“Tyler County is bounded on the north and east by the Neches River. The county comprises 908 square miles of the East Texas timberlands, an area densely forested with pine and a great variety of hardwoods. It contains two units and parts of two more of the twelve units of the Big Thicket National Preserve established by Congress in 1974. The land is gently rolling, with an elevation ranging from 100 to 400 feet above sea level.”
“The area of Tyler County was for centuries occupied by agricultural Caddoan, and possibly Atakapan, Indians. White settlers there in the early nineteenth century encountered both Caddoan-related Cherokees uprooted from the east and groups of Alabama and Coushatta Indians, recent migrants from Louisiana. In 1809 there were hundreds of Alabama Indians living on the west bank of the Neches River, three leagues above the junction of the Neches and Angelina rivers. At Peach Tree Village in Tyler County, their principal Texas settlement, the Alabamas kept cattle, horses, and hogs and cultivated corn, potatoes, beans, and yams.”
“The Cherokees were eventually driven from the state by order of Mirabeau B. Lamar, but the Alabamas and Coushattas cooperated with Sam Houston and others friendly to their cause and have survived as one of only two Indian groups living on their own reservations in Texas. The Alabama-Coushatta Reservation is just across the western Tyler County line in Polk County.”
“The area was originally organized in 1842 under the name of Menard District, “for judicial and other purposes,” from a part of Liberty County. Tyler County was officially established by the Texas legislature on April 3, 1846, and was named in honor of President John Tyler. In 1842 Town Bluff, one of two early settlements, became the temporary county seat.”
“In 1845 a permanent location was chosen. This was the site of the present county seat, Woodville, on 200 acres of land donated by Dr. Josiah Wheat in the forks of Turkey Creek. Woodville was named in honor of George T. Wood, who introduced the bill to establish the county and was the second governor of the state of Texas.”
“Tyler County was settled predominantly by people from the southern United States, many of whom planned to resume the slaveholding society they had known before moving to Texas. However, the forests and loamy sand were not suited to growing cotton, so many of those who actually stayed were poor white farmers who owned no slaves. In 1850 the population was 1,894; by 1860 it was 4,525, and 26 percent of the population was black.”
“Starting with 137 farms in 1850, Tyler County remained overwhelmingly agricultural and rural through 1900, when farms peaked at 1,199. In 1900 about the same amount of cotton (3,863 bales) was produced in the county as had been produced in 1860. But the economic picture shifted for the better with the coming of the railroads in the 1880s, because they facilitated the exploitation of its vast timber resources. In 1882 the Sabine and East Texas Railroad constructed a line from Kountze to Rockland that ran the length of Tyler County.”
“In the early 1890s William McCready and the Doucette brothers, Fred and Peter, founded a mill at Doucette, two miles north of Woodville, making the community for a time one of the major towns of East Texas. Many other settlements, now ghost towns or depopulated towns like Doucette, sprang up around sawmills throughout the county-Maydell, Mobile, Seneca, Barnum, Camden, Hampton, Josie, Hyatt, and Hillister, for example. The lumber industry continued to form the economic backbone of Tyler County through the first half of the twentieth century.”
“The Great Depression, however, hit the county hard. Between 1930 and 1940 the number of people in both agricultural and nonagricultural occupations declined sharply, and unemployment remained at a high 18 percent in 1940. Public employment was relatively high in that year, however, when more people (461) worked for the Work Projects Administration and other such projects than were seeking jobs in the private sector (273). World War II ended the economic disaster of the 1930s, but the decade of the 1940s saw a decline in the white population and only a slight gain in the black population.”
“Since 1940 the largest town has been Woodville. Timber sales remained the number one producer of income. In the 1980s Tyler County was second only to Polk County in timber production, followed by farming, lumbering, poultry processing, manufacturing, tourism, and catfish production. Oil and gas production started in 1937 and experienced a limited increase during the 1970s and early 1980s.”
“Religious life, as in much of East Texas, has been dominated since the county’s beginnings by evangelical Protestantism, especially by the Baptist, Primitive Baptist, and Methodist denominations. Other churches include the Fellowship Church, established in 1867, and the Episcopalian and Disciples of Christ churches, which came with the railroads during the 1880s. Still an actively church-oriented area of Texas, Tyler County has a reputation for rural harmony, quiet, and beauty that particularly encourages family tourism.”
“The major towns, Woodville (population, 2,636), Colmesneil (611), and Chester (324), collaborate with some fourteen unincorporated communities yearly to stage a spring celebration held on the last weekend in March and the first in April. These are Western Weekend for trailriders and the Tyler County Dogwood Festival, both involving extensive parades in Woodville and other activities. A county fair is held the first weekend of October. Visitors to the county come not only for these events but for the varied flora and fauna of the Big Thicket National Preserve, the “biological crossroads of North America.”"
- Handbook of Texas Online, Megan Biesele, “Tyler County”
I was the guest of Woodville and Tyler County on July 12, 2016.
Tyler County Courthouse – 1891
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
After very early versions from the 1840s and 1850s, this courthouse was the third for Tyler County and the first in the city of Woodville. Corpus Christi architectural team Glover & Hodges provided the designs, combining elements of the Second Empire, Gothic, and Mediterranean styles. As pictured in the photo above, the building was originally graced with a large, two-story tower amid other ornate, decorative elements. The McNight Brothers served as contractors, and completed the building in early 1892 after brief interruptions in construction.
During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration arrived in Woodville and throughout 1937, aided the process of modernizing the courthouse. Stucco plaster soon coated the exterior walls, the tower was significantly redone in design, and most all Victorian elements were removed. A large staircase was added to the main façade and an addition was built around the back of the building. Today, the only historic elements that remain are the windows.
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT) (This photo is from 1939).
The Tyler County Courthouse
The imposing, main façade faces north on the aptly named Bluff Street (the courthouse rests on a small hill over its immediate neighbors).
One of the main entrances is actually on the second floor. You don’t see this everyday.
This entrance is a direct line to the district court. County offices are primarily on the first floor.
The view of Bluff Street from the second floor entrance
It doesn’t get better than this. The elevator is decked out with an antique photo of the courthouse.
The first floor…
…and the view from its entrance
The northwest corner of the building
This is the southwest corner. The slightly discolored portion in the foreground was a later addition.
The southern entrance
Here’s the view from those doors.
The southeast corner
The northeast corner
Massive pine trees are a staple of this beautiful region.
Previous Courthouse: Hardin County
Next Courthouse: Angelina County