Once considered the heart of the Llano Estacado, capital of Panhandle cowboy country and home to legendary ranchmen like Charles Goodnight, today’s Randall County and its county seat of Canyon now depict the modern age where twenty minutes of highway driving reaches the city center of nearby Amarillo and the contemporary Randall County courthouse, completed in the 1980s, is actually a reimagined Wal-Mart store. Meanwhile, the icon of Randall County history – its 1909 courthouse – has faced impending destruction more than once in the last thirty years.
Randall County was organized in 1889 based on the collective signatures of 45 qualified resident voters and an additional 105 names of passing travelers enhanced with the names of favorite horses and mules on the nearby T Anchor Ranch. (To organize the county, a petition of 150 signatures was required.) The turn of the century ranch culture was once so embedded in the county that local folklore claims punctures in the flat roof of one of the county’s earliest courthouses, an elegant Second Empire style structure and primary site of social gatherings, were caused by the boot heels of dancing cowboys.
By the first decade of the 1900s, the railroad had arrived in Canyon, transforming the county seat into a major hub and elevating the county with it. A new, larger courthouse was called for to accommodate the growing county, accomplished in 1909 with a Classical Revival construction designed by the architect Robert G. Kirsch. A dedication and day-long celebration followed the official acceptance of the courthouse on July 14, 1909. The Randall County News described the festivities as well as the courthouse:
“The building which was dedicated is new. It is built of brick with stone and terra cotta trimmings; it is three stories high with large dome in center. It has the prettiest furnishings of any courthouse in the west; has steam heat and is most conveniently arranged. It stands in the center of the square and is a monument to the energies of the hustling people of the best county in the state. People from other counties and states marvel at the large building that we have erected in our county and claim it does more to show that we are rapidly developing than any one other thing that we could have done for the country. Handsome in design, imposing in appearance and monstrous in size, it is indeed a credit, not alone to the public buildings of this section of the state, but to the entire southland country.”
The enthusiasm would last for almost eighty years, despite the necessity to remove the clock tower and repair the roof to halt chronic leaking, until the 1980s when the courthouse was deemed unsuitable for county business. A new justice center was constructed nearby and much of the interior of the historic courthouse was stripped and modified to fit the new, modern courthouse. A group of concerned citizens, with assistance from the Texas Historical Commission, managed to fend off a movement to demolish the landmark, eventually funding the restoration and preservation of its exterior, including the removal of a “modern” annex added in the 1960s and the return of the clock tower. The frontier era of the Panhandle’s Randall County may have passed but the monumental embodiment of its history, thanks to concerned local citizens and funding from the Texas Historic Courthouse Preservation Program, has survived.