NAME: Stiles
COUNTY: Reagan
CLIMATE: Warm winter, hot summer
Winter, spring, fall
COMMENTS: The courthouse is a must see.
REMAINS: The courthouse.

Stiles is another town that all but died because of the location of the railroad. Named after William G. Stiles, who applied for and was granted a post office in April of 1894, the town became the Reagan County seat of justice in 1903. A new two-story stone courthouse was completed in October of 1911 but the demise of Stiles actually began a year earlier when a local land owner refused to grant a right-of-way to the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad who planned a railroad to run through Stiles. As a result, the line ran twenty miles to the south of Stiles and a new town was born named Big Lake. The new town boomed and Stiles stagnated when the county seat was moved to Big Lake in 1925. Stiles is now noted for its big empty stone courthouse. SUBMITTED BY: Henry Chenoweth


It isn’t likely that a tourist will ever see the old Reagan County Courthouse at Stiles unless he is looking for it, or just flat lost.
But if he, intentionally or otherwise, happened to corner off at the Big Lake on US Highway 67 onto Ranch Road 33 and go 12 miles north and then turn northwest on 1800, he would soon find it . . . close to Centralia Draw on the Middle Concho, among the flat tablelands and low hills typical of the northern rim of the Edwards Plateau.

This was sheep and cattle country when Gordon Stiles and G. W. Shields gave land for the capital of a new county in 1903 - - - some 1130 sections sliced off Tom Green and named for the illustrious John Henninger Reagan.

It is still good ranching country, with some irrigated crops coming on. The most valuable part of Reagan County turned out to be underground, not on top.

Stiles got away to a good start, as young western towns went. By 1907 it had a newspaper, The Journal, edited by J. Marvin Hunter (who was to make himself famous, at least regionally, in later years as publisher of the The Frontier Times at Bandera.) There was talk as the Kansas City, Mexico, and Orient ran surveys through Stiles. But it was another familiar, sad story : A big rancher wouldn’t let the rails come through. The Orient went to Big Lake, instead in 1911 and 14 years later so did the county seat. That happened on May 23. 1925.

Big Lake took its name from a depression in the earth that trapped runoff from occasional rains and was the only watering place between the Concho and Commanche Springs in Fort Stockton. As such it had been a favorite campsite for Indians, Mexicans, traders and cattle drivers.

It may have been known to the Spaniards, Martin and Castillo, when they explored the Concho watershed in 1650.

All of this faded into the background when the Santa Rita No. 1 roared in a dozen miles west of Big Lake. The discovery of oil created a fabulous new life for southern Reagan, as well as for the University of Texas which happened to own about two-thirds of the whole country. Reagan County now produces oil and minerals worth $25 million a year ( 1973 figures). The Permanent University Fund’s surge toward its first half-billion actually started May 28, 1923, at the Santa Rita.

The old courthouse at what was Stiles ( population 16 in the 1960 census ) is a neat, solid-looking, square-cut building of native stone. In 1966 it was still being used, apparently as an outpost of Reagan County’s road maintenance forces.



History of Stiles Courthouse

Stiles located on Centralia Draw and approximately in the center of the county, was the only town when Reagan County was organized, in May 1903. G. W. (Rome) Shields deeded the land to the county for the courthouse for $379.44. This property was known as the Public Square. The first courthouse was a small frame building costing less than $500. About a year later a bond election was held to vote $5,000 to build a more substantial courthouse, jail and stone vault. In November 1910 a bond election was held and voted $20,000 in 40 year bonds to erect a two-story stone building on the Public Square. The contract for this building first went to August Balfanz, San Angleo. However, according to records of the Commissioners Court dated Feb. 2, 1911, more than 30 days had elapsed and August Balfanz had failed to and refused to take the bonds and begin work. . . so the Court rescinded the order. Then on the next day, Feb. 3, 1911, the Court again met and awarded the contract to William Martin of Commanche, Texas "according to plans submitted and specifications filed." Mr. Martin was to begin work immediately and to complete the building in eight months. On Oct. 25, 1911 the new courthouse was finished and inspected by the Commissioners Court. On Nov. 13, 1911 the old frame courthouse was sold at public auction to T. D. Lucas, who was the highest bidder for $107.50

The new courthouse was built of native stone that was quarried from the hillside just about one half mile away. A. H. Garner, a newcomer to the county, helped haul the heavy stones in a wagon pulled by mules. Other men who hauled the stones were Tom Lucas, who used mules hitched to his wagon, and a Mr. Shepard who used donkeys. Mr. Garner was a stone mason by trade by trade but was unable to work on the courthouse because he belonged to the Stonemasons Union and this job was not a union one.

The building went up quickly and was a source of pride for all the area. Nowhere else in West Texas was there a courthouse to match this one in attractiveness and in value. But almost at once there was a dark harbinger of ill times. In 1910 the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad planned to build a railroad up Centralia Draw from San Angelo through Fort Stockton. But a prominent land owner in Reagan County refused to sell the right-of-way. So the line swung twenty miles to the south, bypassing Stiles. Big Lake was born in 1911 and just about caught up in size with Stiles in 1919. In 1923 the famed Santa Rita oil well was brought in near the railroad west of Big Lake. Big lake boomed and in 1925 a vote for moving the county seat to Big Lake was passed by 292 to 94. After that Stiles slowly died.

Utilized as a community center, the still attractive and roomy building was used for many community parties, barbecues and dances, and as a school for one year. The Stiles Dance Club used the building for years for their monthly dances.

Source: The Reagan County Story - published in 1974 Submitted by Harvey M. Dixon.

UPDATE:Hi. I am from Big Lake, TX. I am writing you concerning Stiles, TX. I found it listed in your website, and I have some information for you that may be helpful to your site. The information I will be providing comes directly from the Thursday, April 15, 1999 edition of our local newspaper, The Big Lake Wildcat. I realize that there are copyright laws and such, so I hope that I won't get in trouble for copying this to send to you, but I want you to have the info exactly as it is in the paper. Here goes. ARREST MADE IN STILES ARSON CASE--Big Lake Wildcat April 15, 1999 "A Midland man has been arrested and charged with 18 counts of arson following a lenghty investigation by local officers and Texas Rangers as well as local and area fire departments. Ralph Durwood Denton, 62, of Midland is charged with arson in 7 counties, including Reagan County. In Reagan County, Denton is charged with fires at the Johnson farm, a building near Reagan County gin, the old store at Stiles, and three attempts at the Stiles Courthouse itself. The case against Denton originally broke February 16 when a citizen of Reagan County noticed a vehical at the site of the original fire at Reagan County gin. The citizen followed the vehicle and was also in communication with Reagan County Sheriff's officers. Sheriff's officers located the suspect vehicle at Stiles near the historical marker. After observing Denton, officers detained him for questioning at Reagan County Courthouse. At the Sheriff's Office, Denton was interviewed on videotape by Chief Deputy Daryl Reber and Big Lake Fire Chief Doc Robertson. Some alleged evidence was observed and recovered from Denton's vehicle at that time, including items known to have been used in arson cases. Denton is charged with arson in Reagan County, Tom Green County, Concho, McCulloch, Upton, Pecos, and Midland counties. Denton is retired from the U.S. Navy. He is currently in Midland County jail where he was arrested by Texas Rangers and arraigned. Bond was set at $250,000. Two charges will be filed in Reagan County. One charge will be arson. The other charge will be arson enhanced with an injury to a firefigther. Both charges pertain to the Stiles Courthouse. Locally, bond is expected to be set in the amount of $25,000 for the arson case, and $50,000 for the injury to a firefighter charge. In addition to Reagan County officers, BLVFD investigators, Texas Rangers Jess Malone of Midland and Jerry Byrnes of Ozona and most recently assisted in the investigation. Arson cases in Reagan County: 1. The old Pettit Home at Stiles was completely destroyed by a fire December 6, 1998. 2. December 24, the first attempt to burn the Stiles Courthouse was made. 3. On Christmas Day 1998, a second attempt to burn the Stiles Courthouse was made. 4. On Christmas Day 1998, a vacant farm house in North Reagan County was burned to the ground. Firefighters were responding to that call when they saw smoke coming from the Stiles Courthouse. 5. A structure fire at Stiles was reported at 3:00 p.m. Monday, December 28. That house was formerly the Jo Nell Carnes residence and it was a total loss. Also on Monday, firefighters in Upton County responded to a case of arson at the old Mule Train tavern, just west of Rankin. 6. On January 3, 1999 the Stiles Courthouse was completly consumed on the inside by a fire set by an arsonist. 7. January 7, 1999 a vacant farmhouse at Sprayberry was burned to the ground. Reagan County Sheriff Efrain Gonzales said, 'A lot of credit needs to be given to members of the fire department and a lot of others. We had North Reagan County under survellience for a long time and firemen went above and beyond the call of duty to assist in every way they could.' "

Courtesy Dan Gulino

Courtesy Bobby and Speedy Drake

Building next to courthouse. Roof is made of stones laid in an arch with no other support
Courtesy Bobby and Speedy Drak

Courtesy Bobby and Speed Drake

Courtesy Bobby and Speed Drake

Courtesy Bobby and Speed Drake