“Welcome to my world / Won’t you come on in? / Miracles I guess / Still happen now and then / Step into my heart / Leave your cares behind / Welcome to my world / Built with you in mind” – Jim Reeves, “Welcome to My World“
“The name Panola is derived from ponolo, the Cherokee word for “cotton”.”
“Located in the East Texas Timberlands region, Panola County covers 842 square miles of gentle rolling plains and small hills drained by the Sabine River, which cuts across the county diagonally from northwest to southeast. Trees in the county include short-leaf and loblolly pine, oak, maple, hickory, elm, and gum, as well as wild fruit trees such as the plum or sloe and flowering trees such as dogwood, redbud, magnolia, cedar, and holly. Scenic trails pass through 4,000 acres of timberland owned by the International Paper Company.”
“Two confederations of Indians, the Caddos and the Hasinais, lived in the Panola County area, with the Sabine River marking the approximate dividing line between them. The two allied confederations were known as the Timber Tribes. They made permanent homes in farming villages, where they raised grain and vegetables and hunted for small game in the forests. Burial mounds left behind by these people were once visible in the county, but that evidence of aboriginal life in the area has disappeared.”
“The earliest known white settlement in the area was established by Daniel Martin in 1833. The Martins came to Texas from Missouri intending to join the colony founded by Stephen F. Austin, but after traveling down Trammel’s Trace [first an Indian trail, and then a trade route], they camped on a hill near a creek, west of the site of present Beckville. Deciding to stop there, they built a small fort and set up a trading post; the creek became known as Martin’s Creek.”
“In 1840 the boundary between the Republic of Texas and the United States (the line that later became the county’s eastern boundary) was settled. The Sabine River was established as the boundary south of the thirty-second parallel, but it was necessary to send a commission of representatives from both countries to survey the line north of the parallel. On April 23, 1841, the commission set a granite marker at the location of the thirty-second parallel, 100 feet off present State Highway 31. The western side of the shaft was inscribed with the letters “R. T.” (for Republic of Texas); the eastern side was inscribed “U. S.” and the southern side, “Merid, Boundary, Established A.D. 1840. The marker, the only one of its kind, still stands on the line between Panola County and DeSoto Parish, Louisiana.” (Regrettably, I didn’t know about this when I was visiting Carthage).
“On March 30, 1846, the Texas legislature established Panola County from parts of Shelby and Harrison counties. John Allison, the county’s first chief justice, had been a slave owner and cotton planter in Panola County, Mississippi; he may have been the one who suggested the name Panola to Isaac Van Zandt, the author of the act that established the county. Because the legislature specified that the county seat was to be within five miles of the center of the county, it took two years for the county to choose a permanent seat of government.”
“Only two real villages, Pulaski and Grand Bluff, existed in the area in 1846; both were ferry towns on the Sabine River. Both were also more than seven miles from the center of the county. Nevertheless, commissioners appointed to choose the two most desirable locations for the county seat selected Grand Bluff and Pulaski to compete for the county seat in a public vote. Two elections were held in the summer of 1846. County officials were elected on July 18, and a second election on August 23 chose Pulaski, by a small majority, as the county seat.”
“After dissatisfied citizens challenged the legality of the choice, Chief Justice Allison ruled that Pulaski would be the temporary county seat until appeals could be examined and an official legal decision made by the state legislature. Since neither village satisfied the legislature’s requirements, the entire procedure had to be repeated. Pulaski and an uninhabited townsite later called Carthage near the center of the county were nominated for county seat. In an election held in August 1848 the voters of the county chose Carthage. New county officers were also elected, and Chief Justice Thomas G. Davenport met with his first court session at Carthage on September 12.”
“The county contributed at least one company of soldiers to the Confederate cause during the Civil War, and late in the conflict the area was invaded by Union troops, who took food and other supplies from Carthage. The number of slaves in the county increased to 3,110 by 1864, possibly due to southerners fleeing west with their slaves during the war. The county continued to grow slowly during the immediate postwar period. There were 911 farms and 10,119 people in the area in 1870 and 1,670 farms and 21,424 people by 1880. The economy continued to be based on cotton farming; in 1880, 28,500 acres were planted in cotton, and 10,344 bales were produced that year. Corn remained the county’s other important crop; that year 27,000 acres were devoted to it.”
“Meanwhile the lumber industry, which had begun before the Civil War, became increasingly important; by the early 1880s millions of board feet of lumber were being taken from the county’s pine forests. Logging intensified in the area after 1885, when a narrow-gauge log railroad out of Longview built into the county. In 1888 it was upgraded to standard gauge, and its tracks were extended into Carthage. The line eventually became part of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway.”
“Though cotton acreage declined to 53,000 acres in 1920, production reached its peak by 1929, when 98,000 acres were planted in the fiber. Generally reflecting this trend, the number of farms in the county increased from 3,398 in 1910 to 3,771 by 1920, to 3,798 by 1925, and to 4,656 by 1929. Meanwhile, after declining slightly between 1900 and 1910, the county’s population rose steadily from 20,424 in 1910 to 21,755 by 1920 and to 24,063 by 1930. These trends were reversed during the Great Depression of the 1930s, as low prices, federal crop restrictions, and other problems caused almost one-third of the farmers in the county to leave their holdings; many of those who remained could not afford to fertilize their lands.”
“The population decline would have been more dramatic except for the growing oil and gas industry in the area. Oil was first discovered in the county in 1917 and gas in 1936, but significant production of the area’s energy resources began in 1944, when the Jordan well was drilled a mile west of Carthage. The well tapped into a huge underground reservoir that underlay almost half the county. Petroleum production in the county reached 322,000 barrels in 1948, 1,057,000 barrels in 1956, 1,467,000 barrels in 1960, and 3,816,000 barrels in 1963.”
“A county flag, adopted in 1976, shows six representative products of the county’s growth: cotton for farming, trees for lumbering, an oil well for minerals, a chicken for poultry processing, a steer for cattle ranching, and a chunk of coal for strip mining.”
“Carthage (2000 population, 6,664) is the county’s seat of government and largest town. Other communities include Beckville (752) and Gary (303). All three had state-accredited school systems that included grades from preschool through twelfth grade; Panola College, located in Carthage, offered educational opportunities through two years of college. The Texas Country Music Hall of Fame is in Carthage.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Leila B. LaGrone, “Panola County“
I was the guest of Carthage and Panola County on July 14, 2014.
Panola County Courthouse – 1885
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
This, and its twin building in Shelby County, are two of the most unique courthouses in the entire nation. They were designed in the unique “Irish Castle” style by Dublin architect J.J.E. Gordon. This building was contracted by a team under a J.M. Brown.
Somehow, this courthouse managed to survive Great Depression, and was not demolished to boost work in the county. For no apparent reason, however, Panola County made an abominable decision to tear down the building. This piece of architectural art and history was removed, its materials sold at auction, and the courthouse green turned into a park.
I doubt you’ll be pleased with what Panola County officials chose to build instead.
Panola County Courthouse – 1953
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
Easily mistaken for a TV/radio station, in my opinion, this courthouse was designed by Preston M. Green and completed in 1953. To know what this county had, and destroyed, makes this building all the more disgusting to look at (although it didn’t need much help, if you ask me).
The northeast corner of the complex
Wellington Street, as seen from the southern façade
Carthage & Panola County
Above are samples of music from two of Panola County’s most famous residents, Western singer Tex Ritter (who was born in Murvaul) and country balladeer, Jim Reeves (who was born in Galloway).
As the county has such a proclivity for music, it makes sense that the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame calls Carthage home. This building also functions as a museum to Tex Ritter.
The museum was closed at the time of my visit, but I spied this through the doors. That orange poster you see on the left features Tex Ritter, and the black and white photograph on the right is of Jim Reeves.
We headed east from Carthage towards the Louisiana state line to stop at the Jim Reeves Memorial.
An accomplished country singer, Reeves’ life was taken early when he died in a tragic plane crash on July 31, 1964. His body was taken from Nashville and buried in a memorial just off the highway outside Carthage. Curious, if you ask me.
Rest in Peace, Gentleman JimPrevious Courthouse: Harrison County
Next Courthouse: Shelby County