Nacogdoches County Courthouse, Nacogdoches, Texas

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“Nacogdoches County comprises 939 square miles of the East Texas timberlands, an area heavily forested with a great variety of softwoods and hardwoods, especially pine, cypress, and oak. The terrain varies from undulating to rolling with elevation ranging from 150 to 600 feet above mean sea level. The contour is generally broken, a wooded area with plateaus and valleys.”

“Nacogdoches County is located in an area that has been the site of human habitation for several thousand years. Archeological artifacts, which date from the Archaic Period (ca. 5000 B.C.-A.D. 500), have been recovered from the area around Sam Rayburn Reservoir to the south. During historic times the area was occupied by the Hasinai Indians of the Caddo confederacy, an agricultural people with a highly developed culture. Flat-topped earthen temple and burial mounds built by the Caddos dot the countryside. Four major Hasinai tribes lived in the region that became Nacogdoches County.”

“The earliest Europeans to reach the area that would become Nacogdoches County were probably in a Spanish expedition led by Luis de Moscoso Alvarado, who traversed East Texas in 1542. The Spanish, however, largely ignored Texas until the French under René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, established a colony on the coast in 1685. Spanish authorities dispatched an expedition to the region in 1689 under Alonso De León, the governor of Coahuila, which found the French settlement in ruins. After their return to Coahuila in 1690, De León and Father Damián Massanet, a Franciscan priest who had accompanied the expedition, petitioned the viceroy, the Count of Galve, and recommended establishing missions among the Hasinai Indians.”

“When the Spanish under Ramón arrived in 1716, they found in what is now Nacogdoches County several villages of the Caddo Indians and a large village of the Bidais. In the midst of these tribes Ramón built Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de los Hainai Mission near the mouth of Mill Creek on the Angelina River, San José de los Nazonis on Dill Creek in northwestern Nacogdoches County, and Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de los Nacogdoches (named for the Nacogdoche Indians) on the site of present Nacogdoches. For their protection he established a presidio, Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Tejas, fifteen miles west of Nacogdoches.”

“After the cession of Louisiana to Spain in 1763, the settlers in the area were ordered to move back to the San Antonio or the Rio Grande communities, but led by Antonio Gil Ibarvo they petitioned to return to their former homes. In 1774 they were permitted to return as far as the Trinity River, where they founded the settlement of Bucareli in present-day Madison County. In 1779 Bucareli was abandoned, and Ibarvo rebuilt the town of Nacogdoches. The same year Ibarvo probably began construction of a stone house and trading post now known as the Old Stone Fort.”

“The new settlement of Nacogdoches, situated on the traces of an east-west Hasinai Indian trail, which after 1714 became a part of the Old San Antonio Road, quickly developed into a trading and smuggling center with French-controlled Louisiana. In 1791 Ibarvo himself was accused of smuggling contraband goods into Nacogdoches and trading with the Indians horses stolen from the Spanish. He was eventually cleared of the charges but was banished from Nacogdoches.”

“Because of the heavily-wooded countryside and its distance from other Spanish settlements, the Nacogdoches colony found it difficult to attract Spanish settlers who preferred land more easily adaptable to ranching. The main attractions remained its relative freedom from Spanish authorities and the potential of profits to be made from smuggling. Although the town had appointed officials, it was unique among Spanish colonial towns of northern Mexico, for it was never formally designated as a pueblo or presidio. By 1800 Nacogdoches, with 660 inhabitants, was the second-largest settlement in the province of Texas.”

“As early as the 1780s Anglo-Americans from the Deep South began moving into the town and surrounding region. Among the earliest American settlers were William Barr and Peter Samuel Davenport, who along with two other Americans, Luther Smith and Edward Murphy, formed the House of Barr and Davenport trading company in 1798.”

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“During the Mexican War of Independence Nacogdoches was also the target of a filibustering expedition led by Augustus W. Magee and José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara. Accompanied by a force of Mexican revolutionaries and Anglos from Louisiana, the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition seized control of Nacogdoches on August 12, 1812, and marched to the interior. But in August of the following year a royalist force led by Joaquín de Arredondocrushed the revolt. Nacogdoches became the scene of a bloody purge, during which royal authority was reestablished through execution and confiscation. Most of the residents of the town and surrounding countryside fled across the Sabine River into Louisiana, and by 1818 the area was virtually deserted.”

“When Mexico obtained its independence from Spain in 1821 Coahuila and Texas were joined as one state, and Nacogdoches was included in the Department of Bexar. The Municipality of Nacogdoches was given jurisdiction over the region between the Neches and Sabine rivers. In 1831 Nacogdoches became a political department, and in 1834 a third department, Brazos, was added. The Department of Nacogdoches covered most of present East Texas, extending from Anahuac and the Trinity River in the south and west, to the Red River in the north, and east to Louisiana.”

“Located on one of the principal routes of immigration from the United States, Nacogdoches developed into a leading entry way for Anglo immigrants, earning the title “Gateway to Texas.”"

“Following the passage of the Mexican Colonization Law of 1825 by the state of Coahuila and Texas, two empresario grants were given in the area surrounding Nacogdoches, one to Frost Thorn, a former associate of the trading company of Barr and Davenport, and the other to Haden Edwards, a native of Virginia. Edwards’s challenge of the validity of many of the previous Spanish and Mexican land titles alienated many of the older settlers of the region. In 1826, in an effort to assert their claims, Edwards’s brother, Benjamin W. Edwards, and some thirty followers rode into Nacogdoches, seized the Old Stone Fort, and declared the independence of Texas. The revolt, which became known as the Fredonian Rebellion, was quickly suppressed by Mexican militia, and the Edwards brothers and the others were forced to flee.”

“Growing dissatisfaction with the immigration laws and the problem of securing land titles spawned another revolt of the Mexican and Anglo-American populace of the region, culminating in the victory of the antigovernment forces in the battle of Nacogdoches in 1832. Piedras and the other Mexican officials were forced to withdraw. Two Mexican alcaldes were subsequently elected, José Ignacio Ibarvo and Vital Flores, but after that time the ayuntamiento was dominated by Anglos, and Mexican government authority in the region ended for all practical purposes.”

“As the clouds of revolution gathered in 1835, Henry Rueg, political chief of the Department of Nacogdoches, called a meeting at which Frost Thorn, Thomas J. Rusk, and others were appointed to form the Nacogdoches Committee of Vigilance and Safety. The committee organized a militia and collected arms and provisions for the revolution. During the winter of 1835–36 hundreds of volunteers poured through the area on their way south to fight for independence. During the Runaway Scrape in 1836 the area was virtually abandoned once again, but with the defeat of Antonio López de Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto the residents of Nacogdoches and the surrounding region returned en masse.”

“Immediately after the Texas Revolution the municipalities within the Nacogdoches Department, Liberty, Jefferson, Jasper, Sabine, San Augustine, and Shelby, were established as counties of the Republic of Texas. The remaining area east of the Trinity River was designated Nacogdoches County on March 17, 1836. In April 1846 the county was further subdivided into what would eventually become all or part of twenty other counties: Anderson, Angelina, Camp, Cherokee, Dallas, Delta, Gregg, Henderson, Hopkins, Houston, Hunt, Kaufman, Raines, Rockwall, Rusk, Smith, Trinity, Upshur, Van Zandt, and Wood.”

“In June 1837 the city of Nacogdoches was officially incorporated with an aldermanic government. Proposals were made to designate Nacogdoches the official capital of the new republic. The House favored Nacogdoches, but the Senate wanted San Jacinto. After some deliberation Houston was chosen as a compromise site in December 1836. In 1838 Nacogdoches was again the site of unrest. In the summer of that year Vicente Córdova, a former alcalde and primary judge of Nacogdoches, led a revolt of dissatisfied Mexicans and Indians against the republic. Córdova’s plot was discovered before he could act, and the Córdova Rebellion was quelled by a force commanded by Thomas J. Rusk.”

“During the years of the republic Nacogdoches once again prospered. Although smuggling remained a mainstay of the economy, toward the end of the republican period a new economy based on cotton began developing in the Nacogdoches region. New immigrants from the United States continued to move into the area, many of them accompanied by their slaves. By 1840 the county reported 197 slave owners.”

“Several stage lines began service to Nacogdoches in the 1850s. Until the late 1840s the Old San Antonio Road remained the principal transportation route through the county. But in 1847 Robert S. Patton brought his steamboat Angelina up the Angelina River as far north as Pattonia in the southeastern corner of the county at the mouth of Dorr Creek. By 1849 the boat was making regular trips hauling cotton and other produce downstream to Sabine Pass and returning with provisions, clothing, and other manufactured goods.”

“When the Secession Ordinance was submitted for popular approval in February 1861, county voters approved the measure 411 to 94. In contrast to many other East Texas counties, however, Nacogdoches County also had a significant number who opposed secession, possibly due to the large number of small farmers, who were less likely to support the measure than plantation owners, as well as the comparatively large Mexican population. County residents nevertheless strongly supported the Confederate war effort. One source estimated that as many as 2,000 men from the county served in either state or Confederate army units.”

“For many of Nacogdoches County’s whites, the end of slavery meant serious economic loss. In 1859 slaves constituted slightly more than half of all taxable property in the county. This loss, coupled with the widespread belief that blacks would not work, and unresolved questions concerning the status of the South in the nation, led to a loss of confidence that caused property values to plummet.”

“Although incidents of violence occurred during Reconstruction, Nacogdoches County was spared much the lawlessness that plagued other East Texas counties in the wake of the Civil War. The Ku Klux Klan was active in the late 1860s but seems to have largely died out by the early 1870s. By the mid-1870s the county had begun to recover from the effects of the war, and the population began growing once again. Nacogdoches, with a population of 500, remained the largest town in the county, but many of the smaller towns, Chireno, Douglass, Melrose, Martin City (now Martinsville), showed significant population increases.”

“With the coming of the railroad, Nacogdoches once again emerged as an important trading center. Competition from the railroad also brought the end of the riverboat traffic on the Angelina and the decline of towns like Pattonia that had depended on the boats. The railroad also changed the face of the county in other ways: a host of new towns—Sacul, Cushing, Trawick, and Redfield—grew up along the line.”

“The construction of the railroads also spurred the development of the lumber industry, which emerged at the end of the nineteenth century as one of Nacogdoches County’s most important industries. The economic boom brought on by the railroads also contributed to rapid population growth. By 1900 the population of the county reached 24,663, more than double what it had been only twenty years before.”

“The onset of the Great Depression, falling cotton prices, and the arrival of the boll weevil brought new hardships for farmers. Many were forced to leave the land and move to the cities. The total number of farms in the county fell from a high of 5,000 in the mid-1930s to 2,743 in 1950. Cotton production also fell markedly during the same period, and by 1950 Nacogdoches County farmers produced only 2,472 bales, less than a tenth of the peak years of the 1920s.”

“During the 1930s Angelina National Forest was established in the southern portion of the county, and by 1968 the county was 67 percent forested. The large tracts of forest supported a small lumber industry with two mills. Pine and hardwood production in 1981 totaled 14,867,416 cubic feet, the overwhelming majority of which was pine production.”

“In the last decades of the twentieth century Nacogdoches County’s economy continued to grow and develop. The census counted 54,793 people living in the county in 1990, 59,203 by 2000, and 65,301 by 2014. About 60.4 percent were Anglos, 18.4 percent were African Americans, and 18.5 percent were Hispanic.”

“Large numbers of visitors come to Nacogdoches County to see the Old Stone Fort and other historic sites. The Sam Rayburn Reservoir, completed in 1965, and Angelina National Forest also attracted sizable numbers of tourists.”

- Handbook of Texas Online, Christopher Long, “Nacogdoches County”

I was the guest of Nacogdoches and Nacogdoches County on July 10 & 11, 2016.

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Nacogdoches County Courthouse – 1912

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(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)

Succeeding a Eugene Heiner design from 1888 (that unfortunately bore no surviving photos), this courthouse on the corner was designed by Dallas architects Otto H. Lang & Frank O. Witchell. That reputable pair, having a fair amount of choices from their work across Texas, liked this one so much that they selected it to feature on a 1914 advertisement for their firm. How about that.

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It was a charming building, but not charming enough for Nacogdoches County in the 1950s. That era’s swell of modernism was not lost on this part of Texas. By 1958, the courthouse was gone.

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Nacogdoches County Courthouse – 1958

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J. N. McCammon designed his work in the “motel style”. Doesn’t that just scream beautiful architecture?

Poor Nacogdoches County.

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Just in case you forgot where you were.
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The most easily accessible parking lot is around the backside of the building. This is the first view one has of the courthouse.
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This is the northern side.
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The entrance there is one of only a couple of accessible ones.
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A maze of stairways leads to the main courtyard.
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I’d like to know the story behind this.
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After those flights of stairs, one emerges in the central courtyard of this “motel”. This is the main…entrance?
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It turns out it’s not even an entrance. The doors at the end of this colonnade are “exit only”.
DSC_8287So are these (on the side of the colonnade)
DSC_8278At the opposite end, looking back
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It has to be one of the most uniquely shaped courthouses I’ve ever seen.
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The walls of the courtyard are lined with the county veterans memorial.
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Here’s the view just beyond that wall. This is the intersection of Main & North / South Streets.
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And there’s downtown Nacogdoches, just a block over.
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DSC_8296It’s a really quick jump from the courthouse property to the highway beyond.
DSC_8298In case you were wondering if this courthouse could be even more of an oddity, it was built on top of an old Spanish burial ground.
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Back down the stairs
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On the western side of the courthouse
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The far, southwest corner
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This lot is for county officials and employees only.
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DSC_8367DSC_8360DSC_8362The Nacogdoches County Fleet: docked, but ready for battle
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Nacogdoches & Nacogdoches County

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Main Street, Downtown NacogdochesDSC_8394DSC_8396DSC_8395DSC_8401DSC_8404DSC_8345Near the courthouseDSC_9715DSC_8457

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Next Courthouse: San Augustine County

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