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William R. Hunt

BRECKENRIDGE, TEXAS. Breckenridge, the county seat of Stephens County, is at the intersection of U.S. highways 180 and 183, four miles east of Hubbard Creek Reservoir in west central Stephens County. It originated about 1854 as Picketville, named either for the post and clay structure of the early homes or for early rancher Bill Picket. When the county was organized in 1876, the town was made county seat and renamed Breckenridge after John C. Breckinridge, United States senator from Kentucky and vice president, although the spelling of the name was altered. That year the first courthouse was built, and a post office was opened. The Northwest Texian, the town's first newspaper, began publication in 1877. Among early publishers were B. B. Greenwood and E. W. Davenport. Davenport later started the Democrat, a weekly which survived until 1924. In the early 1880s a two-story school building was erected, and the upper floor, referred to as the "Opera House," was used for church services. By 1884 Breckenridge had an estimated 500 inhabitants, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian churches, a district school, a bank, and five general stores. The population reached 531 in 1900, a new school building was erected in 1906, and by 1914 Episcopalian and Christian churches had joined the others.

Breckenridge served as the court and local trading center for several quiet decades until 1916–17, when oil discoveries at Ranger occurred. Drilling started at the Breckenridge field in 1918, but the boom did not really get underway until 1920, when the town saw the arrival of thousands of workers and speculators, who threw up acres of tents and shacks in the classic oil boomtown manner. From a population estimated at 1,500 in January 1920 the town grew to 30,000 within a year. Activity was frenzied as some 200 wells were put down inside the city limits; hoards of gamblers, liquor sellers, and prostitutes were on hand to provide recreation. By July the town acquired its first railroad, the Wichita Falls, Ranger and Fort Worth, which was soon joined by the Cisco and Northeastern. After three exciting years, oil production slowed, and the town lost much of its population, although it held its place as a commercial and oil production center. By 1930 the population had fallen to 7,569, and the town had 480 businesses. The Great Depression brought the population down further to 5,826 in 1940. The population was 6,605 in 1950, 5,944 in 1970, 5,665 in 1990, and 5,868 in 2000. In the 1980s Breckenridge was still a center for petroleum-related industries and was a retail and shipping center for the county. It is the home of the Breckenridge Aviation Museum. Just northwest of the city is Hubbard Creek Reservoir, and Possum Kingdom Lake is to the east in Palo Pinto County.

Betty E. Hanna, Doodle Bugs and Cactus Berries: A Historical Sketch of Stephens County (Quanah, Texas: Nortex, 1975). Loy W. Hartsfield, A History of Stephens County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1929). Stephens County (Breckenridge, Texas: Stephens County Sesquicentennial Committee, 1987).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, William R. Hunt, "BRECKENRIDGE, TX," accessed July 12, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hfb05.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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