POTTER COUNTY, TX (KFDA) - Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner has a ringside seat from her office of the finely manicured Courthouse Square grounds, where she routinely watches passersby reading the text inscribed on historical markers.
They speak about establishing the heart of the county in the form of the 1932 courthouse and the soul of Potter in a free public library.
"For some to take the time to read about our past, it says a lot about our culture," Tanner said. "We live in a culture that cares about our past."
She sees the markers as a window into the county's past and enjoys watching visitors taking pictures of the markers – or of themselves posing next to them.
Two of three markers on the square inform visitors of the county's founding and of the courthouse building. A third marker sits in front of the former law library at the corner of the square at Sixth Avenue and Taylor Street.
The marker commemorating the founding of the county notes Potter is named after Robert Potter, who served as secretary of the Navy in 1836 and later as a senator for the Republic of Texas from 1840 to 1842.
It also notes the county is part of the huge Panhandle-Hugoton natural gas field. The plaque contains several other bits of information, such as the use of barbed wire to surround the huge Frying Pan Ranch.
Directly across from that monument is another plaque that honors the construction of the county courthouse, the first of which was erected in Old Town Amarillo to the west in 1887.
The cost to build that structure back in the 19th century?
It cost all of $191!
The county would build three more courthouse buildings before settling into its current location in 1932.
In recent years, the county has restored that current courthouse, utilizing funds from a grant from the Texas Historical Commission to help pay for much of the cost. The county emptied the building's offices during the restoration, shipping employees and elected officials out among several offices downtown.
"Some people are true history buffs," Tanner said, "and the courthouse square represents the community. I just think it is extraordinary that we can have these markers available for those to see where we came from.
"They also represent who we are as a nation. As a democracy," she said.
The plaque in front of what was the Potter County Library – which currently is unused – notes its use as a place where women could "freshen up" while they shopped in downtown Amarillo, Tanner said. The building was erected in 1922 and served to help women of the day remain presentable, according to Tanner.
"Women would dress up to go shopping back then," she said. "They had to."
Several blocks away, the Santa Fe Building at Ninth Avenue and South Polk Street, displays another historical marker on the corner of the building at Ninth Avenue and South Polk Street. The marker doesn't address its current use as a county office building, but speaks instead to the Santa Fe Railroad's huge presence in the Panhandle and its role in developing the region's powerhouse cattle and farming industries.
The Santa Fe Building served as headquarters for the railroad, which shipped livestock from the region during its heyday. The plaque was installed in 1973, just before the railroad vacated the building.
The bigger story, arguably, is what has become of the Santa Fe Building since the railroad company vacated it all those years ago. It has found new life as a government office building.
The vacancy paved the way for Tanner's predecessor as county judge, Arthur Ware, to negotiate the purchase of the building from the railroad. He managed to buy the 12-story structure in 1995 for $400,000, which Tanner described as a "steal" for the county.
Tanner, who served for two decades as Ware's administrative assistant, remembered the angst Ware expressed while he negotiated for the purchase of the building.
"Arthur kept pacing back and forth, asking, 'Am I doing the right thing?'" Tanner said.
Ware then went to his uncle, the late banking magnate Tol Ware, for advice.
Uncle Tol, she said, finally talked his nephew into buying the building.
Arthur Ware then secured a Historical Commission preservation grant, which the county used to refurbish the exterior of the building. The grant also required the county to restore much of the interior of the structure to its former condition, which the county was able to do. The county covered the rest of the expense through the issuance of debt.
The building now houses juvenile and adult probation offices, the office of the tax assessor-collector, the county elections office and the civil division of the sheriff's department.
"That building is so strong," Tanner said of the structure that was built in 1930, "that I wouldn't worry one bit if it took a direct hit from a tornado."