One of the first settlers of Wise County,
Col. Absalom Bishop arrived in 1854. He soon became a leader in the organization
of the new country, the election of officials, and the selection of the
site of the County Seat.
Bishops group pushed for the top of
a bald hill near the center of the county which overlooked the West
Cross Timbers and the broad valley of the West Fork of the Trinity River.
The hilltop was large enough to accommodate a town square as well as
being the highest point in the county. Mr. and Mrs. James Proctor had
already deeded sixty acres to the county for the town site. After a
bitterly contested counting of the votes, Bishops hilltop won out.
Bishop immediately raised the stars
and stripes and revealed his plan for a central commons area surrounded
by a square with the business houses facing in and main streets radiating
from the four corners. He was elected Wise County's first representative
to the state legislature in 1858. Because of his leadership on behalf
of Decatur and Wise County, Colonel Absalom Bishop has been called "Father
A public sale of lots was held in
1857 and four lots per block were sold for $100.00 each. The first structure
was a sixteen foot square log cabin owned by Joe Henry Martin. Two wooden
business houses were soon built. The first to be completed was Electious
Halsell's Tavern. Howell and Allen built a two story wooden structure
on the south end of the west side. The ground floor was their general
store and the Masonic Lodge used the upper story. This store held the
town's first post office. Decatur's first physician, Dr. Thomas Stewart,
opened an apothecary shop in this building.
Between 1858 and 1861, the Overland
Southern Pacific Mail and Stagecoach route, known as the Butterfield
Stage Line, passed through Decatur on it's way from St. Louis to California.
When on Schedule, the stage arrived at midnight where it deposited mail
and occasional passengers at Bishops store.
In 1861, the County built a two story
wooden Court House in the center of the square. Lawyers rented office
space here. The first photograph gallery and the first newspaper were
located here. The building burned in 1881. In 1882, a second Courthouse
was built off the Northwest corner of the square. This building burned
Wise County has had four Courthouses.
The fourth and present structure, completed in 1896 cost $110,000.00
to construct. It was designed by J. Riley Gordon of San Antonio. Said
to be architecturally perfect, the building is constructed of pink granit
from Burnet County Texas. Each Piece was precut, numbered and shipped
close to 200 miles by train to Decatur. The stones were then raised
into place using a windlass pulled by donkeys. Amazingly the structure
was completed in less than one year.