Shelby County, Texas History

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Quick Historic Facts

  • Old Shelby County courthouseShelby County, one of the original counties of Texas was organized in 1837.
  • It was named for Isaac Shelby, a Revolutionary soldier from Kentucky. Counties in nine other states are also named after Isaac Shelby.
  • Shelbyville, created in 1824, was once called Nashville. Its name was changed to Shelbyville when it became the county seat.
  • Center, the area once called White Cottage, later became the county seat in 1866.
  • J.J.E. Gibson, a native of Ireland, built the Shelby County Courthouse (pictured at bottom of page) in 1883-85.
  • This courthouse is today one of the five oldest courthouses in Texas of the original design.
  • The Shelby County courthouse is the only Irish castle style courthouse remaining in the United States.
  • Two Shelby County natives, Sydney O. Penington and William Crawford, were signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence.
  • Penington is buried in Shelbyville. Crawford was a Methodist preacher, and is said to have held the first service in the Methodist Church at Shelbyville.
  • Jesse Amason gave 50 acres of land for the town of Center.
  • The Regulator-Moderator War took place in Shelby County in 1840-44.
  • Sam Weaver surveyed the town of Center in 1869.
  • Richard Hooper, an early day surveyor and Congressman from Shelby County, was married to the niece of John Adams.
  • Center became an incorporated town in 1893. The first mayor of Center was Uncle Billie Maund.
  • The first Bottling works for soda water in Texas was in Timpson.
  • The water oak tree on the Hern Lawson farm is the largest known of its type in the United States.
  • There is an annual Fox Hunt held at the Boles Field in Shelby County. Located in this area is a recognized dog cemetery.
  • Around 1910 coal was mined not far from the Center square.
  • Tobacco was once grown as a crop in Shelby County.
  • John Moosberg initiated the broiler industry in Shelby County and the surrounding area in 1948, and today this is the number one industry in this area
  • The expression "Tenaha, Timpson, Bo-bo, and Blair", was coined by the county unit of the National Guard, under the command of Col. RR. Morrison of Timpson.
Old Shelby County courthouse Old Shelby County courthouse
Old Shelby County courthouse Old Shelby County courthouse
Old Shelby County courthouse Old Shelby County courthouse

Shelby County History

Old Shelby County courthouseA Spanish explorer named De Soto was the first white man to enter this area when he crossed the Sabine River at what is now Logansport, Louisiana, in 1539. The purchase of Louisiana by the United States in 1803 resulted in a boundary dispute with Spain. The absence of organized law provoked a conflict with the settlers and resulted in the organization of a group called the Regulators and an opposition group called the Moderators in 1842. Law and order was restored by militia under General Sam Houston.

Shelby County is one of the original counties of Texas. We are located in the eastern part of the state bordering what is now called Toledo Bend Lake. This territory was a path for many of the early migrants into Texas from the United States, many of whom settled here temporarily before proceeding westward. It is said that the first permanent settler was John Latham, who settled here in 1818 when the area was still under Spanish rule.

Old Shelby County courthouseThe present area of Shelby County was a part of the Municipality of Tenaha when Mexico became independent of Spain in 1821, and the most important town was Nashville which was created in 1824.

When Texas became independent from Mexico in 1836, the Congress of the Republic of Texas created Shelby County, naming it after an American Revolutionary soldier named Isaac Shelby. The county was organized in 1837, and Shelbyville, which was once called Nashville, became the county seat.

In 1866 a legislative act was passed requiring all county seats to be located in the center of the county. Center became the county seat and was named for its central location.

The present Shelby County Courthouse was built in 1885 and is on the National Register of Historic Places in Texas.