Shelby County was one of the original thirteen counties in Texas, being organized by the Republic of Texas Congress in 1837. The county was named for Isaac Shelby, an American military hero and Governor of Kentucky. Shelby County eventually became one of the most populous and prosperous counties in the state because of its proximity to Louisiana and location along the Sabine River. Nashville, one of the earliest settlements in the state, was renamed Shelbyville and became the new county seat.
In the early days of the Texas Republic, land was an accepted medium of exchange instead of money. The infamous Moderator-Regulator War erupted in 1839, when two men made a trade and exchanged a land certificate. The land certificate was fraudulent and the result was a time of lawlessness in Shelby County called the Moderator-Regulator War. Eventually President Sam Houston intervened and arranged for a cease fire and truce.
The settlement which eventually became the City of Center was originally called White Cottage. A post office was established at this settlement on April 6, 1848.
Al Johnson, an East Texas state representative, introduced a bill to have all county seats be as close to the center of the county as possible. R.L. Parker, the County Clerk at the time, arranged to have the county surveyed and the center located. A vote was held in Shelby County to move the seat of county government from Shelbyville to the center of the county. The result of the vote was in favor of moving the county seat. The people in Shelbyville organized to protect the county records. However, one night in 1866, a group of men led by Parker broke into the courthouse, confiscated all of the records and carried them to a log cabin in White Cottage. Shortly after the incident, the community became known as Center. The Center post office opened in October 1866.
In 1869, Confederate veteran Jesse Amason donated fifty acres of land for the town site of Center.
On the night of May 31, 1882, a fire erupted at the courthouse and the building was a complete loss. The county contracted with J.J.E. Gibson, an Irish immigrant, to construct a new courthouse and jail. In November 1885, the new courthouse was completed and remains standing to this day.
The City of Center was incorporated in 1893. However, the result of this incorporation was dissolved and the city passed a charter in 1901. The city underwent a charter review and adopted a new home rule charter April 7, 1984.
The economy of Center has evolved through four distinct stages. The first stage was cotton; Center boasted a number of cotton gins. Cotton production eventually gave way to timber production and the city had two pulpwood mills. In the 1950’s the poultry industry was introduced in Center as the timber industry was not as lucrative. In the early 2000’s, the Haynesville Shale gas formation was discovered in Shelby County and natural gas production activity became the staple of the economy.
City of Center timeline
1837 – Shelby County was created by Congress of the Republic of Texas
1839 - Start of the Moderator-Regulator War
1845 - The State of Texas is annexed by the United States
1848 - White Cottage post office was created (April 6, 1848)
1866 - Vote to move the county seat to the center of the county passed. The courthouse records were relocated. The Center post office was opened.
1869 - Capt. Jesse Amason donated land for the Center town site
1882 - Courthouse burned
1885 - New courthouse completed by J.J.E. Gibson. Gibson was not paid for additional work which became necessary after a cold winter caused damage to the unfinished strcuture. In 1999, the Shelby County Historical Trekkers raised the $2,700 owed to Gibson and used the money to create a memorial in his honor.
1893 - Center was incorporated; the incorporation was later dissolved
1900 - The population of Center was 859
1901 - The City of Center was re-incorporated
1902 - The Santa Fe Railroad came through Center
1908 - The City organized a paid fire department
1911 - A massive fire destroyed much of downtown Center (March 4, 1911)
1913 - The Center Police Department was created (April 22, 1913)
1915 - The first movie theater opened in Center
1921 - Water was supplied to the City from Mill Creek Lake
1924 - Center had its first paved city streets
1924 - Natural gas service was provided in Center
1935 - The first airplane factory in Texas was built in Center