Although Potter County was established by the Texas legislature in 1876, it would take another decade before organization provided the county with a semblance of governance. The first settlers to arrive in the vast grasslands making up Potter County were predominantly ranchers, dependent on the open range for grazing cattle. Some of the most well-known Texas ranches developed in the region during the late nineteenth century, including the XIT and the Frying Pan.
Potter elected its first county seat in 1887, a community called Oneida, soon changing its name to Amarillo after a nearby creek. The county also had its first courthouse within the year, composed of weatherboarding, ten windows, five doors, three flues, and a separate vault for storing records. The county outgrew the courthouse quickly, completing a larger building in 1889, just in time for the surrounding area to suffer extensive flood damage. The county elected to move the courthouse location to higher ground, taking its cue from locals who had already abandoned the original townsite for drier environs about a mile away, rendering the new courthouse “a lone sentinel on the prairie.”
Potter’s third courthouse, completed in 1896, was a brick, one-story structure with a metal roof, far too small to meet the needs of the growing county by the turn of the century. The county accepted a new courthouse in 1904, moving into a handsome three-story Classical Revival building composed of brick and native stone and featuring Doric columns and a dome. A fourth floor was added in 1915 and the courthouse continued to serve the county until the 1930s.
By 1932, Potter County once again had a new courthouse, an impressive eight-story structure with five-story side wings built in the Art Deco style of architecture dominating the period. Its mass and vertical stepped design of cast stone (concrete) and terra cotta suggested a skyscraper, a purposeful impression created by prominent architect W. C. Townes. Completed in November of 1931 and accepted in January of 1932, the new courthouse was considered “one of the tallest and most modernly constructed courthouse buildings in the entire state.” A grand opening was held on January 18, featuring a concert by the Amarillo College of Music Junior Band and the Khiva Shriners, each member wearing his fez.
In tandem with construction, the demolition of the previous courthouse proceeded. Curiously, during a ceremony to reveal the contents of its cornerstone, the stone cavity was found to be empty. The money, newspapers, list of builders, and other memorabilia county officials remember placing in it were gone.
Rededicated on August 18, 2012, the 1932 courthouse received a thorough repair and restoration courtesy of the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, including its detailed ornamentation, a source of civic pride. Among the decorative panels, bas relief artwork featuring longhorn steer heads and horns is based on the longhorns of the XIT Ranch. Sixty-nine Panhandle cattle brands decorate the outer elevator doors in the building and most were Potter County brands. Above the east and west doorways are three plaques. The central plaque dedicates the courthouse to the “early settlers of this county”; over the left door, the plaque reads “Their efforts were tireless”; and over the right “Their courage was undaunted.”