By Ellise Pierce
Photography by Adam Fish
Denton Live Fall/Winter 2005
From pottery to photographs, the artifacts at the Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum offer visitors a unique look at the history of Denton County.
Passing through the thick, oak doors of the pre-turn-of-the-century structure, constructed of sturdy limestone blocks, is like stepping into the past. Here, seated on the highest elevation point in Denton, is one of the most beautiful and historic courthouses in the state.
But the building doesn’t just serve as the offices of the county seat. On the first floor, inside the distinguished Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum, its hallowed halls document the life and times of the 27 towns and communities that grew in Denton County like pecan trees.
Through myriad artifacts and photographs, the museum invites visitors to relive the early days of Denton County. They’ll discover how, after the state lost its battle to be a republic in 1846, settlers moved into the area, mostly for its fertile land. Denton’s rich earth proved ideal for potters, too, who molded and fired the native clay into hefty salt- and slip-glazed stoneware. Examples of the various shapes and sizes the pioneers needed for their new homes include large jugs for water, hauled back from the well on mule-drawn wagons, and small, beak-spouted pitchers for serving milk at the breakfast table.
Witness the extensive exhibit of guns that the locals used for protection. Cowboys and ranchers preferred the Winchester 73, a repeating rifle so reliable and lightweight it’s said to have revolutionized the West. Women had a number of purse-size derringers to choose from, including the curvy, single-shot “Ladies’ Model.” Outlaws favored the “Cop & Thug” revolver, which boasted a carving of an officer arresting a criminal on the grip.
A large selection of pressed blue glass is on display, too, along with one of the largest collections of thimbles in the U.S. There’s also a group of figures made by local folk artist B.W. Crawford, “the pecan Picasso,” who used pecan shells instead of canvas as his medium. Assemblages of toys and dolls round out the museum’s offerings, along with a sizable display of Columbian and pre-Columbian artifacts and pottery, much of it on loan from the University of North Texas.
Complementing the museum’s commitment to Denton’s history is the impressive research library. Open to the public, the library contains cemetery records (perfect for genealogical research), dozens of books on local history, and archival records with documents and photographs of Denton County’s past.
“Denton has it all,” says Dr. Georgia Caraway, the museum’s director. “We have farming and ranching and universities, and we have a cultural community as well. We have the best of all worlds.” A trip to the Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum will surely attest to that claim.
The Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum is open Monday–Friday, 10–4:30; Saturday 11–3. For more information, visit dentoncounty.com/chos or call (940) 349-2850.