Claude, on U.S. Highway 287 in north central Armstrong County, is the county's largest town. It was originally named Armstrong City when the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway built through the county in 1887, but the name was soon afterwards changed to Claude, after Claude Ayers, the engineer who brought the first train through. Though E. H. Trice platted the town's business district in conformity with the railroad, which angles southeast to northwest, later additions, platted by various promoters including Samuel H. Graves, J. A. Parham, Lee Bivins, and R. A. Montgomery, were laid out by the compass. A post office was opened in June 1888 with Trice as postmaster.
When the county was organized in 1890, Claude won the contest with Washburn to be the county seat. Charles Goodnight, according to report, cast the tie-breaking vote. During the 1890s the town grew as a cattle-shipping point, with several stores, two saloons, two blacksmith shops, a livery stable, four churches, a bank, and a resident physician. J. M. White built the ornate, three-story Palace Hotel, which at that time was the largest in the Panhandle. W. S. Decker established a weekly newspaper, the Claude Argus, which later merged with the Goodnight News to become the Claude News. When the school district was organized in 1891, children attended classes in the Methodist church until a permanent schoolhouse was built. Before modern water and sewerage systems, Claude's residents went to the courthouse square for water at the public trough, which was shaded by a cottonwood tree. One early resident recalled that the old wooden courthouse "always smelled of tobacco and disinfectant."
After 1900 Claude was incorporated. A. P. McCubbins installed the first telephone system, and W. A. Wilson started the Armstrong County Abstract Company in 1907. The establishment of a flour mill and a grain company attested to Claude's increasing importance as an agribusiness center. By 1912 a permanent stone courthouse had replaced the wooden structure, and W. A. Warner had organized Troop 17, the first Boy Scout troop west of the Mississippi. Recreation and entertainment were provided by the community baseball league, the town band, and the annual chautauqua in August. During the 1930s several neighboring rural schools were consolidated with the Claude district. For years Claude had the only official-size gymnasium in the area, and the West Texas State College (now West Texas A&M University) basketball team used it on numerous occasions. In 1930 Claude had a population of 1,041. By 1940 its population had fallen to 761. In 1953 a new county jail was constructed out of the stones from the old one.
The proximity of Claude to Amarillo and the nearby Pantex Ordnance Plant (see PANTEX, TEXAS) has enabled it to maintain a stable population. Furthermore, Claude has gained a reputation in the movie industry; three motion pictures, The Sundowners (1960), Hud (1963), and Sunshine Christmas (1977), have been filmed there. Claude's population increased from 820 in 1960 to 992 in 1970 and 1,112 in 1980. In 1984 the town had twenty businesses. A city park, a rodeo arena, and a skeet range provide local recreation, and the public library remains the town's educational resource center. In 1990 the population was 1,199, and in 2000 it was 1,313.