Jacksonville in 1880

By Greg Smith

It had been 8 years since the town of Jacksonville was moved to be closer to the newly laid International Railroad. Below is a snapshot of various aspects of life in Jacksonville in 1880.

Population: 347
Race: 76% white, 24% black
Adult place of birth:
- 32% born in Texas
- 67% born in other states (primarily Alabama)
- Only 3 foreign born residents (2 Russia, 1 Germany)

The Town

The first brick building was built by W. H. Lovelady. I'm not sure when this was done, but the next brick building was not built until 1882. Meaning that the structures in town in 1880 would have been wooden frame buildings.


The only railroad at this time was the International & Great Northern. A wooden-railed tramway from Rusk to Jacksonville had operated unprofitably from 1875-1879.


The first telegraph line through Cherokee County was built in the early 1850's along the stage route from Henderson. In January of 1880, the Western Union Telegraph Company established service between Rusk and Jacksonville.


Cotton appears to have been the primary crop in 1880. The peach industry in Jacksonville was just beginning to bud at this time. Peaches really took off as an industry in the late '80s and early '90s. This was long before the tomato days.


It appears that in 1880, the Methodist Church was the only church in town. The Presbyterians also had a church nearby and in 1882 they built a church in the new town. A History of Cherokee County gives conflicting information of 1880 as the year that the Presbyterians built on their lot.


At this time, the only banks in the area were various receptacles - from sugar bowls to old stockings. The first bank in Jacksonville, Wettermark & Bagley, did not open until around 1888. Merchants doing extensive business kept large sums on deposit with New Orleans and Galveston firms, on which they could draw in the settlement of bills. Gradually citizens acquired the habit of depositing their money with local merchants and lawyers to be kept in their iron safes.


The first school in the new town was the Jacksonville Collegiate Institute, which opened in 1873. In 1880 this school was operating in a frame structure built on a lot later occupied by the Methodist Church on South Bonner Street. The Jacksonville centennial book says that in 1880 the school building was used for a private school principaled by A. D. Davies. The next year, in 1881, the first public school was opened.


The only newspaper being printed in Jacksonville was the Texas Intelligencer. The newspaper was begun in 1873 in Rusk, but was soon moved to Jacksonville.


"Copies of the newspapers of the '80s reveal interesting bits of social life. Croquet was in great favor. Pitching dollars was a masculine sport gaining editorial comment. Picnics, Sunday school and otherwise, were popular summer diversions. Chalybeate Springs, some three miles east of Rusk, was a favorite picnic ground. According to enthusiastic visitors, the scenery rivaled Colorado. Fishing parties frequently made the social column. De Bonnaire's trapeze and gymnastic performers were always greeted by a large audience." - from A History of Cherokee County


"The day of electrically decorated living-room trees was not yet . . . The celebration of Christmas with a public tree on Christmas Eve was a practice begun in Jacksonville in 1874 . . . At the appointed time, gifts for one's own family, from grandfather to baby, as well as for sweethearts and friends, were laboriously carried to the appointed [place] for the tree-dressing crew to hang high or low as their bulkiness required. Burlesque presents always added to the fun. Witty comments from the master of the distribution ceremonies increased the gaiety. Tiny folk, blushing boys and girls in their teens, grown-ups of varying ages and sizes, all marched down the aisle and back again, bearing gifts. Tired but happy families often drove miles in slow-going wagons before sleepy children could be put to bed. Morning brought a new joy; the household and its guests, whether chance comers or invited friends, sipped the Christmas egg-nog, an exhilarating beverage made by cooking beaten eggs with whiskey." - from A History of Cherokee County

National Events

Electric lightbulb invented in 1879, construction begins on the Panama Canal, James Garfield elected president, terrible winter storm in North America ("Blizzard of 1880"). Actually, the harsh winter of '80-'81 is when the word blizzard came into general use.

Intersection of Main & Commerce, late 1800's

International & Great Northern Railroad's engine number 39, circa 1880

W. H. Lovelady's store, built before 1882

Masonic Lodge, built 1853 in Old Jacksonville and moved to the present town. Used by the Lodge until 1893.