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Clay County Courthouse

Clay County Courthouse

This article is a compilation of county records and stories related by the following authors or sources; Earle, Taylor, Douthitt and S.P.U.R.

​Clay County was first organized in 1857 from Cooke County, and later abandoned because of Indian raids. It was reorganized in 1873. First taxes; .05 cents per $1000 on real & personal property for roads and bridges; .10 cents per thousand to build the courthouse and an annual $100.00 retail tax on liquor by the drink.

First District Court was held in a frame building south of the current courthouse (corner of Bridge and Omega) in 1874 to try Chief White Horse for killing a Mr. Koozier in 1870. The Chief was absent from trial and was never apprehended.

In 1884 the Courthouse was completed at a cost of $30,000. The cornerstone shows architects Wilson and Tozer; Contractors, Strain, Risley, Swinburn. County Judge was J.T. Craig. Commissioners: W.S. Ikard, J.R. Newcomb, Alex Metzger and A.R. London.

The courthouse originally had a tall cupola or spire with a clock. It was said to be tall enough to be seen from the Red River. The tower and the clock were removed in the early 1900’s for fear it was too heavy for the buildings foundation. The building was made of red brick with sandstone columns. The brick was fired locally from clay from the northwest side of town. The interior was completely paneled with pecan wood. At one time there was an iron fence with a chain outside for hitching horses. Until television, the courtroom was the town’s primary entertainment. Everybody, even school classes on field trips, sat in on trials. Until a few years ago there was still a domino room in use on the third floor.

At one time it housed all county offices except the County Extension Office and the Sheriff. It is Courtroom 1 of 3 in the 97th Judicial District.

The courthouse and especially the lawns, have the greatest use during the three days in September for Pioneer Reunion. Local vendors sell sodas, hot dogs, ice cream and chances on everything from quilts to cookers. The Clay County Historical Society, and many artists and craftsmen will set up displays to advertise their facility or sell their wares.

This is followed daily by a parade and rodeo. Many of the Queens dresses have been donated to the Museum, and are on display on a rotating basis, with the hundreds of other items that have been received by the museum.

St. Elmo Hotel

St. Elmo Hotel
Henrietta, Texas

This article was compiled from information supplied by Billie Avis and Billy Neville and Francis Slagel

The St. Elmo Hotel was built in 1892, a 3 story brick building on the corner of Bridge and Omega streets, by Colonel Pete Snearly and his wife Catherine McCuen Snearly. Catherine’s mother Margaret, had run the City Hotel, a wooden structure that the Snearlys moved to the rear of the lot and renamed Denver Hotel to make room for the new St. Elmo. The new hotel was a little late for the main rail traffic because Wichita Falls had built the rail yards and become the shipping terminal of the area. Still Henrietta was a stepping stone to Ft. Sill for Army wagon trains crossing the Red River at Benvanue, and the hotel was the civic center for Henrietta and the surrounding area of cattle ranches.

In the late ’70s (1870’s) Colonel Snearly made two treks on the Santa Fe Trail. In Arizona and New Mexico he tried mining and sheep raising. Once he and a friend were herding sheep on a mountain, and watched a tribe of Indians destroy an entire white village below. These two sole survivors later missed one of the watering places and almost died of thirst. In Colorado he saw the little mining camp of St. Elmo, where he was working, wiped out on a summer thunder storm. This made such a vivid impression on him that he named his new hotel St. Elmo.

The hotel became a sort of social center, the gathering place for cattlemen. Some lived at the hotel and went out to their ranches early, and came in about the middle of the morning. They congregated in a circle in the lobby until noon. Then they either went home for lunch or ate at the hotel, took naps, and then returned to lobby until time to go home for supper. The newspaper was weekly but news was daily at the St. Elmo. The hotel was also a meeting place for civic groups such as ladies study clubs, missionary societies, a “42” domino club and PTA meetings.

Guests might be cattle buyers, Army officers, theatrical people, musicians or lecturers playing at the Kane or Graner Opera House. Also a constant stream of drummers who rented the two rooms on Omega, which were built to display their wares.

Bridge Street (Ft Sill/Ft Richardson Road) was either knee deep in dust, or knee deep in mud from the constant traffic of wagons drawn by 8 horse teams moving from Ft Sill to the railroad.

Some names appearing on old registers of 1889-1890 include; President Grover Cleveland, who as a crusader for Indian rights had likely come to look at conditions at Ft. Sill; John Wanamaker, eastern business tycoon and Postmaster General under President Benjamin Harrison, and originator of rural free delivery and parcel post; Jay Gould, railroad magnate made two stops; John L. Sullivan, Heavyweight Champion of the world stopped twice.

Quanah Parker, last war-chief of the Comanche was a frequent visitor. He once represented his tribe at a pow-wow with John H. Reagan and Governor Stephen Hogg in the hotel lobby.

Travelers getting off the train in Henrietta were met at the Depot by a horse-drawn transfer owned by Dave Utley and Doc Clisbee. One of the first sights likely to be seen, was a group of friendly Indians sitting on the edge of the sidewalk eating watermelons while city cows munched on the rinds. When the transfer pulled up it was met by Sam Willis, the negro porter, who was there to do his utmost to make the travelers stay memorable.

Fort Burnham

Information gathered from an article by Lucille Glascow and a manuscript by Father Fray Juan Augustin Morfi
Edited and condensed for space by JD Evans

The map shown below, is on the inside cover of Katherine Douthett’s book “Romance and Dim Trails”, and was given her by Mrs. St. Andrew Myers. This map locates Fort Burnham at the mouth of the Little Wichita River in northeastern Clay County.

An old manuscript written by Father Fray Augustin Morfi, was located in a monastery in Mexico City, Mexico. The Father was commissioned by the Viceroy of Mexico, to make an exploratory trip through Texas, and the manuscript, written about 1745, was a description of that trip.

North Texas and the Clay County area were populated by Indians then. The Spanish apparently built a mission named Presidio San Theodoro de los Taovayas, named after Theodoro de Croix, and a large tribe of Indians living nearby, the Taovayas.

Both Father Morfi’s book and Mrs. Douthitt’s map show the mission and fort in the same location.

Apparently the fort was started as a mission and was named by the Spanish, abandoned and later renamed by later pioneers. Even in the 1800’s settlers had no recollection of it or it’s location.

An old settler told Troy Douthitt Sr. that there were rock ruins on a hill near the mouth of the Little Wichita River, possibly the remains of the old fort.

The Record News sponsored a search involving a group of Midwestern State University students in the 1950’s and Congressman Frank Ikard assisted by looking for information in the records of the War Department in the National Archives, the Barker Texas History Center, and the U.S. Army Register. Nothing was found.

In 2010, representatives of the Clay County Historical Society, with the kind permission of the landowners, examined parts of the Clark Birdwell Ranch, and what was then Lone Star North, for possible ruins, with no success.

1873 Map of Henrietta

Reproduced from a hand-drawn map showing Henrietta as it was in 1873

Clay County Post Offices

Beaver Creek ~ 7 Mar 1876 (discontinued 6 Jun,1888 — papers to Doss)
Bellevue ~ 17 Nov 1882
Benvanue ~ 8 Sep 1876 (changed to Byers 6 Sep 1904)
Big Wichita Valley (changed to Charlie ~ 19 June 1882)
Blue Grove ~ 7 Jun 1888 (changed to Bluegrove ~ 27 Feb 1895)
Buffalo Springs ~ 1878 (discontinued 21 May 1889 – apparently re-established – closed 1938)
Byers ~ 1 July 1904​
Cambridge ~ 16 Aug 1875 (discontinued 11 Dec 1882 – mail to Henrietta)
Charlie ~ 19 Jun 1882
Doss ~ 29 Aug 1887 (discontinued 21 Apr 1893; papers to Ringgold)
Halsell ~ 26 Jun 1901 (discontinued 31 Mar 1919; mail to Henrietta)
Henrietta ~ 12 Aug 1862 (suspended by CSA; effects at Montague – apparently reestablished by USA)
Hill’s Ferry ~ 8 Sep 1876 (discontinued 17 Sep 1878)
Hurnville ~ 11 Jun 1891 (discontinued 14 Nov 1905; mail to Henrietta)
Iowa Point ~ 8 Sep 1876 (changed to Riverland 5 Mar 1879)
Jolly ~ 3 Nov 1891
Joy ~ 26 Jan 1895​
Lodge ~ 14 Jun 1880 (discontinued 7 Sep 1880)
Loop ~ 13 Dec 1886 (discontinued 22 Oct 1896; papers to Myrtle)
Mabledean ~ 15 Jun 1904 (discontinued 15 Nov 1905; mail to Wichita Falls)
Myrtle ~ 18 Sep 1883 (discontinued 19 May 1899; papers to Shannon)
Newport ~ 11 July 1878
Oil City ~ 25 Jun 1904 (order rescinded 19 July 1905)
Petrolia ~ 14 Nov 1904
Post Oak ~ 25 Sep 1876 (to Jack County)
Prospect ~ 15 Apr 1893 (discontinued 22 Jun 1886; papers to Henrietta)
Riverland ~ 5 March 1875 (discontinued 16 Oct 1899; papers to Hurnville – re-established 19 Jan 1900 – discontinued 15 Aug 1905; mail to Hurnville)
Roland ~ 8 July 1880 (discontinued 11 Jan 1881)
Secret Springs ~ 21 Aug 1876 (discontinued 30 Jun 1884; mail to Henrietta)
Shannon ~ 22 Nov 1893
Shilo ~ 29 Aug 1881 (discontinued 19 Oct 1883; papers to Henrietta)
Stanfield ~ 26 Jun 1903 (discontinued 15 Dec 1905; mail to Henrietta)
Thornberry ~ 28 Apr 1891 (discontinued 31 May 1908; mail to Wichita Falls)
Vashti ~ 10 Jun 1892
Vina ~ 28 Dec 1882 (discontinued 30 Jun 1884; mail to Henrietta)​
Wichita ~ 22 Aug 1876 (discontinued 20 Dec 1877)

Petrolia Oil Fields

Petrolia Oil Fields
Clay County Historical Society

Compiled by JD Evans – 2013

In 1901, James William Lochridge owned a farm southeast of the current location of Petrolia, Texas. About this time there was a drought and remembering that his home place in Georgia had water wells, decided to drill one here. Enlisting the help of a local man with a drilling machine, he drilled down to 150 feet. The driller explained they had hit a dry hole, but he insisted on continuing. At about 156 feet, on August 15, 1901, they struck oil. Since the world was just coming into the machine age, there was no ready market for it. It was good only for killing mites on chickens and greasing wagon wheels.

The story goes that while he was in Henrietta, and explaining what had happened, several un-scrupulous bankers hearing the story and realizing the potential, took him to a saloon, and after several hours of drinking persuaded him to sign over most of his mineral rights for virtually nothing.

This was the discovery well, and the first in the Permian Basin area that included North Texas and Southern Oklahoma.

Shortly thereafter, The Texas Company, represented by W.B. Corlett, descended on the area and bought up all the mineral rights, usually at about 50 cents an acre.

Drillers and Roustabouts set up a shanty town they named Oil City in the area, and during it’s heyday the population reached an estimated 1200.

Soon thereafter, the Wichita Falls & Oklahoma Railroad laid a track through the area and across land platted by the Byers Brothers, and named Petrolia after an oil producing town in Pennsylvania. Most of the people planning a more permanent life here, moved closer to the railroad and the current site of Petrolia.

The oil at this level, 100 to 500 feet, was soon depleted and the industry declined. But in 1906 gas was discovered, and developed in 1907. The Lone Star Gas Company was created, and by 1909 lines were laid into Wichita Falls, making it the first city in Texas with municipal gas service.

In 1910, deeper drilling was started and the industry revived due to major discoveries. The company was the J.M. Guffey Petroleum Company of Beaumont, which later became the Gulf Oil Corporation. Their first deep well was the Dorothulia Dunn No.1, located about 3 miles east of Petrolia, in the general area where Lochridge originally hit oil. This well turned out to be a freak, with numerous dry holes around it. Disgusted, the company pulled out of the area, only to find other drilling companies hitting pay sands on virtually all sides of their property. This was the start of the great discoveries in the Permian Basin in areas such as Burkburnett, Iowa Park, South Wichita and Electra.

Three other companies, The Wilder-Underwood Drilling Company, The Ramey Oil Company and the Texas Company began drilling again. The primary objective prior to 1910 had been to locate gas. This time they went deeper to 1800 feet looking for oil deposits. Major discoveries were made.

The Texas Company still holds most of the oil rights, and Lone Star Gas still holds most of the gas rights in this area.

Shortly after the discovery of the gas producing areas of this field, probably about October 1907, it was determined that this gas contained approximately .1% helium, at that time the largest source for helium producing gas known. A small plant was constructed at Petrolia. Even though the gas had been depleted, the Navy in 1909 entered into a contract with the company operating the Petrolia field, to take 10 million cubic feet of gas, and send it through a government owned pipeline to Ft. Worth for the extraction of the helium. By 1925 it was evident that the field was entering the final stages of depletion and the cost of extraction was becoming prohibitive. After some searching, Potter County, Texas was selected as a favorable location and the plant in Ft. Worth was moved to a site seven miles west of Amarillo and was in production by May 1929.

Railroads in Henrietta

Railroads in Henrietta
The Fort Worth & Denver City
The Gainesville, Henrietta and Western
The Missouri – Kansas – Texas (Katy)
The Wichita Falls Railway
The Southwestern

The Fort Worth & Denver City Railroad arrived in Henrietta in 1882. The Gainesville, Henrietta and Western Railroad completed their line from Gainesville to Henrietta in 1887. They were bought out by the MKT (Missouri – Kansas – Texas, popularly known as the “KATY”) the same year.

Businessman Joseph A. Kemp, was working hard to make Wichita Falls a major rail center. He tried to convince the KATY Management to extend their line into Wichita Falls. They did not want to duplicate existing rail service between the two towns. However, they agreed to operate the line if someone else were to build it. Kemp and other investors founded the Wichita Falls Railway and built a line parallel to the existing F.W. & DC line, using the same right-of-way. This line was completed in 1894 and the KATY Management signed a long term lease to operate it.

In 1907, the Southwestern Railroad began to build a line from Henrietta to Archer City. The first leg to Scotland was completed in 1908, and the remainder to Archer City in 1910. The route never proved profitable, since Kemp and his partner Frank Kell built a competing line from Archer City, direct to Wichita Falls, a much larger rail center. The Southwestern was abandoned in 1920.

Rail service on the KATY steadily declined and the line was abandoned in 1970.

Map from USGS

Background Data from, The Katy Museum & The Clay County 1890 Jail Museum Archives

Gates Building

Gates Building
Henrietta, Texas

Sometimes an old newspaper article helps to uncover a forgotten piece of Henrietta history. On December 19, 1889. Mr. John Eustus sold a piece of property located at the corner of Bridge Street and Omega Street in Henrietta, to two men named Squires and Snearly. It was on this property that the beautiful building that became known at times, as the Commercial Building or the Gates Building, was built, about 1892. At various times it housed the First National Bank, an Assay Office, a Recreation Hall, a Chiropractor and an Antique shop. The following article is from the Wichita Falls Times newspaper dated November 14, 1958, and is reproduced here with their permission.


One of Henrietta’s landmarks, the Gates Building at Omega and Bridge Streets, was torn down Thursday with about 200 onlookers. A modern building will be constructed on the site. Last tenants of the building, which was built in 1892, were a recreation hall, a chiropractor and an antique shop, according to Rex Gates, owner.

The building was the most elaborate structure in Henrietta, and probably in Clay County when built. Gates said it was designed and built to house a commercial club. Millwork for the brick and stone two-story and basement structure was custom built in St. Louis, MO, and the stonework was custom cut in the county. Four wood-burning fireplaces were included in the original plans, hand-carved and designed especially for the building. Solid brass hardware adorned all doors.

Gates said the building was considered unsafe, since the original sandstone blocks used as a foundation had deteriorated badly, and the walls were in danger of toppling.

An interesting sidelight on construction of the building is the fact that the stoneworker received $.25 per hour for setting the cornerstone and arch work over all windows. One stone, estimated to weigh about five tons, was set at a height of 10 feet above the sidewalk. The stoneworker was John Schwend, grandfather of Henrietta businessmen Jess, Glen and John Cunningham. Wages paid are listed on the abstract, since a mechanic’s lien was necessary for the builder to collect for his work. All labor was itemized on the lien.