Denton, Texas – History and Things to Do

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Denton, Texas, is a town that pulses with the rhythm of fantastic music, vibrant nightlife, and a thriving independent culture. It’s one of the larger cities in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and it is at the county seat of Denton County.

Named after John B. Denton, a soldier, lawyer, and Methodist minister who made the ultimate sacrifice defending frontier settlers, the city carries a rich legacy that continues to shape its dynamic character.

When you visit Denton, you’ll find no shortage of ways to enjoy your time. Let us take you through Denton’s fascinating history and highlight the must-see sights and experiences that await you.

A Brief History of Denton, Texas

Location of Denton in Denton County, Texas

Denton’s story begins with the formation of Denton County. White settlement in the area started in the mid-1800s when William S. Peters of Kentucky received a land grant from the Texas Congress, naming it Peters Colony. The first settlers arrived in the southeast part of the county in 1843, and by 1846, the Texas Legislature officially formed Denton County.

Both the county and the town were named after John B. Denton, a preacher and lawyer who was killed in 1841 during a skirmish with the Kichai people in what is now Tarrant County.

Establishing Denton as the County Seat

Initially, Pickneyville and Alton served as the county seat, but in 1857, Denton was chosen as the new seat. That same year, city planners laid out Denton and named its first streets. The town’s early days were turbulent; on July 8, 1860, half of the downtown Square burned down in what became known as the “Texas Troubles.”

Fires broke out in ten Texas communities that day, including Dallas and Pilot Point, and were quickly attributed to a slave insurrection. Although there was no concrete evidence, many were hanged during this period of vigilante justice.

Civil War and Incorporation

In 1861, Texans voted to join the Confederate States of America. After the Civil War, Denton was incorporated in 1866, with J.B. Sawyer as its first mayor. The city expanded, becoming an agricultural trade center. The arrival of the Texas and Pacific Railway in 1881 connected Denton to the wider world, spurring population growth.

In 1890, the Texas Normal College (now the University of North Texas) was established, and in 1901, the Girls’ Industrial College (now Texas Woman’s University) opened, further boosting the city’s development.

Post-Civil War and Growth

After the Civil War, “Freedmen Settlements” like Quakertown were established. It thrived until around 1920 when residents were forcibly removed to make way for a park. Despite such setbacks, the city continued to grow, bolstered by its educational institutions and the arrival of electricity in 1905.

Expansion and Industrial Development

Denton’s population grew significantly from the 1960s onwards, particularly after the opening of the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in 1974. The city’s connection to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex via I-35E and I-35W played a significant role in this growth. The population rose from 26,844 in 1960 to 80,537 in 2000, attracting heavy manufacturing companies and fostering economic development.

Modern Denton

In recent years, Denton has continued to evolve. In 2015, it formalized a Friendship City relationship with Santa Rosa de Múzquiz, Mexico, and in 2020, Gerard Hudspeth became Denton’s first African-American mayor.

Things to Do in Denton, Texas

Things to Do in Denton Texas

If you’re looking to visit the city, here’s what you can do:

Visit Denton Town Square

Denton Town Square is a vibrant, historic heart of the city that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and modern charm. One of its standout attractions is the 1896 W. C. Dodson courthouse, one of Texas’s largest Golden Era courthouses. This architectural marvel is a centerpiece of the square and a must-see for any visitor.

The square itself is lively and welcoming, as it is close to residential neighborhoods and it preserves the historical tradition of town squares. Besides the courthouse, Denton Town Square is home to a variety of antique shops and charming restaurants.

Visit Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum

Historic building Denton Country Courthouse

The Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum, formerly known as the Courthouse of Denton County, is another jewel in Denton’s historical crown. Constructed in 1896, this building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as a prominent symbol of Denton’s rich past.

Visitors to the Courthouse-on-the-Square Museum can enjoy a deep dive into Denton’s history through its well-curated exhibits. The museum showcases a collection of artifacts, photographs, and documents that tell the story of Denton’s development from a frontier settlement to a modern city. The architecture of the courthouse itself is a marvel, with its intricate stonework and period details offering a glimpse into the craftsmanship of the late 19th century.

Visit Denton County African American Museum

The Denton County African American Museum, also known as Quakertown House, offers a poignant glimpse into the lives and experiences of African Americans in Denton. This museum, situated in a former residential structure from the Quakertown community, tells the history of African Americans who lived and worked in the area during the 19th century. Originally, Quakertown was a thriving Black community that flourished until the early 1920s, when its residents were forcibly relocated to make way for a park.

By visiting this museum, you can gain a deeper understanding of the culture of Denton County’s past and the role African Americans played in its development.

Visit Ray Roberts Lake State Park

Aerial view of Isle du Bois Ray Roberts Lake State Park

If you’re looking for relaxation and recreation, Ray Roberts Lake State Park is a haven for you. Centered around the 29,000-acre Ray Roberts Lake, the park offers a lot for outdoor enthusiasts and history buffs alike. The lake was initially created for flood and water supply but is now a popular destination.

At Ray Roberts Lake State Park, you can enjoy a wide range of activities. The park offers excellent camping facilities, with well-maintained campsites that cater to both tent and RV campers. Fishing enthusiasts will find the lake teeming with white bass, catfish, and largemouth bass, making it a prime spot for a day of fishing.

Also, the park features hiking and biking trails that wind through scenic landscapes, providing ample opportunities for wildlife observation and photography. Whether exploring the great outdoors, learning about historical engineering, or simply unwinding by the water, Ray Roberts Lake State Park is an ideal destination.

Watch a Show at the Historic Campus Theatre

The Campus Theatre in Denton

Opened in downtown Denton in 1949, the Campus Theatre is a gem for those who appreciate arts and history. Unlike many modern theaters, the Campus Theatre offers a unique experience steeped in history and cultural significance. This theater has screened iconic movies such as the 1967 classic “Bonnie and Clyde” and continues to host a variety of elegant films and live performances today.

When you step into the Campus Theatre, you’ll be transported back to a time when movie-going was a grand affair. The theater has a charming architecture and nostalgic ambiance that creates delightful backdrop for any film or performance.

Beyond movies, the Campus Theatre also hosts live performances, including plays, musicals, and concerts, making it a hub for local culture and entertainment.

Board an A-Train

The A-Train is a 34-kilometer commuter rail line that serves as one of the busiest rail lines in Texas. It offers both a practical and scenic way to explore Denton. This commuter line is a modern continuation of Denton’s historical transportation legacy, providing a convenient connection between Denton and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system.

As you ride the A-Train, you’ll pass through various historical and industrial landmarks that have been integral to Denton’s growth. The route includes stops at the Trinity Mills Station and the famous Lewisville Lake Station. Whether you’re commuting or sightseeing, boarding the A-Train is an experience that combines convenience with a touch of historical charm.

Additional Attractions and Activities

Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center

Nature lovers will also enjoy the Clear Creek Natural Heritage Center. This expansive nature preserve features miles of scenic trails and a diverse array of wildlife. It’s a great place for bird-watching, hiking, and enjoying the natural beauty of North Texas.

Denton Arts and Jazz Festival

Denton is renowned for its vibrant music scene, and the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival is a highlight of the city’s cultural calendar. Held annually, this free festival features performances by local and national artists, art exhibits, and family-friendly activities. It’s a celebration of Denton’s musical heritage and artistic spirit.

Bayless-Selby House Museum

The Bayless-Selby House Museum is a beautifully preserved Victorian home that offers a glimpse of life in Denton during the late 19th century. This historic gem features period furnishings, authentic decor, and exhibits that showcase the daily lives of Denton’s early residents. Visitors can explore the intricately designed rooms and learn about the customs and lifestyles of a bygone era, making it a must-see for history enthusiasts and anyone interested in Denton’s rich heritage.

Golden Triangle Mall

Golden Triangle Mall

Golden Triangle Mall is Denton’s premier shopping destination, offering a diverse mix of retail stores, dining options, and entertainment. This modern mall features popular brands, specialty shops, and a variety of restaurants to suit every taste.

Conclusion

Denton, Texas, is a vibrant city with a rich history and a lively cultural scene. From exploring historical sites and museums to enjoying outdoor parks and local festivals, there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re visiting for a day or planning a longer stay, Denton offers a unique blend of charm and excitement that will leave you with unforgettable memories.

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