The sesquicentennial we celebrate this year is for the founding of our community at its “current location.” It was 150 years ago that the community was moved from “Old Jacksonville.”
In the early part of the 1800’s an area around Gum Creek, just a couple of miles west of our current location, was settled primarily by cotton farmers. The story of our old town begins in 1838 when a scout from General Rusk’s army, named Jackson Smith, rode through the area looking for the perpetrators of the Killough Massacre. Jackson loved the area and vowed to return which he did in 1847. He built a home and set up a blacksmith shop as the first commercial business in the area. A short time later he applied to the US Government to become post master for the new community of Gum Creek. Relatives of his neighbors, like the Ragsdales, still live in our community.
The community responded to his business and that same year, using his Texas Army land grant, he laid out a new town. The new town would be renamed Jacksonville and the different tales about the naming of the town will be covered in a later article. The new town, laid out around a public square, quickly attracted new businesses. The first business was called A. S. Johnson and Company and offered a “general stock of goods.” A map, hand drawn in 1912 by M. L. Earle, city historian and former mayor, is on display in our museum and shows the location of some of the 48 businesses that eventually opened there.
The Methodist and Baptist, the first churches in town, open before 1850. The first school opened in a room in the Methodist Church with Mr. Joe C. Rushing as the first teacher. T.M. Campbell, who would go on to become Governor of Texas in 1907, was educated in these first schools.
As happened throughout the south, the Civil War devastated the new community. Several hundred men from Jacksonville served in the Confederate Army. It is not known how many died.
One of old Jacksonville’s most famous residents, Amanda Spears, exemplifies the horrors of that war. Her husband, Private Cicero Spears was critically ill at Little Rock, Ark. She set out on horseback, carrying her one year old baby, to get her husband. The weather turned against her and the baby became ill, but she forged on, eventually returning to Jacksonville several months later with her still suffering husband who survived for several more years. Mrs. Spear went on to open a nursing home and eventually a hotel in new Jacksonville.
The men who were able to return rejoined their families and together with their neighbors began to rebuild our community. Lawlessness prevailed and during that time Jacksonville was noted for its fights, feuds, and homicides. However, by the time the railroad came through in early 1872, normalcy had returned. With the coming of the railroad, old Jacksonville experienced its fastest growth. Five new saloons opened along with a rush of business for other merchants and farmers as the railroad needs and crews were accommodated.
In future articles, we’ll tell you more about how the residents of Jacksonville and the principals of the International Railroad came to an agreement to set up a new community in our current location. In the meantime, we hope you will visit your museum to view exhibits and artifacts related to our community history as well as exhibits on loan from private collectors.
The Vanishing Texana Museum is open from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Admission is free at the 300 South Bolton location. For more information, visit jacksonvilletx.org/415/Vanishing-Texana-Museum.