Jacksonville (population 14,544) sits about 30 miles south of Tyler in East Texas and is surrounded by lush green forests nestled atop rolling hills. Some might find that strange because when I’ve spoken to people who don’t live here and I tell them I’m from Texas, their first comment is, “It’s so flat there.” What they don’t understand is that Texas has a diverse landscape and Jacksonville is one of those places that proves it.
Jacksonville was founded as a result of an Indian massacre. On October 5, 1838, the Killough family migrated to the area from Alabama and was attacked by a group of Cherokee Indians while preparing the land for harvest and building their homes. In total, eighteen were either killed or taken as captives. The few family members who managed to escape walked over 40 miles south, ending up in Alto, Texas and those who were taken as captives were never heard from or ever seen again. General Thomas Rusk brought the Texas Army to the area to search for those who committed the murders and one of his soldiers, Jackson Smith, while scouting along Gum Creek, found a spot that was so beautiful he vowed to return and make his future home there. He did so nine years later.
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, named after the two men, 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.
Within 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.
In 1945, when I was 4 years old my parents saved enough money to pay cash for a small frame house on the corner of Sunset Avenue and Pineda Street, which was my home until I was 17, graduated from Jacksonville High School and went away to college. Some of the old photographs in this slide show I believe to be prior to 1945, but many were taken during the time that I grew up there.
Many years ago we had a 78 rpm recording by Senator Everett Dirksen titled Gallant Men which we enjoyed listening to with our small sons during patriotic holiday celebrations. The record won a Grammy award in 1968 for the Best Documentary Recording. We lent the record and, most likely in one of our many moves, lost track of who had it. There have been many 4ths of July, Memorial Days, and other commemorative occasions in the years since when Joe would remark or I would remember "that record, Gallant Men." I was pleased to find the recording on YouTube this year. Among several selections, this one is chosen for its audio quality, not to plug Capitol records. Senator Dirksen's deep gravely voice and sincerity still touch me as do the words. It would be easy to become discouraged at the polarity and disagreements in our nation today, but we can still be most grateful for living in a country with freedom, and for the people now and through the years who give their lives in service to all of us.