Other Views from 1890

Where is Clarendon?

Above: Thaddeus Mortimer Fowler (1842–1922). Clarendon, Texas, Donley Co. 1890, 1890. Toned lithograph, 14.5 x 25 in. Published by T. M. Fowler and James B. Moyer. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Clarendon in 1890

Clarendon, the county seat of Donley County just east of the Llano Estacado, is the westernmost city in Texas that Fowler documented. The city was founded as a religious colony in 1878 and named either after Clara, the wife of Methodist minister and founder, Lewis Henry Carhart, or perhaps after Clarendon, England, to honor an English firm that backed Carhart’s endeavor. Carhart purchased 343 sections of land in the newly formed Donley County at the junction of Carrol Creek and the Salt Fork of the Red River. He advertised his “Christian Colony” as “a city of culture and refinement.” The first issue of the Clarendon News (August 2, 1879) called the town “a sobriety settlement,” but local cowboys soon began to refer to it as “Saint’s Roost,” because of the church atmosphere and the absence of bars; justices of the peace across North Texas threatened to sentence over-intoxicated men in their courts to “a week in Clarendon.”[1]

The town that Fowler documented, however, was different. When the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway constructed its line south of the community in 1887, the citizens voted to relocate to the tracks. The new town site began as a tent city, with the usual complement of saloons and houses of ill repute. By the time of Fowler’s visit in 1890, however, the residents had reasserted their cultural preferences, and the town had grown to include homes, businesses, churches, and public buildings. When Clarendon became a division point for the railroad, more workers moved to this rolling prairie that hosted some of the state’s larger ranches, such as the nearby JA.[2] Many passengers on the Fort Worth and Denver City line saw the city, too, and one of them described it as “a pretty place, with its wide stretches of prairie—its grassy hillocks—and pretty homes nestling in the midst of this verdure.”[3]

Most of Clarendon sits at an elevation of approximately 2,732 feet. Viewed from the north, slight changes in elevation as the land rises to the south and west are apparent, and well-defined gullies twist and turn through town. The Donley County Courthouse dominates the area, with the Methodist Episcopal Church to the side, the M. E. Church South in front, and the public school behind it. The courthouse, with its turrets and a corner tower, was built in 1890 at a cost of $30,500. It might not have been complete when Fowler was there, but it would have been far enough along that he would have had a good idea of its appearance. The bank building on Kearney Street seems to dominate downtown, just as the FW&DC roundhouse does on the east side of town. The cluster of small homes along First Street near the roundhouse probably housed railroad workers, and the large two-story frame structure at the corner of Front and Kearney streets directly across from the railroad depot is probably the Windsor Hotel.[4]