The year of Jacksonville’s birth – 1838 – was also the year that indelibly stamped Jacksonville’s unique history with the Killough Massacre. Documented as East Texas’ worst Indian atrocity, the massacre occurred approximately seven miles north of Jacksonville Proper. In its aftermath, the massacre claimed eighteen victims – white settlers (including women and children) were either killed or abducted, never to be heard from again. A memorial obelisk, built from native iron ore, was erected on the site in conjunction with the 1930s federal WPA program.


Following the Killough Massacre, General Thomas J. Rusk ushered in the Texas Army to scour the region in search of the renegades who had committed the massacre. Kentucky native Jackson Smith was one of those soldiers, and while scouting along Gum Creek, Jackson became so enamored with the local landscape he vowed to claim it as his future homesite. Nine years later, Jackson Smith realized his dream in 1847 when he built a house and blacksmith shop along the east bank of the creek. He also set up a post office at one end of the shop and dubbed it Gum Creek, after the little community that had existed there since 1838. Soon after, Dr. William Jackson built an office next to adjacent to Jackson Smith’s establishment. Three years later, the townsite was developed and the name was changed to Jacksonville to honor the two men.


In 1872, when the International-Great Northern Railroad was built through Cherokee County, Jacksonville was missed by two miles. Jacksonville residents, acutely aware that the railroad was critical to the survival of the town, arrived at an agreement with railroad officials to survey a new township along the railway. In the fall of 1872, most of the original Jacksonville was relocated two miles east to its new and current location.


Within ten years, agriculture became the main focus of the local economy. Jacksonville was a leader in peach production from the 1880s to 1914 until the crop was dethroned by tomato, which remained the primary crop until the 1950s. During this time, Jacksonville earned the title “Tomato Capital of the World.” Livestock was – and still is – an important part of the local economy. Jacksonville also boasted significant industrial muscle, with plastic and polymer production leading the tally from the 1980s through the ’90s.


The population has continued to increase steadily over the years, from a little over 1,500 in 1904 to pushing 15,000 today. Over 500 business, various churches, a library and museum, a college, a seminary, two hospitals, and health clinics serve the needs of the citizens.