The Denton Texas town square is quite true to its historic roots. There’s the 1896 W.C. Dodson designed courthouse. It’s arguably one of the grandest Golden Era courthouses in the state of Texas. The buildings that surround the courthouse are mostly of the same vintage as the courthouse. The square has plenty of antique shops and restaurants and all the other boutique-style businesses you may have come to expect on a historic town square.
What sets this town square apart is how alive it is, and how it’s faithful to the historical traditions of town squares. Unlike so many other old town squares in Texas, Denton’s downtown is a lively place. Because there are residential neighborhoods close by, and probably also because the University of North Texas campus is just down the road, real live locals frequent the square. The courthouse lawn is a gathering place. Folks come to meet and hang out. Musicians frequently gather and play.
On top of all this, the courthouse is open to the public, not only during the week — but on Saturday as well. See, this is the history of the courthouse square. In the old days, it was used as a public gathering place. People came to town to shop, and to see their neighbors, and to relax in the shade on the courthouse lawn while children played and street merchants peddled their wares.
Denton County was established by the Texas Legislature on April 11, 1846. Prior to this time only a few early settlers had lived in what is now Denton County. After Texas joined the union, military protection form marauding Indians caused settlement of this territory to increase.
Land for Denton County was carved out of Fannin County. Pioneers named the new county after John B. Denton, a pioneer preacher and lawyer who was killed in an Indian fight in 1841.
Due to hardships, the county seat was moved several times in the 1850’s. The present day county seat was established and lots sold at auction in 1857. .
Plans for a Romanesque style courthouse were solicited from prominent San Antonio architect J. Riely Gordon. For reasons unknown today, Gordon’s plans were rejected. The Denton County Courthouse was designed by architect W. C. Dodson.
Dodson’s design provided for a central corridor capable of supporting the weight of the masonry tower. The central octagonal tower and the four adjacent domes make this courthouse quite unique.
The Romanesque interpretation Dodson presented here shares elements of design from the best courthouses of the region, but it’s still quite unique. The corner porticoes, a Roman arch at each entrance, masonry central tower, and excellent natural ventilation are all elements present in the great Romanesque courthouses of J. Riely Gordon. Facades divided into five bays with projecting pavilions and elaborate stone carving are evident in some of Dodson’s own earlier designs, most notably Hill County. Polished pink Burnet granite columns supporting ornate pediments are reminiscent of the Tarrant County Courthouse.
The octagonal towers have no regional equivalent. The use of sandstone and granite in contrasting colors is quite unique. The richness of materials used for the interior is apparent. In so many ways the Denton county Courthouse is a magnificent and distinct landmark on the historic Denton town square.
The Denton County Historical Commission
The commission operates the Courthouse-On-The-Square Museum which is housed inside the historic county courthouse. They have changing exhibits showcasing area history and culture. The museum as operated by the Denton city and county governments, and the Denton Historical Commission.
The Bayless-Selby House Museum is a Victorian-era home that was relocated to the Historical Park of Denton County and then beautifully restored. The project was undertaken by a joint effort of local government. (See their web site.) Tours are free and available during regular hours. What’s interesting is that the house showcases more than Victorian-era residence. It’s more like it’s about Victorian living. The house, it’s furnishings, and gardens all have been tailored to reflect Victorian-period living. The Historical Park of Denton County is about three blocks from the courthouse, so do look it up if you are already there.
At the Historical Park there’s also the Denton County African American Museum.
The mission of the Denton County African American Museum is to collect, preserve, interpret and make available to the public the African American cultural traditions, heritage, and history related to Denton County, Texas.
As dull as it is to read you the mission statement, it captures what this museum is about. They are collecting and preserving the cultural heritage of the African-American community of Denton County. This museum is informative; it’s an educational tool. Docent for my visit, Angela Evans, illustrated the history of the black community of Denton as only a person well versed and well connected with the past and present of this community could. If you ask questions, your likely to learn things you didn’t know.
There are plenty of other attractions in Denton Texas. I’m really just scratching the surface. Beth Marie’s is a charming ice cream and soda shop on the square in Denton. Denton County has quite a few historical bridges. You could easily spend a day looking for the historic bridges. There’s the Oak-Hickory District, higher education has quite a history in the area, and there’s more.
Copyright © 2009 by Sam Fenstermacher
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