“Cherokee County is located in central East Texas, bordered on the north by Smith County, on the east by Rusk and Nacogdoches counties, on the south by Angelina County, and on the west by Anderson and Houston counties. It was named for the Cherokee Indians, who lived in the area before being expelled in 1839.”
“Early Indian habitation has been thoroughly investigated at the George C. Davis Site at Mound Prairie, six miles southwest of Alto. Evidence of all stages of southeastern Indian development has been found, beginning with the 12,000-year-old Clovis culture. Indian development reached its peak after the arrival of the Caddos about A.D. 780. The Early Caddoan Period, which lasted until about 1260, saw the development of Mound Prairie as a regional ceremonial center with three earthen mounds, the southwesternmost examples of the Mississippian mound-building culture. In the Late Caddoan Period, Mound Prairie was abandoned, but numerous sites show a continuing Caddo presence in the northern two-thirds of the county.”
“The record of early European contact is somewhat vague. Luis de Moscoso Alvarado may have passed through in 1542, and the French of the La Salle expedition probably visited in 1686–87. A strong Spanish influence came into the area in 1690 with the establishment of San Francisco de los Tejas Mission in neighboring Houston County. The first documented entry of Europeans came on November 6, 1691, when the expedition of Domingo Terán de los Ríos and Father Damián Massenet entered the county en route from San Francisco de los Tejas to the Red River. The mission was abandoned in 1693, and Europeans ignored the area until 1705, when French traders led by Louis Juchereau de St. Denis began to do business among the Hasinais.”
“In June 1719 French pressure led to the temporary abandonment of [Spanish mission Nuestro Padre San Francisco de los Tejas], but the Marqués de Aguayo reoccupied the site on August 5, 1721, at which time it was renamed San Francisco de los Neches. The Spanish permanently abandoned the mission in 1730. Thereafter, a mission at Nacogdoches maintained the Spanish presence in the area.”
“The first land grant in the county went to Nacogdoches merchants William Barr and Peter Samuel Davenport in 1798, but they did not settle there. The Indians for whom the county was named—the Cherokees—joined by Delawares, Shawnees, and Kickapoos, began settling north of the Camino Real about 1820. Cherokee chiefs Bowl, Richard Fields, and John Dunn Hunter tried unsuccessfully to obtain title to their land from the Mexican government.”
“Anglo-American settlers began moving onto land claimed by Cherokees near Linwood in the late 1820s. Indian hopes suffered another blow when in 1826 David G. Burnet obtained an empresario grant to lands north of the Camino Real, and the area south of the road fell to empresario Joseph Vehlein.”
“Rapid settlement began in 1834. The Houston-Forbes treaty of February 23, 1836, seemingly assured Cherokee neutrality, but the rejection of the treaty by the Texas Senate and the increased encroachment of settlers on Indian land led to violence. On October 5, 1838, Indians massacred members of the Isaac Killough family at their farm northwest of the site of present Jacksonville. This led directly to the Cherokee War of 1839 and the expulsion of all Indians from the county. White settlers quickly occupied the abandoned Indian farms, and the communities of Pine Town, Lockranzie, Linwood, and Cook’s Fort developed.”
“Cherokee County was marked off from Nacogdoches County on April 11, 1846, and was organized on July 13 of that year, with the town of Rusk as the county seat. Only one family lived at Rusk then.”
“The county’s settlers were mostly from the South and brought with them the economic and social traditions of that region. The 1850 population of 6,673 was the third largest in the state. By 1860 the population had grown to 12,098, of whom 3,250 were slaves, two were free blacks, and fourteen were Spanish surnamed.”
“Cherokee County voters strongly supported secession, and twenty-four companies from the county entered Confederate service. The Confederate Army maintained two training camps, a prisoner of war camp, a large commissary depot, and conscription and field-transportation offices in the county. War demands allowed the development of two iron foundries and a gun factory.”
“After the war, despite a brief military occupation, Republicans had little impact and did not seriously challenge Democratic control. There was little evidence of Ku Klux Klan or other terrorist activity in the county during Reconstruction. Until the 1990s the only serious challenge to Democratic control came from the Populist party, which carried the county in local elections with strong black support in 1894 and 1896, despite the leading role in the Democratic party of Governor James S. Hogg, a native of Rusk.”
“In addition to Rusk, several new towns appeared shortly after the organization of the county. Larissa, founded in 1846 in the northwest part of the county, became the largest town. Gum Creek, soon renamed Jacksonville, was founded in 1847. Alto was established on the Old San Antonio Road in 1851. Lone Star (originally Skin Tight), Knoxville, and Griffin were other pioneer communities.”
“Railroad construction and agricultural development, especially the expansion of cotton cultivation, helped the county to grow and mature between 1870 and 1900. In 1870 there were 1,216 farms and ranches in Cherokee County, and the county had a population of 11,079; by 1900, 3,683 farms and ranches had been established in the county, and the population had increased to 25,154.”
“The arrival of the railroads also drastically altered the settlement pattern. All the old towns except Jacksonville, Rusk, and Alto disappeared, unable to compete with the new railroad centers. The International-Great Northern (later the Missouri Pacific), built in 1872, gave rise to Troup and a relocated and revitalized Jacksonville. Between 1882 and 1885 the Kansas and Gulf Short Line built north-to-south through the county, producing new towns—Bullard, Mount Selman, Craft, Dialville, Forest, and Wells—and bringing rail service to Rusk and Alto.”
“The decline of farming, which began in the 1930s, and increased industrial job opportunities in the years during and after World War II led to another major population shift. County population reached a peak of 43,970 in 1940, then declined to 38,694 in 1950, and to 33,120 in 1960 before dropping to its lowest point of 32,008 in 1970. Yet, during these same years, the population of the larger towns in the county increased. This indicated both emigration from the county to outside urban areas and migration within the county from the countryside to the towns.”
“Although no longer preeminent, agriculture remains important in the economy. Cotton replaced wheat as the major crop immediately after the Civil War, and continued to grow in importance into the twentieth century; in 1928 the county’s cotton production reached its maximum (36,951 bales), and in 1929, 113,689 acres of Cherokee County farmland was devoted to its cultivation. But in the 1930s production fell sharply because of low prices and New Deal allotment programs; by 1940 cotton production utilized only about 45,000 acres in the county.”
“Peaches became important after the introduction of refrigerator cars in 1893, and Cherokee County orchards produced a record of 1,204 carloads in 1912 before the San José scale and marketing troubles brought a decline. In the late 1930s, however, peach production revived somewhat. From its beginnings at Craft in 1897, tomato culture grew until by 1917 Cherokee County produced 90 percent of the tomatoes shipped from Texas. Tomatoes remained a major product in the county until increased competition and marketing problems caused a sudden collapse in the 1950s. Since then, Cherokee County agriculture has centered on cattle and timber.”
“The typical Cherokee County farm of today is a beef-and-timber operation run as a sideline by a landowner with a job in town.”
“By the early 1980s some 26 percent of the county’s labor force worked in professional and related services (a relatively high figure reflecting employment at the Rusk State Hospital), 22 percent in manufacturing, and 18 percent in wholesale and retail trade. Tourism grew increasingly important, spurred by the establishment in 1971 of the Texas State Railroad State Historical Park. During the 1970s the area’s population began to grow again, rising to 38,127 in 1980 (a 19.1 percent increase over 1970) and to 41,049 in 1990.”
“The census counted 50,902 people living in Cherokee County in 2014.”
“Towns include Rusk (population, 5,638), the county seat; Jacksonville (15,236); Alto (1,243); Wells (825); New Summerfield (1,154); Cuney (140); and Gallatin (439). Reklaw (389) is partly in Rusk County, while Troup (1,884) and Bullard (2,679) are mostly in Smith County. The Texas State Railroad State Historical Park in Rusk is a popular tourist attraction, and Jacksonville hosts a Tomato Fest in June.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, John R. Ross, “Cherokee County”
I was the guest of Rusk and Cherokee County on July 10, 2016.
Cherokee County Courthouse – 1889
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
This was an impressive, two-story, brick courthouse with two additional levels in the forms of a basement and clocktower. It served the county from 1889 to 1926 in its original form, but underwent a serious renovation in the later half of the Twenties that included turning the gabled roof into a flat one, removing the tower completely, and stuccoing the exterior.
In the photo above, you can tell that the remodeling work is already underway. It appears someone has lightly penciled in what the top of the clocktower once looked like.
(Photo Courtesy: Terry Jeanson)
This photo is what the courthouse looked like after its remodel. However, to add insult to injury, Cherokee County eventually decided that not even the extensively renovated courthouse could serve its needs. By 1940, the entire building was demolished to make way for a successor.
I don’t often say this, but the replacement this stuccoed disaster got is actually far more pleasant.
Cherokee County Courthouse – 1941
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
As one of the sleekest and most aesthetically pleasing Moderne courthouses in the state (by my opinion, anyway), the 1941 courthouse came into being thanks to the efforts of Gill & Bennett, Inc. of Dallas. The normal job of the contractor was filled by the Works Progress Administration.
The Texas Historical Commission describes this courthouse as follows:
“WPA constructed 3-story building with 2-story wings on either side. Rusticated stone exterior with cast stone vertical spandrels at window bays. Entrance features decorative cast aluminum grates on transoms and the center of the building features small, square windows also with decorative aluminum grates.”
For most of the courthouse’s existence, the Cherokee County Jail took up residence on the building’s third floor. It was abandoned, however, in 1989. Nine years later, in 1998, that floor was renovated for new office space. Also at that time, a fire alarm system was installed, electrical wiring was repaired, an HVAC system was implemented, and an elevator was built.
The main entrance faces north on 6th Street / Highway 84.
The northwest corner
This is the western façade, facing Main Avenue.
This is the view from those doors.
The southwest corner features a Confederate veterans memorial.
Look mom, no hands.
This is one of two southern entrances. This version is accessible specifically for the Sheriff’s Department.
This is the full extent of the southern façade. (That’s the publicly accessible entrance at center).
The southeast corner
Here’s the view of Henderson Avenue from the eastern doors.
The “cornerstones” form part of the windowsills at this courthouse.
The view of 6th Street from the northern doors
Rusk & Cherokee County
The county annex building is at the corner of Henderson and 6th, diagonally across from the courthouse.
A Neapolitan courthouse square
On 5th Street (I like the sound of this)
Previous Courthouse: Bandera County
Next Courthouse: Nacogdoches County