Denton County has a rich history that is loved by its citizens. “Our stories combine to become the history of the county,” said Aubrey resident Charlotte Mooneyham. “Loving the county of today automatically acknowledges the love of the living history that is Denton County.”
Part of that history will be re-visited when the Denton County Historical Festival, sponsored by the Denton County Historical Commission, is held on Saturday, April 12 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., at Denton’s historic Courthouse-on-the-Square, to commemorate the years 1861-1877.
The era saw much change and growth for Denton County and the years were challenging ones for our ancestors. The Civil War saw over 1,000 men march off to fight, some never to return. The following years brought the years of Reconstruction Rule. Elections were suspended and most county officials were appointed until 1876. Many couples had to travel to Sherman to obtain marriage license because of the vacancy in the County Clerk’s office. And, to add to the general distress, the Comanche and Kiowa tribes often conducted raids into this area, targeting the quickly expanding ranching industry. The resulting loss of human lives and livestock worked devastating hardship.
But the resilient citizenry came together to overcome these hardships. By the end of the Reconstruction Era the county was primed for the arrival of the railroads, which would help launch the rise of a great agricultural economy that would endure for the next 100 years.
These historic events will be remembered at the Denton County Heritage Festival. The event will feature re-enactors bringing to life Denton County officials of the era, Civil War soldiers (both Union and Confederate), cowboys who played a significant role in the era, and singers and musicians who will perform songs and music of the period.
The event kicks off at 10:00 a.m. sharp with a welcome from County Judge Mary Horn, followed by a concert featuring music and songs of the era by the Denton Community Band, the a cappella singing group Vocal Magic, and the bluegrass music of the Montague County Volunteers
At 11:30, we will honor all the men and women of the era through a solemn “Bearing Away of the Ancestor,” in which our re-enactors, singers, and anyone else who wants to participate, will walk in an old-fashioned funeral procession, singing one of the great funeral hymns of that era, winding down through the Square and off toward historic Oakwood Cemetery, where so many of our early citizens are buried.
From 10:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., on the Courthouse lawn, children and adults alike will enjoy hearing storytellers recount tales from the past; visiting Union and Confederate camps; and enjoying the wares presented by the Denton Community Market.
During those same hours, the historic Courthouse on the Square will be open to the public. Inside, visitors can see the exhibits in the Courthouse Museum and, in the halls of the Courthouse, peruse the historic exhibits from area communities that existed during the years 1861-1877.
At 1:00 p.m. the action moves indoors, to the historic Commissioners Courtroom, for a Mini-Chautauqua featuring Stephen Foster songs sung by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Lane, accompanied by harpist Ellen Ritscher Sackett. Attorney John P. Knouse will read a portion of Mark Twain’s humorous account of his brief time in a Confederate militia. Morris Martin, retired Head of the UNT Music Library and Minister of Music at Saint Andrew Presbyterian Church, will read a portion of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. And the Chautauqua will conclude with Denton resident Yul Shelton reading the Emancipation Proclamation.
Denton County’s commitment to preserving its history is well-known. Corinth resident Cerise Blair said, “I have lived many places but none that is as dedicated and serious about maintaining and keeping the past alive [as Denton County].”
According to Festival Co-Chair Deborah Boone, the Denton County Heritage Festival will be an annual event, focusing each year on a different era of the county’s past: “We want to keep our citizens aware of the history of Denton County, to remember the men, women, and children who came before us, the circumstances in which they lived, and the effects that their lives had on our county. Many of those effects reverberate even to the present day. If we don’t know our past and learn from it, we can never really understand our present and live wisely in it.”