There is a restaurant in the courtyard of the Pentagon called “Ground Zero” ….gallows humor from the Cold War with Russia, yet named way before the atrocity of Sept. 11. Well, without the negative connotation, the Denton County Courthouse and surrounding Square is our Ground Zero. It always has been, but becomes more so each day as businesses, and more recently, residences, gravitate toward it. During the early years of Denton history, most business was either on the Square or within very close proximity to it. There really were no subdivisions then and most Dentonites lived within several blocks of the Square. The seeds of Dentoning were first planted on the courthouse lawn.
My maternal family has lived in Denton since the late ’30s. During WWII, my grandfather worked on the Square as a pharmacist at Tobin Drugs and my grandparents, mother and Aunt Helen lived on Panhandle St. My mother has many stories of she and my aunt blazing an early trail for what would become Dentoning. They used to park their bikes behind what is now J & J’s Pizza (then Tobin’s) and venture into the Square for a movie, a malted or maniacal maliciousness…….no wait, that wasn’t them. My dear grandmother was a buyer for the Boston Store in what is now Recycled Books, the gaudy, purple building on the northeast corner of the Square. Their pet, my great-grand-dog Boots, was a veteran of WWII………kind of. He was enlisted, and would have bravely represented Denton, but evidently could not be all he could be, and was returned, unused in battle. I never served in the military, but I am proud of members of my family who have. My uncle fought in the Battle of the Bulge, my cousin Matt retired from the army and then Boots…….well, Boots tried. I have deep roots in Denton, and love my hometown…..
We are very fortunate have one of the coolest Courthouses in Texas. It was built in 1896, and has served as Denton’s center ever since. Surrounding businesses have come and gone, but the courthouse is as it was the day it opened. Our Square is ripe with rumors, legend and hogwash. Of course, John B. Denton’s grave is on the courthouse lawn. How many towns have their dead namesake lying right in the middle of town? One rumor that I will investigate, because it continues to pop up in conversation occasionally, is that there are tunnels leading from the business rows on each side of the Square, back to the courthouse. Now I could confirm or dispel this rumor with a call or two, but it’ll be more fun to let it hang for a while. I’m not sure what said tunnels would have been used for, but I’m sure it would have been for nefarious purposes. I’m sure everyone has their own special memories and stories about the Square, and I’d like to hear them if they are even halfway interesting. (please send stories, ideas, blather to: Dentoning@gmail.com).
One of my Square memories, which resulted in me almost getting shot, involved a campaign visit to Denton by George McGovern’s vice-Presidential running mate, Sargent Shriver. Shriver was scheduled to speak on the lawn of the Southwest corner of the Square, and I didn’t want a ground-level view. I wasn’t really that interested in Shriver, but being a JFK assassination buff and with his connection to the Kennedy family, I decided to make the effort. With two friends in tow, I secured a viewing post above a barber shop in the section of the West side of the Square which has since burned down. We did not have official or unofficial permission to be there, we just found a very small space and settled in for the speech. The space was pretty cramped and as we waited for Sargent to arrive, the small door to the space burst open and two, black-suited guys with guns drawn entered and requested that we lay down on the floor, spread eagle. This was in 1972 and being a mere 9 years after the assassination in Dallas, evidently the Secret Service was less than pleased with our second story viewing nest. After several minutes of intense discussion, we allayed their suspicions that we might be harboring ill-will against Mr. Shriver and were released on each other’s recognizance. I’m not sure that was a good idea, but we didn’t end up in some Gulag or shot in the jailhouse basement by a fedora-topped, strip-club owner. Denton memories are the building blocks of Dentoning. They are frequently discussed during hometown outings and assist us as we……..