Texas has had her share of rowdy characters in the past. Small towns and communities all across the state have felt the need over the years to build themselves a strong place to keep those who fail to cooperate and “keep the peace”. These buildings are rich in history. Each one holds secrets and stories. . . if they could only speak.
On a quick trip to Midland this past weekend, we passed through some dramatic Texas country. It was a beautiful drive from Matador south through Dickens, Spur, Clairemont, Snyder, Big Spring and then west on I-20 to Midland. The smallest and most insignificant town was Clairemont, but it caught my attention more than all. There at the intersection of 208 and 380 were these two amazing structures.
Built in 1895, three years after the town was selected to be the county seat of Kent County, which had also been formed in 1892, the courthouse and jail were built of matching sandstone. The new town was situated on land donated by area rancher, R.L. Rhomberg, who picked the name Clairemont because of his niece, Claire Becker of whom he was fond.
At one time, the young town had several stores, a bank, a newspaper and a hotel. The main industries were cattle ranching and cotton farming. The population of the town exceeded 200 in the 1930’s. In 1946, oil was discovered in Kent County. However, the depression, the drought of the dust bowl years and other factors so reduced the population over the next 20 years, that by 1954 the county seat designation was moved to more populated Jayton. By the year 2000, only about 15 people lived near enough to claim Clairemont as their town.
Original Kent County courthouse built in 1895. The structure burned not long after Clairemont dwindled enough to lose the county seat. Thankfully, the records had already all been moved to the new county seat of Jayton. The residents were able to save the ground floor and repair it to use as a community center.
Like most unattended structures, the old Clairemont jailhouse hasn’t escaped the modern art that is graffiti. My daughter, Carolina, pictured above, and I explored the inside a little. It was just getting dusk and was quite dark inside. The strong metal bars, still remaining in the windows blocked out much of the slowly fading light. Inside was the iron cage that housed the inmates of the past. It’s thick, criss-crossed metal bands looked as if it had been made from a portcullis that drops from the gateway of a medieval castle.
We were enjoying our exploration, albeit wishing we had a flashlight, until I looked down at my feet and saw a dead rat. That ended the tour quickly.
As Carolina darted out the only door, I snapped this photo. It wasn’t very focused, but hopefully it gives the reader an accurate idea of how it felt to be hoping to make the light of escape before the darkness and rodents closed in.
Have you also discovered an old Texas jailhouse? I’d love to hear of your experience and be able to share your pictures with others.