“San Augustine County is in extreme East Texas, twenty-three miles from the eastern state boundary. It is bordered by the Attoyac River on the west, Sabine County on the east, Shelby County to the north, and Sam Rayburn Reservoir to the south.”
“The county comprises 524 square miles of the East Texas Timberlands region. It is covered in pines interspersed with hardwoods, particularly oaks, and some native grasses. The soil varies from light-colored sandy loams over red clay in the north to darker loam-covered clay in the south.”
“Some of the earliest inhabitants of San Augustine County were the Hasinai Indians, an agricultural Caddoan people with a stable society. Their tribes, particularly the Ais (or Ayish), occupied the area for centuries before the French and Spanish arrived. The first European visitors probably arrived with the Moscoso expedition early in the 1540s. Almost 150 years later they were followed by French traders based near the site of present Natchitoches, Louisiana. These adventurers found three Indian settlements-the main village near the site of present San Augustine, one just south on Ayish Bayou, and another on the Attoyac River-possibly with as many as 500 inhabitants.”
“To counteract the French influence on local tribes and maintain their claim to the land, the Spaniards began activities in East Texas. In 1691 Domingo Terán de los Ríos traveled through the area, cutting a path that would become the Old San Antonio Road. But the threat of French invasion remained, and in 1717 Father Antonio Margil de Jesús established Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de los Ais Mission on Ayish Bayou in an attempt to secure a permanent Spanish presence on the eastern frontier. By 1719, however, the mission was abandoned because of drought, hunger, lack of supplies, and encroaching French forces.”
“Three years later the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo, governor of Coahuila and Texas, returned and rebuilt the wooden mission in the same vicinity on Mission Hill. The mission, however, ultimately failed; the Indians refused to be organized into a pueblo around the mission compound, and they never consented to be converted or baptized. In 1773 the government ordered the abandonment of all East Texas missions, and the Spanish settlers reluctantly removed themselves. The mission was probably destroyed after they left.”
“After 1779 both new and former residents, no longer fearful of French forces, moved into the area that they called the Ayish Bayou District. Their numbers greatly increased after disease and threats from other tribes forced the Caddo Indians to relocate late in the seventeenth century.”
“After 1806, when the disputed strip of territory between the Spanish and United States boundaries was declared the Neutral Ground to avoid military contact, the governments refused to grant land in the area to settlers. This policy did little to discourage immigrants, however. Early inhabitants included Gertrudis and Antonio Leal, Richard and Concepción Sims, Susanna Horton, John Quinalty, Martha Lewes, Edmund Quirk, Chichester Chaplin, and Bailey Anderson, Sr. Most settlers, including scattered remnants of Cherokee, Kickapoo, Delaware, and Shawnee tribes, emigrated from Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Kentucky.”
“During the Fredonian Rebellion in 1827, the citizens of Ayish Bayou, invited to challenge the Mexican government with Haden Edwards, chose instead to abandon their little village and flee from his forces as well as those of the Mexican army. Only Alexander Horton, Stephen Prather, and Edward Teel stayed behind, raising a combined force of Anglos and Indians that drove the rebels from the vicinity.”
“In 1833 William McFarland became alcalde, and citizens began to contemplate constructing a centrally located town. A committee of fifteen men chose the banks of the Ayish Bayou and then purchased the land from Edmund Quirk. The following year, under alcalde Charles Stanfield Taylor, the municipality of San Augustine was established by Mexican law. The name was chosen by Mexican officials, supposedly to honor St. Augustine of Hippo. Since the new district had 2,500 inhabitants in 1834, it could then officially elect an alcalde, two councilmen, a clerk, a chief justice and a primary judge.”
“Ayish Bayou settlers had been involved in the 1832 battle of Nacogdoches, in which they helped remove José de las Piedras, commandant of Nacogdoches. Subsequently, they sent prominent representatives, including Sam Houston in 1833, to the conventions of 1832 and 1833. Early in 1836 Houston was elected commander of the Texian forces at San Augustine-and then for all of Texas-which took an active part in the Texas Revolution. In April the town was abandoned when citizens fled toward the Louisiana border in the Runaway Scrape. They returned to their homes with news of the victory at the battle of San Jacinto.”
“With the close of hostilities, Texans began establishing a government for the new Republic of Texas. San Augustine County was one of the first counties to be formed. In 1837 settlers chose county officials, including a chief justice, a county clerk, a sheriff, a district clerk, a surveyor, and a coroner. In most instances, war heroes were elected to those positions, replacing earlier settlers as community leaders.”
“For years vigilantism had been the only form of justice, and in 1840 this lawlessness erupted into a feud over land titles that became known as the Regulator-Moderator War. The bloodshed spilled over into several East Texas counties and continued until President Sam Houston negotiated a peace treaty between the two parties in 1844. With peace restored, the area was once again open to permanent settlement, and other homesteaders began to arrive.”
“By 1850 the county population was 3,648, including 1,561 black slaves. The county seat had several stores and remained the center of community activity, though other communities were developing. In 1854 thirteen school districts were established, each electing a board of trustees. That same year the first courthouse was erected. Public roads were maintained by order of the county court based on the recommendations of a review board. The court also established ferries over unfordable streams and creeks.”
“In January 1861 citizens sent Calloway Deen, Sr., as their delegate to the Secession Convention, and, although he argued against leaving the Union, they heartily endorsed the secession ordinance in a county election. The following month they began to prepare for war, raising one infantry and two cavalry companies. During the summer these troops traveled to Missouri and Virginia to answer the Confederate call to arms. Other companies soon followed. On the home front women worked to provide needed clothing and supplies for the soldiers. In 1862 an independent battalion of the Third Texas Brigade was stationed in San Augustine to guard against invasion.”
“When Jesse Burnett, a local white farmer, was killed by a black hired hand [after the Civil War], the white population decided to act. They formed a Ku Klux Klan-like organization, which used flogging to force most of the black activists to leave the county. In 1868 a mob drove the black registrar out of the county seat and harassed the local Freedmen’s Bureau agent. With the withdrawal of federal troops, the violence diminished, and the Klan eventually dissolved.”
“The 1870s proved to be difficult times for the county. Future metropolitan areas, particularly Houston and Dallas, and the West Texas plains were attracting more pioneers, and soon San Augustine was no longer the gateway for immigration. Newer trade centers and methods of transportation had decreased the importance of the Old San Antonio Road as well. Settlers no longer flocked to the area, but those already established seldom moved away. Some farmers had lost their land holdings because of high taxes, and fencing sometimes made herding more difficult. In other parts of the state, the lumber industry was booming, and while the county had a huge timber resource, only small sawmills could function without the railroad.”
“By 1890 the county population had reached 6,688, including 2,131 black citizens. Industry had declined drastically, with only three manufacturers that employed six workers. The number of smaller farms continued to grow, and 326 farmers were sharecroppers. Cotton and corn remained the most important crops and hogs the most abundant livestock. Although fire destroyed much of San Augustine that year, the little town remained the most populous in the county. Villages like Benina, Caddell, and Ironosa had acquired post offices.”
“As both the population and economy developed, county residents realized the need for better, more modern facilities. The old courthouse, constructed in 1890, was torn down and replaced in 1927 with a $100,000 stone structure. Many of the roads were graveled. In San Augustine citizens had access to city-owned water, light, and sewage utilities, as well as an ice plant and natural-gas services.”
“Each year San Augustine County, along with other southern counties, had produced larger crops until overabundance resulted in a depressed economy. As prices fell, farmers produced more to increase their income, but the boll weevil often destroyed a field before it could be harvested. In addition to these difficulties the large lumber companies had exhausted most of the timberlands of East Texas and began to move out of the area. As a result an important source of livelihood was lost. This disturbed the county economy, removing an important market and many consumers. Even the small sawmills that managed to remain open could not operate at full capacity, so many workers were laid off. The lumber boom was never again as successful as before the depression, and residents returned to farming. By 1930 the number of sharecroppers increased to 1,038. Federally funded aid came in the form of local Work Projects Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps projects, as well as governmental loans. However, the number of sharecroppers continued to rise, reaching 1,101 in 1940.”
“Corn, cotton, lumber, and poultry were the most abundant productions. Only three industries, which employed thirty-three people, had survived the depression. Some of the roads were now hard-surfaced, so truck farming was even more feasible. But overall, things were much as they had been before the economic boom of the early 1900s. Many of the young people who left the area during the war chose not to return, and others moved to more metropolitan areas, especially Houston and Dallas, in search of jobs.”
“In 1965 the United States Army Corps of Engineers completed Sam Rayburn Dam, thus forming Sam Rayburn Reservoir and inundating the Angelina and Attoyac rivers. The following year Toledo Bend Reservoir was constructed on the Sabine River twenty-three miles east of San Augustine County. The county contained 9,000,000 acre-feet of fresh water, as well as the 154,916-acre Angelina National Forest and the 188,220-acre Sabine National Forest. Recreational facilities in the woodlands and along the lakes attracted large numbers of visitors, and tourism became a new and important source of income. Operation White Tail, a 10,000-acre deer preserve, was also established.”
“In 2002 the county had 308 farms and ranches covering 58,723 acres, 37 percent of which were devoted to woodlands, 33 percent to crops, and 29 percent to pastures. In that year local farmers and ranchers earned $24,980,000, with crop sales accounting for $23,977,000 of that total. Poultry, cattle, horses, watermelons, peas, and truck crops were the chief agricultural products. Almost 22,556,000 cubic feet of pinewood and more than 1,771,700 cubic feet of hardwood were harvested in the county in 2003.”
“San Augustine (population, 2,089) is the county’s seat of government and largest town; other communities include Broaddus (208), Macune, Denning, Blandlake, Fords Corner, Norwood, White Rock, and Goodwin. A spring crafts fair, Fairway Farms Country Club, and the annual Tour of Medallion Homes and Historic Places were popular attractions.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Vista K. McCroskey, “San Augustine County”
I was the guest of San Augustine and San Augustine County on July 11, 2016.
San Augustine County Courthouse – 1890
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
This Italianate building (second for the county) was constructed by I.H. Hollis & Company, however whoever designed it is lost to history.
It made it to the 1920s, but was subsequently demolished to make way for a more modern structure. So it goes.
San Augustine County Courthouse – 1927
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
The architect on this job was Shirley Simons, a very prominent architect from Tyler. You can see much of his work in downtown Tyler and Lufkin today, including the Pines Theater (which features on my Angelina County page). This is, however, the only courthouse in his resume.
Contracting work was provided by Campbell & White.
This is the main entrance, facing north on Columbia Street.
James Pinckney Henderson, first governor of Texas and San Augustine famous son, guards the grounds.
The western entrance…
…and its view
The southwest corner
This is the rear entrance (on Main Street).
A curiously designed entryway
The 1911 San Augustine County Jail
Behind the jail
A picturesque sitting corner
This is the lobby.
And this is the second floor landing.
Those have to be the narrowest steps I’ve seen at any courthouse.
The impressive, restored district courtroom is essential to any visit to San Augustine.
The large windows make lovely additions to the room.
San Augustine & San Augustine County
On Harrison Street
Columbia Street, Downtown San Augustine
Previous Courthouse: Nacogdoches County
Next Courthouse: Sabine County