East Texas Quarterly Magazine Spring 2014 - Page 19

bordering what is now called Toledo Bend Lake. This territory was a path for many of the early migrants into Texas from the United States, many of whom settled here temporarily before proceeding westward. It is said that the first permanent settler was John Latham, who settled here in 1818 when the A Spanish explorer named De Soto was the first white area was still under Spanish rule. man to enter this area when he crossed the Sabine River at what is now Logansport, Louisiana, in 1539. Shelby County was established in 1836, and for The purchase of Louisiana by the United States in the next 30 years Shelbyville was the county seat. 1803 resulted in a boundary dispute with Spain. The R.L. Parker, who was county clerk in 1866, decided absence of organized law provoked a conflict with the that the county seat should be in the “center” of the settlers and resulted in the organization of a group county. That same year, the state legislature called the Regulators and an opposition group called passed an act requiring counties to have centrally the Moderators in 1842. Law and order was restored located seats. by militia under General Sam Houston. But Shelbyville was not quick to relinquish the Shelby County is one of the original counties of Texas. county records. So Parker, a man of action, drove an We are located in the eastern part of the state 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. Center of the Piney Woods, the city took the time to plant a wide variety of trees on the courthouse lawn. In addition, the trees complement the courthouse, rather than obscure it. A long row of hitching-rings are set into the curb on the West side of the square. 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. A wooden courthouse was built soon after, but all records were lost when it burned in 1882. The courthouse The occasion for the large gathering of people was the unveiling of the new erected in its place is one of the Chevrolet cars at Runnels Chevrolet Company 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 present Shelby County Courthouse was built in 1885 and is on the National Register of Historic Places in Texas. This courthouse is today one of the five oldest courthouses in Texas of the original 17