Controversy, mystery surrounds Kent County seat change

Controversy over Kent County seat change
Kent County Courthouse built in Jayton in 1956 (Source: KCBD)
Kent County Courthouse built in Jayton in 1956 (Source: KCBD)

JAYTON, TX (KCBD) - It was a change that occurred in 1954 but the story behind how Jayton became the seat of Kent County is still talked about because of how contentious the change was.

Kent County was organized in 1892 and named after Andrew Kent, a soldier that died at the Battle of the Alamo. Clairmont was designated the county seat.

That's where a courthouse, jail and much more was built to a thriving cattle and cotton town.

"Families started moving into Clairmont and, at one time, they had a bank, a hotel, a newspaper and several stores," Jim White, Kent County judge, said. "It was named after one of the landowners that had a niece named Claire."

However, in 1910 a railroad was built through Kent County, bypassing Clairmont and causing its demise.

Jayton began growing and in 1954 a county election was held to move the county seat from Clairmont to Jayton. But, the validity of the election was questioned by some in the communities.

"They had to have attorneys' general opinions and lawyers brought in," White said. "There were some from the area who did not accept the election. They were very stubborn. I understand that the records had to be secretly moved from the Clairmont courthouse to Jayton."

In 1955, an 18-month lease was signed to make the First National Bank building the Kent County Courthouse. Then, the Clairmont courthouse mysteriously burned down.

"I guess people said, 'Hey, we have a good facility here in Clairmont and nothing in Jayton to house the court and wondered why they needed to move,'" White said.

White said it took many years for the controversy to fade away.

Now, Kent County is home to Jayton-Girard ISD and an economy that has grown from cotton and cattle to oil production. The county also boasts the Kent County Nursing Home. There are also prospective wind and solar projects in the area.

"It's like all rural counties, we are struggling to maintain our resources and population," White said. "But, Jayton has been an exceptional place to raise your family. We are just continuing to do the best we can to maintain all these services to enhance our community living."

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