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Nacogdoches (Nacogdoches County)

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The site of present-day Nacogdoches, the area between the Bonita and La-Nana creeks, was occupied by the Nacogdoche of the Hasinai Confederacy, who built burial and ceremonial mounds here from c. 1250. All were leveled in the nineteenth century except the greatly reduced burial mound at 516 N. Mound Street, anchored by an ancient red oak.

French explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, passed through the area in 1687, and over the next decade several Spanish expeditions marked the trail that became El Camino Real (now TX 21), connecting six East Texas missions with Mexico. Mission Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de los Nacogdoches, founded here in 1716, functioned until 1772, when all missions and settlers were recalled to San Antonio, but the settlers returned in 1779, led by Antonio Gil Y’Barbo.

Nacogdoches was officially designated a pueblo in 1779 and laid out on the Spanish model with an open public square (Plaza Principal). Y’Barbo built a stone house (see LC46) facing the square’s northeast corner. County courthouses were later built on the square’s southwest corner, the last in 1888 by Eugene T. Heiner.

French, Spanish, and Anglo-American traders and smugglers operated in the area in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The town was the land entry point into Texas from Louisiana for nearly a century and the nexus of revolutionary activity for several decades, headquartering attempts to separate Texas from Spain and then from Mexico. Rebellions in 1838 by East Texas Indian groups denied their promised land rights by the Republic of Texas resulted in massacres of settlers until Texas military forces removed all tribes to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) by 1839, clearing the region for Anglo-American settlement.

Nacogdoches was incorporated in 1837, but growth was slow until the Houston East and West Texas Railway was built through the region in 1883, changing the economy from agriculture to commerce and stimulating the timber industry. Much of Nacogdoches’s architectural character is credited to German-born architect Diedrich A. W. Rulfs (1848–1926); almost one hundred of his works survive.

Today, the town’s cultural life is stimulated by the 12,000 students of Stephen F. Austin State University, nearly half the town’s population. Nacogdoches, at just a two-hour drive from Houston or Dallas, attracts heritage tourism to its many historic sites.

Writing Credits

Gerald Moorhead et al.

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