Jacksonville History Written in 1934
Jacksonville of today, the largest town in the county, is the second Cherokee town to bear the name. Undaunted by being left some one and one-half miles southwest of the International Railroad, the first Jacksonville picked itself up and sat down again where trains did stop. Subsequent growth has brought an overlapping of the two town sites.
Not even Old Jacksonville, however, was the original settlement in the neighborhood. In the middle ’40s [1840s], David Tumlinson, F. C. Hardgraves, E. J. Debard, Huntley Wiggins, J. S. Lindsey, James G. Earle, David Templeton and others established the settlement known as Gum Creek, taking its name from a near-by stream. In 1847 Jackson Smith joined the group, settling on the James Ford Labor. Soon after building his log house and a blacksmith shop, Smith laid out the Jacksonville town site northeast of his house. The name Gum Creek, however, was not immediately abandoned. Even the post office, established in June, 1848, was designated as the Gum Creek office.
Jackson Smith, a Kentuckian, had served the Texas Republic as Indian scout in 1838. Charmed by the beauty of the Cherokee country, he determined to make it his home.
Returning in 1847, he remained a Cherokee County citizen until his death in 1897. Appointed Gum Creek postmaster, he kept the office in his blacksmith shop. In later years he served as county commissioner.
Tradition has long had it that Smith gave the town its name. Whether he named it for himself, the Illinois town where he learned the blacksmith trade, or for Doctor Jackson, whose office was the first building on the town-site, has been a matter of much friendly controversy. In. 1915, Thomas Green Bays, a Cherokee County lad of fifteen when Absalom Gibson surveyed the town site, returned to Jacksonville after an absence of sixty-three years and added an entirely different version of the town’s christening. According to Bays, a crowd gathered around a fire in front of Tom Dean’s store, just east of the town site, while Surveyor Gibson was completing his notes. Gibson remarked that the town must have a name. Dean suggested that, since it was on Jackson Smith’s land and Doctor Jackson was the first man on the site, Jacksonville would be a fitting name. The crowd cheered its approval. Jacksonville it was called.
Among the town’s earliest citizens were the Ragsdales, Jowells, Lanes, Yarbroughs, Kinchelos, Rushings, Giffens, Isaacs, Watsons, Martins, Wootens, Glidewells, Kinbros, Hughes, Maples, McKinneys, Ingles, and Kennedys.
In November, 1848, Jacksonville was made a voting precinct, with E. B. Ragsdale as returning officer. In 1849 the Gum Creek School, which had been opened in 1845, was replaced by another log house near the present West Side School.
Here Joe C Rushing, Richard A. Wooten, Doctor Abraham Glidewell, E. E. Armstrong and Reverend McCullough, a Scotch minister, were teachers. In 1856, Mr. and Mrs. Solomon Bridges taught in the new Masonic Hall. In 1860, H. L. Martin and N. A. Mendenhall dosed their school in the Methodist Church to enlist in Confederate service in Virginia. T. B. Matlock was probably the most prominent of the later teachers.
Two denominations, the Methodists and the Baptists, built churches in Old Jacksonville prior to 1850. Later the Cumberland Presbyterians built just east of the town. Among the ministers were Doctor Orceneth Fisher, Reverend A. H. Shanks, Reverend Jefferson Shook, Reverend Robert Finley, Reverend John B. Renfro, Reverend Robert Rountree, Reverend D. M. Stovall, Reverend Isham Lane, and Reverend G. W. Slover.
Despite competition with Larissa, business must have been profitable. In his reminiscences the late M. L. Earle lists forty-eight firms in Old Jacksonville’s mercantile roster. The first three, all of whom carried general stocks in log houses on different sides of the public square, were A. S. Johnson & Company, Hughes & Maples, and J. B. Able & Son. W. T. D. Guy, then manager for the Johnson Company, is credited with having sold the first bill of goods. He was also the first postmaster after the name was changed from Gum Creek to Jacksonville in 1850. In 1855 Peter G. Rhome opened a stock of goods bought in New York, shipped to Houston and hauled to Jacksonville in ox-wagons.
The town’s hotel, built partially of logs, was opened by Joseph Turney in 1850. In this popular community center General Thomas J. Rusk and many other Texas heroes were served by a succession of managers, including Thomas D. Campbell, father of the future governor. The last proprietor was W. C. Cobb, who established the first hotel in present Jacksonville (Lots 17-18, Block 137). [footnote: In 1855, General Rusk was chief speaker at a barbecue. His mission was to persuade citizens who had deserted the Democratic ranks for Know Nothingism to return to the fold.]
In 1871 railroad surveyors passed the old town by. Two town sites were laid off before E. B. Ragsdale, officially consulted as to a suitable site, suggested the division between the waters of the Neches River and Mud Creek. His suggestion was followed and on July 27, 1872, Sarah Fry sold the International Railroad Company seventy-five acres of land with the stipulation that the road run its cars to Fry’s Summit and permanently locate a depot on the land on or before January 1, 1873. Thus the present site of Jacksonville was established.
Gay in the face of its death warrant, Old Jacksonville, already noted for its “feuds, fights and homicides,” opened five new saloons for its sporting newcomers, took one last wild fling at living and moved bodily to the new town site. When the exodus ended only two dwellings and one store building were left. Getting into new quarters became a race. Maples, Ragsdale & Company unloaded the first building material in the business section, but overnight George Tilley put up his saloon. Allen & Lawlor, Peter G. Rhome, B. K. Smith (all general merchants), H. Gover & Company (drugs), W. H. Lovelady and A. J. Chessher (groceries and saloons), the Masonic Lodge and the Methodist Church soon followed. Houses, one side at a time, were loaded on ox-wagons, hauled to their new sites and put together again. New Jacksonville came partially ready-made! Had it not been for the panic of 1873 its early development would doubtless have been even more rapid.
Only one of the old town firms is represented in the Jacksonville business directory of today. Ragsdale Brothers, present Jacksonville’s oldest firm, is the direct descendant of Maple, Ragsdale & Company. Among other early firms were J. & C. Bolton, Clapp & Brown (J. H.), J. P. Douglas & Company, Two Brothers Saloon, B. B. Cannon, L. Grimes, N. G. Gragard, Jarratt & Goodson, Thompson & Dellis, S. T. Spruill (carriage and wagon maker), J. A. Templeton & Company, and McKinney & Brown (W. A.). W. H. Lovelady built the first brick store. E. B. Ragsdale & Sons and McKinney & Brown built the next two in 1882.
In addition to Ragsdale Brothers, Jacksonville’s 1934 business directory shows a number of firms with distinguished service records. Among the oldest are the Jacksonville Drug Store, established by John H. Bolton in 1882 and now operated by the Parker-Tipton Drug Company under the same name: J. L. Brown, a drygoods business established in 1895; and the Sam D. Goodson Hardware Company just a year younger.
The dean of Jacksonville merchants, however, was the late W. A. Brown, with sixty-one years of continuous service to his credit. After two years’ employment as clerk for Clapp & Brown he formed a partnership with William McKinney in 1874. For the next fifty-nine years he operated on a strictly cash basis, never swerving from his original “buy as you need and pay as you go” policy. While others fell victim to panics and bank failures the Brown business stood on this rock foundation, a marvel to many who deemed adherence to such a plan impossible. In this pioneer store Jacksonville farmers found not only a source of supplies but an outlet for surplus produce hitherto largely unmarketable. In his untiring efforts to create markets W. A. Brown rendered invaluable service. [footnote: After the retirement of William McKinney, A. C. Dixon, a stepson of Mr. Brown, was a partner in the business for more than forty years.]
The Cobb House, which had been moved from the old town to the corner of Kickapoo and Main Streets, and the Spear House, on the present Liberty Hotel site, were the most noted of Jacksonville’s early hotels.
The old town never had a charter. Jacksonville of today was incorporated in May, 1873, the I. & G. N. station being the center of the original city limits. J. H. Martin was the first mayor. His successors include M. D. Morris, W. M. Andrews, R. H. Small, N. M. Fain, J. H. Thompson, Sam A. Cobb, W. H. Sory, John C Box, M. L. Earle, J. E. McFarland and T. E. Acker. In 1931 the city manager form of government was established.
The Methodists had the first church, a box house near the W. A. Brown residence, which also served as a union Sunday school until the Presbyterians built on their lot about 1880. In 1882 the Baptists added their church to the group. The Christian Church is the youngest of the organizations. During a six-year period, 1908-14, the present Methodist, Presbyterian, Central Baptist and First Baptist Church buildings were erected.
Jacksonville’s earliest educational center was the Jacksonville Collegiate Institute. In 1882, Professor J. M. Fendley advertised the Jacksonville Male and Female Academy in the same building: “Board in the best families. Young men and ladies who desire an education that will fit them for the practical part of life or prepare them to enter any of the higher colleges and universities will do well to attend this school”.
In November, 1885, W. H. Lovelady and other trustees of the Jacksonville Institute, a school conducted in the old Collegiate Institute building, sold its property and added the proceeds to the fund raised by Jacksonville citizens for a new public school. A two-story frame building was erected on the site of the present East Side School. In 1890 it was destroyed by a storm. Financial difficulties and disagreement concerning the proper site for a new building left the town without a public school until the first brick building was erected on the corner of East Rusk and Austin streets in 1892, now the Beall Apartments. In 1893 school opened with one hundred and sixty students.
To provide a school during the above crisis John H. Bolton, W. A. Brown, J. A. Templeton and others incorporated the Jacksonville Educational Association, which established the Sunset Institute on the present site of the M. P. Alexander home. In 1894 the association graciously donated the property as a part of the bonus offered for the selection of Jacksonville as the new site for the Methodist school at Kilgore, now Lon Morris College. The building was later torn down.
In 1895 Jacksonville voted a school tax and ten years later became an independent school district. J. W. Shipman, G. L. Newton, John C. Box, M. H. Fite, E. H. Goodridge and R. E. Troutman were the first trustees. The present school plant, consisting of five brick and stone buildings, was built between 1910 and 1925, the East Side School being the first unit and the high school the last. The current enrollment is 2,016, of whom 1,476 are white and 540 negroes. In 1913, under the superintendency of B. J. Albritton, the Jacksonville high school attained first class rank. Four years later it became a fully accredited four-year Class A high school. Larue Cox is the present superintendent.
The first Jacksonville newspaper was the Texas Intelligencer, published by A. R. McCallom and J. IL Mason. In 1881, John H. Hutchinson established the Cherokee Argonaut. Three years later the Jacksonville Intelligencer appeared, with R. H. Small as editor. Begun as a “six-column folio,” extensive patronage by Jacksonville merchants necessitated enlargement before its first birthday. In 1886 it was sold to T. M. McClure. Later C. L. Finlay became his partner. In 1888-89 the Boomer was published by J. A. Padon.
The Jacksonville Banner, now the Cherokee County Banner, succeeded the Boomer. The Banner was first published by O. W. Dodson and J. E. McFarland. For some ten years after Dodson’s death, in 1890, McFarland continued its publication. About 1900 he sold out but soon repurchased the plant. In 1913 he again sold half interest to B. F. Davis, the firm McFarland & Davis being the present publishers.
The Jacksonville Times, published by D. A. McNaughton, had a brief existence in the early ’90s. About 1894, S. R. Whitley, Sr., published the East Texas Reformer, afterward the Jacksonville Reformer. Before the paper was discontinued in 1914, H. W. Whitley, C. F. Drake and A. A. Lyford were associated with him in the business. After leaving Jacksonville, Drake was connected with the Manufacturers’ Record of Baltimore.
In the beginning the Reformer was a Populist paper. Preceding it two other Populist papers had a brief existence. The Cherokee News was suspended after thirteen weeks. In 1894 the Sun was reported appearing semi-occasionally.
The first daily newspaper, the Jacksonville Journal, made its initial appearance June 15, 1903. A. K. Dixon was editor. Its life was limited to weeks. In 1904, J. E. McFarland published the Daily Banner. He, too, found the town too small to support a daily. The Banner failed to survive its first birthday. In June, 1909, Roy Phillips and Gus Mecklin, two transient printers, ventured starting the Daily Progress. After several changes in ownership S. R. Whitley, Jr., sold it to McFarland & Davis in 1918. Since then it has been the daily edition of the weekly Cherokee County Banner. In September, 1933, Whitley established the Jacksonville Daily News.
In recent years the Newburn Sanitarium and the Nan Travis Memorial Hospital have gained for Jacksonville wide recognition as a hospital center. [footnote: The Nan Travis Hospital was opened as the Cherokee Sanitarium in 1919, the name being afterward changed in honor of the mother of Doctor J. M. and Doctor R. T. Travis. It is the only hospital in East Texas with A. C. S. approval. In addition to some 5,000 emergency and minor injury cases, over 10,000 patients have been admitted to rooms.]
The past twenty-five years [1909-1934] have been characterized by growth which not even the depression following the Wall Street crash in 1929 could stop. Outstanding features of the past five-year building program have been the city hall, the Williamson Funeral Church, the Texas State Bank and the $135,000 post office. In 1933, through the efforts of the Federated Clubs, a public library was established. On March 8, 1934, the municipal airport was used for the first time, a tri-motored, sixteen-passenger plane making the first landing.
In 1932 Jacksonville celebrated her fiftieth anniversary with the Golden Jubilee. In 1932 she was hostess to the Third District Federated Clubs ; in 1933 to the Seventh Annual Convention of the East Texas Chamber of Commerce. In 1934 she staged the first Tomato Festival.
Among the organizations which have contributed to the city’s development have been the Young Men’s Business League of the first decade of the century, the Kiwanis and Rotary clubs and the Chamber of Commerce, of which W. Y. Forrest is now president and C. K. DeBusk secretary. Civic pride is an outstanding Jacksonville characteristic.
A History of Cherokee County, 1934 by Hattie Joplin Roach