by Martha Rogers
Back when I taught high school, I spent one week in the summer on the campus of Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, Texas as sponsor at the Texas Association of Student Councils Officer Leadership Camp. Being around several hundred teenagers for a week was a lot of fun, but I learned a lot more about the small town in East Texas at the same time.
Evidence of settlement dates back thousands of years and is situated on the or near the site of the primary village of the Nacogdoches tribe of the Caddo Indians. They were travelers and traders and built log cabins between the Banita and Lanana Creeks in the area.The village remained an Indian settlement until the early 19th century. Spain had established a mission there in 1716, but after the French were no longer a threat to the area, maintaining the mission became too costly and in 1772, all settlers in the area were forced to move to San Antonio. However, many were reluctant to leave and longed to return. Colonel Antonio Gil Y’Barbo, a prominent Spanish trade, became a leader of the group and led them back to Nacogdoches in the spring of 1799. In the summer of 1779, Spain bestowed the designation of it being a pueblo or town. Thus it became the first “town” in Texas.
Y’Barbo laid out streets with El Camino Real and La Calle del Norte as the central point. The first house, or Old Stone Fort as it is called today, became a “gateway” from the upper states to the frontier much like St. Louis became a gateway to the West. The earliest settlers were the Caddo Indians called the Nacogdoches Tribe. They were travelers and traders who later replaced the grass and straw huts with log cabins between the Banita and Lanana Creeks in the area.
While Texas grew under six flags, Nacogdoches had more than that. It also flew the flags of the Magee-Gutierrez Republic, the Long Republic, and the Fredonian Rebellion. Nacogdoches was the scene of the first clash between Mexican and Texans on August 2, 1832 with the Battle of Nacogdoches. Adolphus Sterne led a group of Texas revolutionaries who forced the Mexican garrison out of Nacogdoches and freed East Texas from military rule.
The Old Stone Fort is one of the earliest buildings in Nacogdoches still standing and today is a museum to show the history of the area and the town. It was built in 1819 and rebuilt in 1907
Like the rest of the South, Nacogdoches suffered losses during the Civil War and Reconstruction years, but by 1880, it became a town booming with success and grew even more as the Houston East and West Texas Railroad came to the town in 1882. At that time the economy switched from agriculture to trade and commerce. As a matter of record, the first oil well in Texas was there in 1859, but it was never as well known as Spindletop drilled in Beaumont, Texas in 1901 nor did it produce like Spindletop.
The arrival of the Houston, East and West Texas Railway in 1882 changed the economic outlook for the area in dramatic fashion. With the coming of the railroad, Nacogdoches once again emerged as an important trading center. However, the railroad also brought to an end the riverboat traffic on the Angelina and the decline of towns like Pattonia that had depended on the boats.
The railroad also changed the face of the county in other ways with a host of new towns along the lines. As Nacogdoches was situated in the heart of the Piney Woods of East Texas, the construction of the railroads also spurred the development of the lumber industry which emerged at the end of the nineteenth century as one of Nacogdoches County's most important industries.
Among dignitaries who made Nacogdoches home for a few years or longer were Sam Houston and Thomas Jefferson Rusk who was a hero of San Jacinto under Houston. Rusk was also instrumental in establishing Nacogdoches University in 1845. The old university building still stands and is maintained by local volunteers. Although local citizens began their campaign for a teacher’s college in the town at the turn of the century, it wasn’t until 1923 that Stephen F. Austin Teacher’s College began with 158 students.
The town is one of the most historic in Texas and has proudly preserved its history through the years. Many places in the town are designated historic places and preserved for posterity. If you ever drive down U.S. 59 in East Texas, take time to stop and savor the beauty of the oldest town in Texas.
Martha Rogers is a free-lance writer and the author of the Winds Across the Prairie and Seasons of the Heart series as well as the novella, Key to Her Heart in River Walk Christmas and Not on the Menu in Sugar and Grits. The Homeward Journey, her third series is now available. In addition three contemporary romances in Love in the Bayou City of Texas are available on Amazon. She was named Volunteer of the Year at the ACFW Conference in 2014 and writes the weekly Verse of the Week for the ACFW Loop. In addition to fiction, Martha has contributed to compilations by Wayne Holmes, Debra White-Smith and Karen O’ Connor as well as various devotion books. Martha is a frequent speaker for writing workshops and the Texas Christian Writers Conference. She is a retired teacher and lives in Houston with her husband, Rex. Their favorite pastime is spending time with their eleven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.