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History of Henderson
Older than the state of Texas, itself, Henderson and Rusk County have an early historical background. The City of Henderson was founded in 1843 and was named for James Pinckney Henderson, the namesake of the first governor of Texas. A founding father of the city, W.B. Ochiltree, gave ten of his acres on the north part of the town site to the city with the stipulation that it be called "Henderson," in honor of his friend. Another founding father, which also donated a portion of his land to the city, was General James Smith. One of the original county commissioners of Rusk County, Smith kept a hand written journal of commissioner court’s activities for ten years.
Laying the Foundation
The founding Rusk County commissioners began to plat the town of Henderson, which was chosen as the county seat when an act of the legislature created Rusk County on January 16, 1843. As lots were sold and businesses built, the county commissioners discovered that a square for a courthouse had inadvertently been omitted. Strips of land 25’ deep were bought back from the owners of six lots on each side of East and West Main Streets for a city square. The first wooden courthouse was completed in 1849 in the center of the city square, which was actually a rectangle with the longer sides running east and west. During this time, the commissioners donated both land and money for churches and schools to be built: the Baptist and Methodist churches, originally established in 1845, and which today have historical markers at their modern brick buildings; the Henderson Female College, approved by the Texas Legislature in 1856; and the Henderson Male and Female College, which existed in the 1870s until after the turn of the century.
Major transportation came to the area after the Civil War when in 1872 the International and Great Northern Railroad crossed the northwest corner of Rusk County, but missed the City of Henderson. Two years later, on April 29, 1874, the Henderson and Overton Branch Railroad Company was chartered to build 16 miles of track from Overton to Henderson. At the turn of the century, the branch railroad was sold to Missouri-Pacific Railroad (now Union Pacific), and is still in operation.
Brick by Brick
In 1878, a fire destroyed the first courthouse, and many records were lost. During the Reconstruction era, the City of Henderson began to see the talents and skills of the brick masons and pottery makers who had settled in Rusk County. The first of the brick buildings to be built (1878-1926) was an ornate brick courthouse in the center of the city square. During the mid to late 1800s there were many buildings built by Dave and Logan Howard, who built the first brick home in Henderson-now a medallion home named the Howard Dickinson House. From 1883 to 1895 the Howard brothers built seven stores on the city square, five of which are still in use.
The city has 19 historical markers that include antebellum homes dating from the 1880s as well as churches and colleges that existed in Henderson in the early years. After a series of township reorganizations prior, during, and after the Civil War, a final reorganization was effected in 1911, with E. B. Alford, Sr. as Henderson’s first mayor.
In the early 1930’s, C.M. “Dad” Joiner brought in the Daisy Bradford #3 Discovery Well six miles northwest of Henderson. As a result, during the 1930’s Depression, the City of Henderson experienced a population growth from 2,000 to over 10,000 people in just a few months. The discovery of oil in East Texas was and continues to be critical to the area’s economy.
As the population increased, the City of Henderson prospered. In 1986, Henderson’s downtown area was designated a National Register Historic District. It is one of the most dramatic and charming downtowns in the East Texas area. Colorful canvas awnings highlight the ornate buildings which house Henderson’s downtown merchants and offer shade to downtown shoppers visiting the various antiques stores, clothing stores, and dining facilities lining the Main Streets.
In 1997, the City started the construction of a surface water plant. It began with the excavation for the 40-acre off-channel reservoir piped from Sabine River. The surface water plant began production in August 2001.
Henderson is the home to approximately 13,712 people and covers 12 square miles. It is located in central east Texas, 20 miles south of I-20, 130 miles southeast of Dallas, 182 miles northeast of Houston and 66 miles west of Shreveport, Louisiana.
The City is a political subdivision and municipal corporation of the state, duly organized and existing under the laws of the State, including the City’s Home Rule charter. The City was incorporated in 1911, and first adopted its Home Rule Charter in 1947, and is operating under a charter amendment dated April 6, 1985. The City operates under a Council / Manager form of government with the City Council comprised of the Mayor and five council member’s. The term of office is two years, with the term of the Mayor and two of the council member’s expiring in even-numbered years and the other terms of the three council member’s expiring in odd-numbered years. The City Manager is the chief administrative officer for the City.
Constant improvements in all areas of service continue to present challenges for City officials. It is the city officials’ and employees’ wish to maintain and continually provide the best for the citizens of Henderson.