Armstrong County has been home to only two courthouses. The current temple of justice was built in 1912 in a Classical Revival style as designed by Elmer George Withers.
The original county capitol was erected in 1890 for a mere $2,500. According to June Rayfield Welch, author of “The Texas Courthouse Revisited,” the courthouse was so poorly constructed “that citizens predicted a collapse upon judge and jury some windy day.” The courthouse remained functional for some two decades before the current structure was raised for $54,000. The building was renovated in 1964 for $38,725.
Historians are not certain of the history of the county name, which most likely honors one of several Texas pioneers with that surname. The county seat of Claude refers to Claude Ayres, the engineer of the first passenger train. Welch tells it like this:
The county seat nominees were Washburn and Claude, which was named for Claude Ayers, the engineer of the first passenger train. On that momentous August day, Claude Ayers shouted down from the cab, “What do you call this burg?” A cowboy said, “Ain’t got no name. Supposed to be called after the county, but there’s already an Armstrong. The city dads are too jealous to name it for anybody local.” The locomotive engineer said, “Why don’t you call it Claude, for me?”
The engineer never lived in Claude, but he asked to be buried in the town that honored him.
Ranching became the chief industry in Armstrong County and the surrounding area upon the establishment of the large JA Ranch in 1876. Farming was introduced after the railroad came through in 1887.
The town of Goodnight was home to the first ranch in the Texas Panhandle, founded in 1876. The ranch was known as both the Old Goodnight Ranch and the Burbank of the Range.
The Armstrong County Jail was built in 1953 one block west of the Courthouse Square. The jail was fashioned from the stone used to build the first masonry jail in Armstrong County in 1894. This stone was quarried 14 miles south at Dripping Springs in Palo Duro Canyon and then hauled in wagons driven by local citizens.
The Goodnight Ranch and the Armstrong County Jail are two of several unique sites described on the county’s historical markers.
(Texas Almanac 2006-2007)