PARKER COUNTY. Parker County (D-16), in north central Texas, is bounded on the north by Jack and Wise counties, on the east by Tarrant County, on the south by Hood and Johnson counties, and on the west by Palo Pinto County. The county's center point is at 32°40' north latitude and 97°40' west longitude. Weatherford, the county seat, is thirty miles west of Fort Worth. The county was named for Isaac Parker. It covers 902 square miles of undulating to hilly land; elevations range from 700 to 1,200 feet above sea level. The county's gently rolling plains, situated mostly in the Rolling Timbers vegetation region, are covered by tall grasses, mesquite, and oak. Elm, walnut, and pecan trees are common along streams and valleys. The sandy loams found in the Cross Timbers part of the county are drained by the Brazos River; the eastern and central parts of the county are within the Grand Prairie region and are drained by the upper tributaries of the Trinity River. Lakes Weatherford and Mineral Wellsqv provide recreational facilities as well as municipal water. Temperatures range from an average high of 96° F in July to an average low of 34° in January, and rainfall averages slightly more than thirty-two inches a year. The average growing season lasts 225 days. In 1982, 74 percent of Parker County was in farms or ranches, with about 12 percent of the farmland under cultivation. About 74 percent of the county's agricultural income that year derived from livestock and livestock products; dairy products were an important component of the local economy. Hay, oats, wheat, peanuts, sorghum, watermelons, and peaches were also grown in the area. Mineral resources included natural gas, sand, gravel, bituminous coal, and limited amounts of oil. In 1982, almost 32,601,000,000 cubic feet of gas-well gas, almost 307,000,000 cubic feet of casinghead gas, and about 140,000 barrels of oil were produced in the county. In the 1980s the county's transportation network included Interstate Highway 20 (east to west), U.S. Highway 180 (east to west), and State Highway 171, which ran south from Weatherford. The county was also served by the Missouri Pacific Railroad and by the Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwestern Railway.
No effort was made to colonize the area that is now Parker County area under Spanish or Mexican rule, although parts of the county were part of an early land grant from Stephen F. Austin and Samuel May Williams. Kiowas and Comanches controlled the area in the late 1840s, when settlers of European descent began moving into the region on trails along the Brazos that had previously been established by the Indians. Immigration to the area was encouraged during the early 1850s by an outbreak of malaria in Tarrant, Denton, and Collin counties, and by the establishment of the Butterfield Overland Mail route in 1855. Under the leadership of Isaac Parker 224 settlers in the area signed a petition requesting the establishment of a new county, and in December 1855 the state legislature formed Parker County from Bosque and Navarro counties. Weatherford was designated as the county seat, and by 1858 the town had a new two-story brick courthouse surrounded by a handful of cabins and tents. By the late 1850s post offices had been established in the county at Weatherford, Ashville, Cooper Hill, Cream Level (later known as Veal's Station), and Newburg. The county's first flour mill was built in 1859; another was established in 1860. The new settlers were often harassed by Indian raids. The county's first newspaper, the Frontier News, began publication in 1858. Another paper, the Whitemanqv, moved to Weatherford in October 1860. This newspaper, published by John Robert Baylor and J. Hamner, was dedicated to the frontier and its defense against Indians, abolitionists, and horse thieves. It apparently ceased publication in December 1860. That year 4,213 people, including 222 slaves, were living in the county. The agricultural census counted 397 farms and ranches of three acres or larger in the county that year, as well as more than 14,000 cattle and about 4,000 sheep. "Improved" acres numbered almost 13,000. County farmers produced more than 79,000 bushels of corn and almost 22,000 bushels of wheat, along with smaller crops of rye, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
In September 1861, after the beginning of the Civil War, many young men from Parker County enlisted in Parsons's Brigade. Nine companies of eighty men each left the county to serve the Confederate cause during the war. Their absence contributed to population decline and disrupted the county economy and society. Since most of the men under forty-five had left to fight in the war, fears of Indian raids increased. In an effort to protect residents, a police force was appointed to patrol Weatherford, and many ranchers moved their families to more secure lodging in the county seat. By the end of the war many properties were in disrepair and much of the area's livestock was scattered. Parker County's recovery from the war was slow, partly because of continued Indian attacks during the late 1860s and early 1870s. In 1870 the agricultural census reported only 148 farms and ranches in the county, fewer than half the number ten years earlier, and only about 6,000 acres was classified as "improved." Corn and wheat production and livestock counts that year remained significantly below pre-war levels. About 3,400 milk cows had been reported on county farms in 1860, for example, but only about 1,200 were reported in 1870; almost 8,355 hogs and swine had been reported in 1860, but fewer than 4,400 were counted in 1870. The population that year was 4,186, including 293 African Americans. The last Indian raid in the county was recorded in 1874, and with the area stabilized the county's agricultural economy grew steadily during the 1870s, as thousands of people moved into the area. By 1880 there were 1,865 farms and ranches, encompassing almost 271,000 acres, in Parker County, and its population had grown to 15,870. Crop production rapidly expanded during the decade. By 1880 almost 25,000 acres in the county was planted with corn, and more than 12,000 acres was planted with wheat. Almost no land in the county had been planted in cotton in 1870, but by 1880 more than 15,000 acres was devoted to the fiber. More than 23,000 cattle, and almost 8,500 milk cows, were reported in the county that year, along with almost 16,000 swine and about 2,500 sheep.
The county's population and economy continued to expand during most of the late nineteenth century, encouraged by the construction of three railroads that built through the county during this period. The Texas and Pacific Railway extended its tracks through Weatherford in 1879, and in 1887 the town became the northern terminus of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe. Another railroad, the Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwestern, completed its construction in the county by 1891. While linking the area to national markets, the railroads also attracted newcomers and led to the establishment of new farms and communities. The number of farms and ranches in the county increased to 2,536 by 1890 and to 3,529 by 1900, and new communities such as Aledo, Annetta, Garner, Lambert, and Springtown came into being. The population of the county grew to 21,682 by 1890 and 25,823 by 1900. In 1904 Parker County had four rural mail routes, each covering twenty-five miles, and two independent school districts comprising ninety public schools with 109 teachers. For further education, students could choose from Weatherford College, Texas Female Seminary, and St. Joseph's Academy, all in Weatherford. Crop production in the county grew significantly during the late nineteenth century. Corn was planted on more than 37,000 acres in the county by 1890, and on almost 60,000 acres by 1900; wheat production spread to more than 15,000 acres by 1880 and to almost 25,000 acres by 1900. Meanwhile, cotton was quickly becoming the area's most important cash crop. By 1888 there were thirty-one cotton gins operating in the county. Cotton production expanded to almost 39,000 acres by 1890, and to almost 61,000 acres by 1900, when county farmers produced 15,377 bales. The number of cattle in the county also steadily grew during this period, rising from about 10,000 in 1870 to 23,000 by 1880 and to almost 44,000 by 1900.
The economy continued to grow in the first years of the twentieth century, partly because cotton cultivation continued to expand rapidly. By 1910 almost 90,000 acres in the county was planted in cotton. Other farmers diversified into fruit, and by 1910 there were almost 144,000 fruit trees (mostly peach) in Parker County. The local watermelon industry achieved recognition at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, where twelve watermelons raised in the county took the world prize for weight. By that year there were 3,634 farms in Parker County, and the population had grown to 26,331. The agricultural economy suffered severe reverses after 1910, however, as cotton production fell off dramatically. While almost 44,000 bales had been ginned in the county in 1906, for example, in 1916 the county produced only about 12,400 bales; by 1920 cotton was planted on only 47,500 acres in the county. The number of cattle declined almost 20 percent during the decade. Parker County lost 690 farms between 1910 and 1920, when the population had dropped to 23,382. The early 1920s brought some respite. Cotton production briefly revived, and watermelon growers made Weatherford the largest-volume shipping point for watermelons in the nation by 1925. But by 1929 only about 26,500 acres was planted with cotton in Parker County, and corn and wheat culture had also dropped significantly. By 1930 only 2,521 farms and ranches remained in the county, and its population had declined to 18,759.
Between 1930 and 1940, during the Great Depression, the county's unemployment rate rose sharply from 4 to 15.7 percent, and the area's cotton production fell dramatically. By 1940, only 5,187 acres was planted in cotton. Overall, cropland harvested in the county declined from about 113,000 acres in 1930 to 103,000 acres in 1940. Federal New Deal programs helped in some ways. In 1935 and 1936, for example, a Civilian Conservation Corps unit offered employment in agricultural terracing to some local residents, and an electricity cooperative was opened in March 1939. The county's population rose slightly during the depression, reaching 20,482 by 1940. Though the depression effectively wiped out most of what remained of the area's cotton economy, local farmers successfully diversified in the years after World War II. Peanut and hay culture became major components of the county's agricultural economy during and after the 1950s, and by the 1960s the county was one of the state's leading producers of fruits other than citrus, vegetables, and livestock. The population rose to 21,528 by 1950 and to 22,881 by 1960.
Parker County began to evolve in new directions during the 1960s. Interstate Highway 20 was built through the area, helping to encourage thousands of new residents to move in; many of them commuted to Fort Worth to work. Significant production of oil began in the county after 1966, and in 1973 almost 823,000 barrels of crude oil were produced there. Meanwhile the area's longstanding dairy industry continued to prosper. By 1965 the county had 165 Grade A dairies, and ranked ninth in the state in the number of dairy cows. Goat and sheep ranching and poultry production had also become important. In 1970 the population of Parker County was 33,888.
The voters of Parker County supported Democratic candidates in almost every presidential election between 1856 and 1948. The only exception occurred in 1928, when the county went for Republican Herbert Hoover against the Catholic Democrat Al Smith. The county's voting habits began to shift in the 1950s, when the voters swung to Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower in the elections of 1952 and 1960. County voters returned to the Democratic fold in the elections of 1960, 1964, and 1968, but by 1972, when Republican Richard Nixon won the county by a large margin, the county had begun to shift more decisively toward the Republicans. Though Democrat James E. Carter won a majority in the county in 1976 in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, the county went Republican in every presidential election between 1980 and 1992.
Parker County continued to develop during the 1970s and 1980s. The number of workers employed in light industries climbed from 2,836 in 1970 to 5,917 in 1980, and as increasing numbers of people moved to the area to commute to Fort Worth, the population rose to 44,609 by 1980 and 64,785 by 1990. In 1985 there were eight school districts in the county administering the area's thirteen elementary schools, four middle schools, and seven high schools. Weatherford (1990 population, 14,804), the county seat and largest town, serves as a hub for major commercial and agribusiness interests. Weatherford College, a two-year school, is also located there. Other communities include Aledo (1,169), Annetta (672), Azle (1,203 in Parker County, mostly in Tarrant County), Briar (588), Cool (214), Mineral Wells (482 in Parker County, mostly in Palo Pinto County), Springtown (1,740), and Willow Park (2,328). The Texas Railroad Museum and the H. B. Prather Museum are located in Weatherford. The city also hosts the Spring Festival Tour of Homes and Parade in April, and Frontier Days each July.
Gustavus Adolphus Holland, History of Parker County and the Double Log Cabin (Weatherford, Texas: Herald, 1931; rpt. 1937). Edith Marian Jordan, The History of Parker County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1935). Parker County Historical Commission, History of Parker County (Dallas: Taylor, 1980).