County Seat: Wichita * County Population: 101,852
The current Wichita County Courthouse was erected in 1916 and later remodeled with “an original courtroom charmingly ensconced on the fourth floor,” as described in “The Courthouses of Texas” by Mavis P. Kelsey Sr. and Donald H. Byal.
Wichita County was created in 1858 and attached to Clay County for judicial purposes. Some two years later, a petition was presented complete with 150 signatures requesting organization.
The county’s rich history dates back to the early 1700s when the Wichita Indians migrated to the Red River area. The name Wichita is derived from the Choctaw word, “wia chitoh,” which means “big arbor,” describing the grass-thatched arbors in the Wichita village. The county seat of Wichita Falls was named for a Wichita Indian encampment near a small waterfall along the Wichita River.
On July 11, 1882, during a commissioners court meeting R.E. Montgomery offered land for a county capitol to be located at Wichita Falls, a site near the 5-foot-high falls on the Big Wichita River; the falls have long since disappeared. A vote was taken, and the Wichita Falls site prevailed by one vote over the ranch headquarters of Samuel Burk Burnett.
The inaugural courthouse, a 22-foot-by-40-foot frame structure, was sold by the commissioners court to school trustees in 1885. The second temple of justice was built for $33,500 in February 1886. The two-story, red brick courthouse boasted neat, white trim and a tower. The third and final county capitol was designed by Fields and Clarkson and Sanguinet & Pate. The courthouse was remodeled in 1961 and again in 1980.
When it comes to the local economy, Wichita Falls was already building a strong, diversified economic base before the development of nearby oil fields. The growth of agriculture, as well as the city’s location as a railroad hub, contributed to its success. Soon a large industrial base would develop alongside the oil business. During the 1910s and 1920s Wichita Falls truly became a city in its own right with the guidance of forward-looking, progressive, civic-minded people. The period between 1910 and 1920 saw the city’s population balloon from around 8,500 to well over 40,000.
The oil boom spurred unprecedented growth in banking. Hotels were built, and skyscrapers were erected to assuage the demand for office space. A college offering associate degrees was established to help spur educational opportunities.
Several non-oil based industries were located in Wichita Falls during the early part of the century. The Wichita Falls Broom Manufacturing Company, Ball Brothers Glass Jar Factory, and the Wichita Falls Window Glass Factory were all part of this early growth of the city.
The 1940s heralded a period of tremendous growth for Wichita Falls as Sheppard Air Force Base was built, medical facilities were expanded, and Continental Airlines began commercial air service to the city.
(Texas Almanac 2008-2009)