History of Denton County
Denton County Courthouse, ca. 1890
Denton County was established by the
Texas legislature on April 11, 1846, shortly after Texas abandoned its
dream of being a Republic and joined the United States.
Early pioneers settled along the Trinity
River and its tributaries and on the edge of the frontier as it moved
westward. The first Anglo settlements were near Hebron in the southeast
corner of what would become Denton County, Pilot Point in the northeast
and Little Elm on the eastern border with Collin County.
Settlers were scarce, however, until the
Republic of Texas approved an impresario grant in 1841 with the Texas
Emigration and Land Company based in Louisville, Kentucky. W.S. Peters
led the group of twenty investors, and the grant became known as the
Peters Colony. The contracts eventually covered all of Northeast Texas.
The colony's land office was established near Hebron in the southeast
corner of present-day Denton County.
After Texas joined the union, promises of
U.S. Army protection from marauding Indians prompted a new wave of
The new county, carved out of Fannin
County, was named for John B. Denton, a pioneer preacher and lawyer who
had been killed in an Indian fight in 1841. The pioneers chose a county
seat along Pecan Creek and named it Pinckneyville, in honor of Texas'
first governor. Historians differ on whether a courthouse was ever built
at Pinckneyville. A 1908 history of the county describes a log
courthouse built there, while another history says there were "no
improvements" and court was held under a large oak tree.
Pinckneyville lasted only two years.
Water shortages forced the fledgling community to move, first in
February 1848 to a new site they named Alton a few miles south and again
in late 1848 to another site near Hickory Creek. The Hickory Creek
location also was named Alton and it remained the seat of Denton County
government for about ten years.
By 1856, the little settlement of Alton
was thriving. Alton boasted several homes, a blacksmith shop, three
stores, a saloon, hotel and bar, two doctors, several lawyers, and a
cemetery, and was headquarters for the Denton County Land District.
By 1857, however, Denton County was ready
to move the county seat again. County residents wanted a county seat
more central to the settlements in Pilot Point in the north and
Lewisville in the south. Alton residents voted to move again. This time
they called the new county seat Denton. Lots for the original township
of Denton were auctioned on January 10, 1857.
The first courthouse in Denton was a
two-story frame structure on the north side of the downtown square. The
building burned in 1875, destroying most of the county records. A brick
courthouse was then built in the center of the square, a two-story
building with a tall central tower. Lightning damaged that building and
it was condemned and demolished in 1894. Construction of the present
Courthouse-on-the-Square began in 1895. The cornerstone was laid in
1896, and the courthouse was dedicated in 1897.
For a decade, Denton County was on the
northeast Texas frontier. Cattle and horses ranged on the unfenced
prairies. Residents were engaged in ranching and subsistence farming.
John S. Chisum, who became the most famous cattleman in the West,
operated his first ranch in Denton County. He later moved to new ranges
on the Concho River in Texas and on west into New Mexico.
The Civil War took many men away from the
little settlements, leaving the frontier virtually unprotected. On
moonlit nights, Kiowa and Comanche Raiders from Indian Territory crossed
into Texas to steal cattle and horses. Fearful settlers called the full
Moon." The last Indian raid in Denton County was in August 1874.
After the Civil War ended, a wave of
prosperity triggered more immigration. In 1860, Denton County population
was 4,780. In the 1870s, population grew to 18,143. Subsistence farming
gave way to cotton farming in the blackland and wheat farming on the
prairies. Railroads came through to boost the economy more. From 1890 to
1920, Denton County ranked either first or second in wheat production in
Denton embarked on a course that would
make it a major higher education center when North Texas Normal College,
now the University of North Texas, was established in 1890. Legislation
authorizing the Girls College of Industrial Arts, now Texas Woman's
University, was passed in 1901.
Denton County covers 911 square miles in
north central Texas. The Eastern Cross Timbers juts through the central
part of the county. Blackland prairie covers its western half and a
slice along its eastern edge. The Elm Fork of the Trinity River flows
through the county. The river was dammed in 1920 to form Lake Dallas,
which has been expanded and is now known as Lewisville Lake. The U.S.
Army Corps of Engineers dammed the river farther upstream in 1986 to
form Ray Roberts Lake. A greenbelt along the Elm Fork connects the two
lakes. A number of state parks border the lakes.
Vital transportation links contributed
more growth. Interstate 35 East was built in the 1950s and joined by
Interstate 35 West in the 1970s. Dallas-Fort Worth International
Airport opened in January 1974.
By the 1970s, Denton County was the
fastest-growing county in the country, with most of the growth along the
Interstate 35 East corridor. Denton County has ranked among the top
fast-growing counties throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Population has
spiraled from 75,633 in 1970 to 143,126 in 1980 to 276,083 in 1990 and
432,976 in 2000.
Alliance Airport, which straddles the Denton County-Tarrant County
boundary in the southwest corner of the county, opened in December 1989
to trigger growth along Interstate 35 West. Texas Motor Speedway, one of
the largest sports and entertainment facilities in the world, opened in
1997 along Interstate 35 West.
By the end of the century, over 400,000 people were living in an increasingly urban Denton County. By
the year 2000, the northern area of the county was a center for horse
ranches and a balanced farming region producing wheat, cotton, beef and
dairy cattle. Much of the industrial and commercial growth, as well as
population growth, was centered in southern Denton County.
The Handbook of Texas Online - Denton County
Denton County History Page