“The county was named for Abel Parker Upshur, the secretary of state under President John Tyler. Upshur County encompasses 587 square miles of land that slopes gradually from northwest to southeast, with altitudes that range from 225 to 685 feet above sea level. It is in the Piney Woods vegetation region and is covered by grasslands; loblolly, shortleaf, longleaf, and slash pines; and hardwoods such as oak, hickory, and maple.”
“By 1839, when the Cherokees were expelled from Texas, the area that is now Upshur County was at the intersection of two early immigration routes: the Cherokee Trace and the Jefferson-Dallas Road, which ran across the northern portion of the area. The first settler within the limits of modern Upshur County was probably Isaac Moody, who settled on the Cherokee Trace near West Mountain in 1836.”
“The area that is now Upshur County was originally part of Nacogdoches County and later was incorporated into Harrison County. On April 27, 1846, after Texas was admitted to the Union, the first legislature of the state of Texas established Upshur County; at that time the county included the area of present Camp County and part of modern Gregg County. On May 1, 1848, the county’s voters chose the location for Gilmer, the county seat, and in August the sale of blocks and lots in the new town began.”
“During the Civil War hat and leather factories in Gilmer made clothing for the Confederacy, and new Confederate recruits were trained at Camp Tally, near Coffeeville. Many local men enlisted to support the Confederate cause, and the resultant manpower drain and other disruptions related to the war caused a decline in agricultural production. According to one account about half of the men from the county who left to join Confederate forces during the Civil War never returned; those who did found a different county than they remembered.”
“Nevertheless, the population increased somewhat during the 1860s; by 1870 there were 12,695 people, including 4,867 blacks. Blacks briefly held a number of political offices in the county after the Civil War, but by the late 1860s the white majority was again firmly in control, partly because the Ku Klux Klan intimidated black leaders. Meshack Roberts, for example, moved from Upshur County to Marshall after a Klan beating in 1867.”
“Meanwhile, the railroad construction of the early 1870s had led to a population boom in the southeastern parts of Upshur County, which led to the division of the county. In June 1873 the Texas legislature carved Gregg County out of southern Upshur and northern Rusk counties, and in April 1874 they formed Camp County by lopping off the northern section of Upshur County below the bend in Big Cypress Creek.”
“[And] Meanwhile, the lumber industry was also growing, and by 1882 there were eighteen sawmills and many shingle mills in the county. Cotton culture spread to 27,000 acres by 1890 and to 42,000 acres by 1900; during the 1890s yams also began to be an important cash crop for some of the area’s farmers. The number of farms in the county increased to 1,763 by 1890 and to 2,711 by 1900. While the county’s black population increased during this period, the number of whites grew even more quickly, and by 1900 there were 15,266 people, including 4,957 blacks, living in Upshur County. Immigration to the area by members of the Church of Latter Day Saints helped to diversify the county’s population.”
“In 1901 the Texas Southern began to build through the area, and by 1902 it passed through Gilmer to connect Marshall and Winnsboro. After 1909 the line was acquired by the Marshall and East Texas Railroad, dubbed the “Misery and Eternal Torment” line by local wags. The railroad opened the virgin forests in the western part of the county to lumbering operations, and from 1907 to 1917 the county experienced a lumbering boom, especially around Rhonesboro and Rosewood. The last of the virgin forests were cut down during this period.”
“As the forest areas played out, the Marshall and East Texas Railroad abandoned its tracks in 1923, leaving some towns isolated. Agricultural production also began to decline during this period. Cotton farming continued to expand into the early 1920s, but then fell off due to soil depletion and other problems. During the early 1920s the county’s yam fields became infested with sweet potato weevils; from 1924 to 1935 the county’s entire production was quarantined.”
“On April 26, 1931, the Mudge Oil Company’s J. D. Richardson well No. 1 struck oil, demonstrating that the northern limits of the East Texas oilfield extended into Upshur County. By the end of May twelve wells were in production. Thousands of people moved to the area in search of jobs and other opportunities. … Meanwhile cotton production continued to decline, and farm consolidation and mechanization forced many of the rural inhabitants to search for jobs in metropolitan areas. As a result the population declined for two decades after World War II, dropping to 20,822 by 1950 and to 19,793 by 1960.”
“After the depletion of the soil by a century of planting cotton and corn, the residents began reforestation of the county after World War II; about a million pine seedlings had been planted by the early 1980s, and pine seedlings of the reforestation gradually reached cutting size, first as pulp wood and then as timber. Many worn-out cotton fields became improved pastures, and beef and dairy production increased. In addition, local businessmen began to succeed in their search to diversify the economy. An electrical conduit and fittings plant joined the pottery and the lumber mill in hiring local people; some people remained in the county and commuted to jobs in adjoining counties.”
“In the late 1980s, 4,395 of the Upshur County’s estimated 32,700 residents were employed in the county, and there were 403 businesses. An additional 13,144 persons lived in the county and commuted to adjoining counties to work. At that time most of the county’s $40,000,000 average annual agricultural income was derived from beef and dairy cattle, hogs, and poultry production; the county is a leading producer of broilers and dairy products. Peaches, vegetable crops, and hay are the principal crops.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Mary Laschinger Kirby, “Upshur County“
I was the guest of Gilmer and Upshur County on July 15, 2014.
Upshur County Courthouse – 1889
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
The architect was a Mr. E. Northcraft and the builders were J.O. & J.A. Wilson. It cost the county approximately $30,000. The black and white photo above is from 1929, only four years before the next one was built. This structure was demolished some time in that four year period.
Upshur County Courthouse – 1933
The Texas Historical Commission maintains that the completion of this building occurred in 1933, however the cornerstone states 1936.
Either way, the architect was Elmer G. Withers, who drew upon influences from his 1932 Young County version that included “stepped massing” and “triple-arched entrances”. The contractor for this Moderne building is unclear, but it has been recorded that it cost the county a whopping $180,000 in Depression-era money.
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