the discovery of oil in 1926 transformed Pampa into a boom town. Godfrey Cabot, head of Cabot Carbon in Boston, established a carbon black plant in 1927. The city improved downtown streets with brick, churches expanded, and many downtown business owners tore down their frame buildings and erected permanent buildings, including some in the popular Art Deco style. The Cabot Co. erected the multiple-storied Hughes Building. The Schneider Hotel, built in 1927, served elegant dinners with silver and linens. Oil money spawned the Worley Hospital, city parks, and later the Pampa Youth and Community Center and Country Club, all of which afforded residents numerous cultural opportunities that far exceeded those of the average small community. The population of Gray County grew from 3,405 in 1910 to 22,090 in 1930, and peaked at 31,535 in 1960. In 1990, the population was 23,967.

County elections held in 1908, 1919, and again in 1926 failed to move the county seat from Lefors to Pampa. As the result of the oil boom, however, Pampa finally won the county seat by a vote of 3,672 to 1,386 in 1928. The First Baptist Church in Pampa offered the county use of the church basement for records and offices at $150 a month plus water and utilities until the courthouse could be built. Citizens used fire trucks to haul the records from Lefors, and many were reportedly lost. A bond election held August 20, 1929, included provisions for a new courthouse, city hall, fire station, paving improvements, and playground and parks improvement.

Amarillo architect William Raymond Kaufman designed the Gray County Courthouse, the Pampa Fire Station (1930) and Pampa City Hall (1930), all erected in a row just north of the grand Schneider Hotel on Albert Square. Kaufman also designed the Art Deco-style Combs-Worley office building (1931), located directly to the east of the courthouse. The area soon became known as "Million Dollar Row." The development of this area, with three compatible civic buildings by the same architect, reveals a sophisticated level of planning, reminiscent of the City Beautiful movement of the early 20th Century. The civic buildings, despite having different functions, share similar glazed terra cotta ornamentation, and are finished with buff brick. The courthouse is the most elegant of the three, due to its tempered Beaux Arts style and relatively flat ornamentation (paired columns, for example, common to Beaux Arts buildings, are here reduced to paired brick pilasters), combined with an abundance of large regular windows and a light skeletal appearance, similar to many commercial and industrial buildings of the early 20th century. Kaufman described the courthouse design as "Georgian," noting that "stylists can rave about Spanish, Italian Renaissance and sky-scraper types of architecture all they want to, but Georgian is the only American type." An article in the Pampa Daily News informed its readers that the "big difference" between the construction of the courthouse and "real Georgian" was that the courthouse was fireproof and built with a steel frame. The paper further described the courthouse as "rather elaborately decorated with urns and bas-relief," but added that the architectural style "demands some ornaments."

W.R. Kaufman (1881-1948) was the son of Amarillo architect Davis Paul Kaufman (1852-1915). Working together in the firm of D.P. Kaufman & Son, they designed many buildings in the Texas Panhandle and nearby New Mexico, including the Elks Club, Old Grand Theater, St. Mary’s Academy (1913-14), and Lowrey’s Academy, all in Amarillo, the Union County Courthouse (1909) in Clayton, NM, and the Cochran County Courthouse (1926, remodeled 1968) in Morton, TX. Kaufman also designed Elizabeth Nixon Jr. High School, in Amarillo, and the Sam Houston Elementary School (1930) in Pampa. In 1939, Kaufman moved San Antonio to work in the Army Engineer’s office at Fort Sam Houston. After his death in San Antonio in 1948, Kaufman’s son, W.R. Kaufman, Jr., an architect trained at Texas Tech, took over the family firm.

Kaufman’s design was accepted in July, 1928. This courthouse was completed in 1929, taking 16 months to finish at a cost of $267,974. This cost included $213,354 for construction; $17,980 for the jail on 4th floor; $8,580 for the electrical system; $15,300 for heating systems; and $12,760 architects’ fee (5% of the total contract). The building was constructed by Harland L. Case, General Contractors of Pampa. Case, the son of Samuel and Emily Case, was the first baby born in Pampa. His family had operated the boarding house constructed at 116 W. Atchison in 1892 by White Deer Lands Co. Of all the buildings Case built in Pampa, he considered the Gray County Courthouse his most important achievement. The building was formally dedicated April 19, 1930. The all-day celebration included local and regional dignitaries, with the Attorney General of the State of Texas, Robert Lee Bobbitt, giving the keynote address.

The Gray County Courthouse meets Criterion A, in the areas of Politics/Government, for its role as the center of local government, as part of an organized civic building program spurred by the influx of oil and industry money, and the community leaders’ desire to create a well-planned civic center. Upon completion, the edifice served as a tribute to Pampa’s meteoric rise from a railroad stop to the second largest city in the Panhandle in 1930, and the commercial and industrial hub of the eastern Panhandle. The magnificent structure still reflects Pampa’s continued leadership and status in county government. The building meets Criterion C in the area of Architecture, as one of the finest and best-preserved examples of Beaux Arts civic architecture in the region.

The building retains its integrity of location, setting, workmanship, materials, design, feeling, and association. It is significant that through foresight, the citizens and leaders of Gray County have retained "Million Dollar Row," making only a few minor changes to update the interior of the buildings. When expansion became necessary, additional buildings were erected or acquired elsewhere, retaining these buildings for continued use, a tribute to the architectural grandeur and booming economy of an earlier period.

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Page last updated on April 9, 2000