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Saturday, May 28, 2022

The Jewel of Denton County – The Courthouse

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The Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum helps keep the robust history of Denton County alive.

The Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum is a majestic building sitting right in the center of Denton Square. Not only does the courthouse have its own storied history, but through the museum’s various programs and exhibits, it helps keep the history of Denton County alive for all to see and learn.

History of the Courthouse-on-the-Square

According to Peggy Riddle, director of the Denton County Office of History and Culture, the current courthouse is actually the fifth iteration.

“The first one would have been a log cabin when the county was formed in 1846, one year after Texas became part of the union,” Riddle explains.

According to DentonHistory.net, the original courthouse was not even located in Denton — it was actually built in Old Alton, the original county seat for Denton County located less than a mile from Corinth. The county seat moved to the city of Denton in 1857, prompting the building of a new courthouse off the square. After that courthouse was destroyed by fire, a third courthouse was built in the center of Denton Square in 1877.

The fourth Courthouse-on-the-Square — which is what visitors see today — was built in 1896 by architect W.C. Dodson. The courthouse was then restored in 2004 using Dodson’s original blueprints, bringing us to the fifth version of this historic building.

According to Riddle, at the time of the first four courthouse constructions, land deeds were worth more than money. In order to make sure land deeds were protected inside the courthouse, she says county officials started building the courthouse to be fireproof. For instance, visitors can see the first-floor windows of the current courthouse have iron shutters, which added protection for the land deeds held inside.

And the bricks used to create the current Courthouse-on-the-Square have their own history. “A lot of the materials used in this building came from local quarries,” Riddle says. “We have a lot of natural rock in our county and a lot of developers discovered that early on.”

The natural stone used to build the courthouse include Denton limestone, red sandstone from the Pecos region, tan sandstone from Mineral Wells, and pink granite from a quarry in the Austin area.

Form & Function

While the very construction of the Courthouse-on-the-Square is obviously filled with history, the inside is no different.

Riddle says the four levels of the museum include various exhibits about the history of Denton County. Additionally, the museum offers changing exhibits throughout the year.

On the ground level of the museum is the main gallery, where Riddle says the museum installs an annual exhibit that stays for almost a year so teachers can plan field trips around it.

Pots from the Form & Function Exhibit – Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum

The current main gallery exhibit is called Form & Function and it takes a look at the history of ceramics in Denton County. This exhibit runs now until July 30, 2022.

“A lot of people don’t realize that because of the way the geology formed prehistorically in our area, we have these enormous clay deposits,” Riddle says. “The early settlers realized the clay was really abundant. We had several potters emigrate to this area in the 1840s and they began making utilitarian-type pots. We’re really proud of our early history with ceramics.”

The museum has examples of these types of early ceramics — such as crocks for storing foods and pitchers for storing cream — as part of the exhibit.

Additionally, the exhibit showcases how Denton area universities embraced the ceramics culture of the area through teaching. The exhibit also features pieces made by university ceramics professors from the area.

After Form & Function closes this summer, Riddle says the next main gallery exhibit will focus on the history of music in Denton County.

“We’re just going to explore all types of music,” Riddle says. “We’re going to look at early churches and their music. We’re going to look at marching bands from schools. And we’re going to have lots of interactive type things going on for families and individuals that come in to visit.”

Riddle says the history of music exhibit will open in August 2022.

Black History Month Exhibit

And the Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square has a brand new temporary exhibit to celebrate Black History Month. This new exhibit, “The Bob Jones Family Collection,” starts January 21, 2022 and will run through March 31, 2022.

The museum is working with the community of Southlake on the exhibit that will spotlight Bob Jones, who Riddle says is one of the first freed slaves who owned property in Southlake. In addition to being a prosperous farmer and rancher, Jones built a school for his grandchildren, who at the time could not attend public schools.

“(The Jones family) has given us artifacts from the family, so we’re having those on exhibit, plus we have quite a few pictures of the Jones family,” Riddle says about the upcoming exhibit.

In addition, the exhibit will feature information on other local prominent African Americans from Denton County history, including artifacts and letters from one of the first African American physicians in Denton County.

“(Teachers are) not given a whole lot of information on our local prominent African Americans and their history, so we try to fill that void,” Riddle adds.

Form & Function Exhibit – Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum

Open for All

For those who have yet to visit the Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum or have not been by in a long time, Riddle encourages all residents of Denton County to do so.

“This is your house — we are open for you,” she says. “We offer lots of activities and programs.”

The museum is open Monday through Saturday and closed on Sundays and major holidays. Admission is free and Riddle says visitors can call ahead to schedule docent-led tours or just visit the museum at their leisure.

“And if you call and let us know (you’re coming), we’ll even take you up to the tower and you can see a panoramic view of all of Denton,” Riddle says. “It’s a spiral staircase and you have to walk up three flights, but it is a real treat.”

The Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum is located at 110 W. Hickory St. in the center of Denton Square. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm and Saturdays from 11 am to 3 pm. The museum is closed on Sundays and most major holidays. Admission to the museum is free.

For more information, click here to visit their website or call (940) 349-2850.

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