Stephen F. Austin State University

Smith County

Smith County lies on the western boundary of Eastern Texas. The county seat is Tyler. Caddo Indians lived on the land until disease and warfare pushed the Indians out of the area. The Texas Legislature partitioned land from the Nacogdoches District and created Smith County in 1846 in honor of General James Smith, a soldier in the Republic of Texas.

During the 1850s, population and production increased, leading to larger harvests. The county expanded its infrastructure to include lumber mills. Smith County joined the Confederacy. Camp Ford, a Confederate prison camp, was a key feature of Smith County in the Civil War.

The county's infrastructure changed after the war, which resulted in the loss of jobs and increased racial tension. The economy stabilized through the farming of corn and cotton, the introduction of timber mills, and railroads, which allowed the exporting of items. Over-dependence on land depreciated cotton production, but the cultivation of roses held steady and became a landmark for the county.

The New Deal programs such as Civilian Conservation Corps helped to aid the county's economy and helped in the construction of Tyler State Park. The discovery of oil added wealth to Smith County, as people migrated from other areas to work the rigs. Through land preservation, the price of land increased during the rest of the century, and farmers transitioned to utilizing timber to increase income. Tyler became a focal point for education and medicine with the University of Texas-Tyler.

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Text: Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Assoication.

To learn more about Smith County's history check out Local Voices' writer Marvin Mayer's column "Plain Truths about Smith County" on our Local Voices page.