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Historical Sites

Center, Texas

Center, Shelby County, Texas

Our History

Shelby County was established in 1836, and for the next 30 years Shelbyville was the county seat. R.L. Parker, who was county clerk in 1866, decided that the county seat should be in the "center" of the county. That same year, the state legislature passed an act requiring counties to have centrally located seats.

But Shelbyville was not quick to relinquish the county records. So Parker, a man of action, drove an ox cart to the courthouse door in Shelbyville one night and took them. The records were placed under armed guard in a log cabin near the geographic center of the county , and the city of Center was born.

A wooden courthouse was built soon after, but all records were lost when it burned in 1882. The courthouse erected in its place is one of the jewels of Center. With stately towers, a cupola, and hidden stairwells, it is an architectural masterpiece. It also has the distinction of being one of the only Texas courthouses modeled after an Irish castle. J.J.E. Gibson, an irish architect, not only designed the new brick courthouse, but also made the bricks when the commissioners' court awarded him the contract in 1883.

The city was incorporated in 1893, but later was dissolved and reorganized under a charter. With the arrival of the Gulf, Beaumont, and Great Northern Railroads, Center became a leading regional market for East Texas and the western part of Louisiana.

For information on city Zoning Laws enacted and effective January 1, 2007, contact the Inspections Department: (936) 598-2055


Historical Markers

Shelby County Courthouse

J.J.E. Gibson, architect and builder, designed and constructed the courthouse to resemble an Irish castle. The style is, in part, "Romanesque Revival." Gibson completed the construction of the courthouse in 1885.

In 1866, county records were held at the site of the future courthouse after being secretly taken from Shelbyville by R.L. Parker and Sam Weaver following a contested election naming Center as the county seat of Shelby County.

The noted land dispute case of the heirs of Sidney O. Pennington, signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, was tried here in 1896. In 1969, the courthouse was a recorded Texas Historic Landmark.

Located on the square in Center.

Shelby County Courthouse Grounds

Shelby County was part of the neutral ground from 1803 to 1819 and was settled by Anglo-Americans between 1824 and 1836. In 1833, a District of the Municipality of Nacogdoches, Tenehaw, became the Municipality of Tenehaw in 1835, with Nashville as the county seat. The name was changed to Shelby in 1836 in honor of Isaac Shelby (1750-1826), a gallant officer in the Continental Army Revolutionary War. The county was created on March 17, 1836, and was organized with Shelbyville as county seat in 1837. Center became the county seat of Shelby County in 1866. In 2000, a historical marker was placed on the courthouse grounds in memory of J.J.E. Gibson, the Irish architect and builder of the Shelby County Courthouse. His portrait and other Gibson artifacts are in the Gibson Room of the courthouse.

Eva Lane Taylor Home

Located at 212 Houston Street; 1 block south of Square on Hwy 7 West; tehn left on Houston Street.

Confederate States of America - Texas Muster

Held on this spot April 4, 1964, to honor Texans who made up the greater part of forces fighting in the Civil War Red River Campaign of 1864-1865, that prevented a federal invasion of Texas.

Descendants answering to roll call for soldiers of 100 years ago included 37 sons and daughters of those fighters. Grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other kinsmen represented such leaders as the Trans-Mississippi Commander General E. Kirby Smith, and Generals, A.P. Bagby, John R. Baylor, August Buchel, X.B. DeBray, Tom Green, Walter P. Lane, Henry E. McCulloch, James Major, Horace Randal, William R. Scurry, W.W. Steele, John G. Walker, Thomas Waul, and Colonels Henry Gray, Philip N. Luckett and P.C. Woods.

Friends and descendants of the Valverde Battery restored a century-old gun and brought it from Freestone County to ride in an 8 mile long parade that moved 36 miles northeastward from here to the Mansfield Battleground. There the cannon shook the earth as it did April 9, 1864, and the assemblage unveiled the first out-of-state marker of the Texas Civil War Centennial, commemorating the Battle of Mansfield.

Located on the south side of the square in Center 1864-1964.

First Christian Church

Formed in 1856, this congregation is one of the oldest in Shelby County. Mr. and Mrs. T.H. Day, Mr. and Mrs. George King, Major and Mrs. Alfred Truitt, Mr. and Mrs. Leggett, P.F. Southern, Council Billingsley, Alfred Padon, W.S. Dabney, and George Weaver were among its founders. Services were held in a house in Pleasant Grove Community until a church building was erected in 1886. Initially led by lay members, the church called Reverend W.L. Morrow as its first pastor in 1893. Built in 1905, the present sanctuary was moved to this site in 1930. In the fellowship now are several descendants of charter members.

Located 1 block north of square on Highway 7 East at 122 Cora Street.

Truitt Cemetery

James Truitt (1795-1870) and his wife Sarah Hall Truitt (1796-1848), left North Carolina for Texas in 1838, settling near this site in 1840. Truitt was a congressman in the Republic of Texas, 1843-45; a representative, 1846-48; and served four terms as a senator in the Texas state legislature. The Truitts had five sons and five daughters. Two sons fought in the Regulator-Moderator War, three in the Mexican War, five in the Civil War. Descendants continue to be prominent in Texas history. Founded at the death of Sarah Hall Truitt, several generations rest in this cemetery.

Located 11 miles East of Center on Highway 7; then 2 miles West on the dirt road.

Sardis Methodist Church

Neighbors in a small rural community in this area gathered together in 1872 to organize a church congregation. The need for a house of worship was met when members of the community worked together to cut trees and build a log structure.

The two acres of land on which the church was built was formally deeded to the Methodist Episcopal Church, South by J.M. Hughes and his family in 1894. The congregation had outgrown the original church building, and construction was to begin that year on a new sanctuary. Under the leadership of the Rev. John Goodwin, the new wooden structure was built by church members. The name Sardis Methodist Church was chosen by the Rev. H. Toomie, presiding elder of the denominational conference.

The Sardis congregation was served by circuit riding ministers until the 1940's. It remained active until 1972, when it was disbanded. Members of the community raised funds to renovate the building and the congregation was reorganized in 1981. Regular worship services were held until 1986. Still the focal point for the community, the church is used for special services such as weddings, funerals and homecoming celebrations.

Located 7 miles East on Highway 87; then 2.5 miles North on FM 414.

Sardis School and Milton Irish

Located on Hwy 414 off 87 South approximately 1.5-2 miles on left. Hwy 138 to split in road, go straight 2 miles down FM2974 (Upper Arcadia Rd). Cemetary is on the right next to the church.

Historical Shelby County Jail

The Historic Shelby County Jail was designed and buit in 1884 by Irish born architect John Joseph Emmett Gibson. It was one of the first of two brick buildings built in Center, possibly even in Shelby County. It is the epitome of an 1880's small-town Texas county jail. It compliments the Historic Shelby County Courthouse, also design and built by J.J.E. Gibson. It is now the home of the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce.