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History of Jacksonville

Jacksonville is a city with an exciting and unique history. Its story goes back to 1838, the year of the Killough Massacre, East Texas' worst Indian atrocity. The site of the massacre was about seven miles north of the current location. Eighteen settlers, including women and children, either were killed or carried away, never to be heard from again.

General Thomas J. Rusk brought the Texas Army into this area to search for the renegades who had committed the murders. One of his soldiers, Kentucky native Jackson Smith, was scouting along Gum Creek when he found a spot so beautiful that he vowed to return and make his home there. Nine years later, he did.

Jackson Smith built a house and blacksmith shop along the east bank of of the creek in 1847, setting up a post office at one end of the shop which took the name Gum Creek, after the little community that had grown up there since 1838. Soon after Smith built his shop, Dr. William Jackson built an office next to it. When Smith had a townsite and square surveyed near his home in 1850, ?Jacksonville? was born, officially replacing the community of Gum Creek in June of that year.

In 1872, the International-Great Northern Railroad was built through Cherokee County, missing Jacksonville by about two miles. Jacksonville inhabitants, aware that the railroad was crucial to the survival of the town, worked out an agreement with railroad officials to survey a new township along the railroad. In the fall of 1872, most of the original Jacksonville was moved the two miles east to its new location.


View with fenceWithin ten years, agriculture became the main focus of the local economy. Jacksonville was a leading center for peach production from the 1880s to 1914; thereafter, tomatoes became the primary crop until the 1950s. During this time, Jacksonville earned the title "Tomato Capital of the World." Livestock has always been -- and to a certain extent still is -- an important part of the economy as well. The production of plastics and polymers led industry from the 1980s through the '90s.

The population has continued to increase steadily over the years, from a little over 1,500 in 1904 to more than 14,000 today. Over 500 business, various churches, a library and museum, two colleges, a seminary, two hospitals, and a health clinic serve the needs of our citizens.