Childress, the county seat of Childress County, is at the junction of U.S. highways 287, 62, and 83, in the central part of the county. The town is named for George C. Childress, author of the Texas Declaration of Independence. It developed out of two separate townsites, Childress City and Henry, which were platted about four miles apart on land previously occupied by the OX Ranch. When Childress County was organized upon the arrival of the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway in February 1887, the two towns contested for the position of county seat. In the first election, held on April 11, 1887, Childress City, which already had three businesses, won the honor. A wooden courthouse was built under the supervision of Amos J. Fires, the "Dean of the Panhandle Lawyers." However, the Donley County Court (to which Childress County was attached for judicial purposes at the time) canvassed the election and declared it illegal. R. E. Montgomery, the railroad's right-of-way and townsite agent, had always favored Henry as the county seat because of the rougher terrain at Childress City, which he claimed would prevent the railroad from building a depot there. Significantly, he had also purchased half the property in Henry. After the court's action, Montgomery proposed that the railroad give those owning lots in Childress City lots in Henry. Furthermore, when Henry was chosen county seat in another election, the company offered to change the name of Henry to Childress. Fires and his associates agreed to this compromise, and the businesses and residences were moved to the new Childress by September 1887.
The town then enjoyed a boom from the railroad, which constructed the Dwight Hotel, the section house, and the depot. The Childress Lumber Company opened for business soon afterward. Dr. J. H. Christler became the first physician and one of the town's first businessmen. Fires, who was elected county judge, started the first bank and helped organized the first school system. James S. Harrison began the town's first newspaper, the Childress County Index (later the Childress Index), in 1888. Four churches, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Church of Christ, were established in Childress by 1889. The city was incorporated in 1890. It had a post office, a livery stable, a boarding house, a restaurant, three stores, a local YMCA, a theater, and a population of 621. There were also several saloons at first, but in 1904 a fatal shooting prompted the citizens to vote the town dry. In 1901, when the Fort Worth and Denver City began considering Childress as a division point, the citizens approved bonds and donated land to build shops, roundhouses, and terminal facilities. These businesses, in addition to the influx of farmers and homesteaders, provided more jobs and resulted in a population increase to 5,003 by 1910. Walter P. Chrysler served as general foreman of the Childress railroad shops in 1905 and 1906 before working as a master mechanic in Iowa and subsequently founding the Chrysler Motor Corporation. After a fire destroyed the first courthouse in 1891, an elaborate stone building was constructed and used until the present courthouse was built in 1939. For years a large windmill in the middle of Main Street served as the city's water source.
The railroad continued as the industrial mainstay of Childress into the 1940s. Construction of the Fort Worth and Denver Northern line from Childress to Pampa and increased activity in the railroad shops in Childress helped reduce the economic hardships of the Great Depression in Childress. In 1941 a move on the part of the railroad to discontinue its shops was thwarted by the citizens, in cooperation with the Interstate Commerce Commission. Various social clubs and lodges helped to promote the community, as did Childress Army Air Field during its existence from 1942 to 1945. In the 1920s a brick high school building was completed. In 1929 the town had a second newspaper, the Childress News, which was published under various names until 1942, when it was leased by the Index. In 1947 the Childress Reporter was established. After the depression and Dust Bowl era, the advent of modern farm machinery and improved highways reduced the town's rate of growth; the population was 6,464 in 1940. Furthermore, the railroad experienced a decline, and by 1970 several shops in Childress had been torn down. Such companies as Lanchart Industries, Royal Park Fashions, and Fiberglass Corporation of America moved in to supplant the railroad as the town's economic mainstay. The population decreased from 6,399 in 1960 to 5,817 by 1980. Nevertheless, Childress has remained the "Gateway to the Panhandle" and an important agribusiness center, as attested by several cotton gins and grain elevators. The first commercially producing oil well in the area was drilled in 1961.
In 1984 Childress had 159 businesses rated by Dun and Bradstreet, several churches, three schools, a public library, a hospital, clinics, nursing homes, and an ambulance service. The town's attractive Fair Park contains a small zoo and numerous recreational facilities, and the country club has a nine-hole golf course. The Childress County Heritage Museum features industry exhibits, local Indian artifacts, and furnished period rooms. Annual events include the Old Settlers' Reunion in July. This celebration, initiated soon after the town's founding in 1887, features a nightly rodeo. In August is the annual Greenbelt Bowl football classic, a contest between selected high school all-stars from a three-state area. Childress had a population of 5,055 in 1990 and 6,778 in 2000.