Denton, Texas: Original, Independent and Eclectic

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Built in 1896, the Denton Courthouse-on-the-Square is a town hub. 
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Kiba Jacobson's mural urges residents to be water-wise. 
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Mary Beth Matheny and Brandon Mikeal enjoy hanging around the Courthouse-on-the-Square in a portable hammock recently. Tuesday May 22, 2012, in Denton.

“Coming up from Dallas, newcomers probably assume that Denton’s just one more suburb,” says resident Kim Phillips. “But when they cross Lewisville Lake into town, they see and feel that this is a different kind of place.”

A favorite destination for those wanting to escape the urban scene for a few hours, Denton offers festivals, great music, bass fisheries, equestrian trails and more. Its downtown got a makeover when a commuter rail line was completed in 2011, connecting it to Dallas. Ten years ago, there were just 37 loft apartments downtown, but the area now boasts 500 living units, a shift that has energized businesses, nightclubs and street life. “Anytime of day or evening, you can hear amateur music on the courthouse lawn,” Phillips says. The grand Denton County Courthouse-on-the-Square, built in 1896, now houses a museum of city history, and its lawn is a popular gathering place. Cultural assets include the North Texas State Fair and Rodeo, the Denton Arts and Jazz Festival, and various activities associated with Texas Woman’s University, the University of North Texas and North Central Texas College’s nearby Corinth campus.

Many observers say Denton’s music scene is like Austin’s was 20 years ago, before the Texas capital became internationally famous for its PBS musical showcase, Austin City Limits. Paste magazine recently called Denton “the paradigm of a healthy music community,” with more than 100 acts living within the city’s 62 square miles (more than one and a half artists per square mile). Denton residents describe their homespun music industry as “original,” “independent” and “eclectic.” Since 1947, when the University of North Texas offered the country’s first major in jazz, Denton’s musical reputation has steadily evolved, beginning with Roy Orbison and continuing with Brave Combo, which Paste calls the “Grand Pooh-Bah of Denton Bands,” and more recent musical standouts such as Norah Jones and indie rock band Midlake.

Denton is also a leader in clean energy: 40 percent of the electricity consumed in the city is wind-generated, making it the country’s highest per capita wind-energy consumer. Twenty city facilities have been retrofitted with efficient lighting, which will save the city $125,000 annually, and the municipal landfill produces enough electricity from biogas (1.6 megawatts) to power 1,600 homes. Apogee Stadium, home of the University of North Texas Mean Green football team, was built to the prestigious LEED Platinum standard of the U.S. Green Building Council, using three large wind turbines for 6 percent of its energy needs.

At Denton’s fire station?–?the second in the country to be awarded LEED Gold Certification?–?the landscape is irrigated entirely with rainwater captured in four 5,400-gallon cisterns, and the well-insulated firehouse uses 35 percent less energy than a conventional building of the same size.

Stats: Denton, Texas

Population: 111,013

Climate: Humid subtropical; 38 inches avg. annual precip; January avg. high: 53 degrees; July avg. high: 94 degrees

Median Household Income: $61,820

Median Home Price: $139,797

Check out the other towns featured in our 2012 installment of 8 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of.