History of Upshur County

Upshur County is located in the Piney Wood’s in Northeast Texas. Our total population is 35,291 with 556 square miles served by 966 miles of roads. There are 4 incorporated cities within Upshur County and 7 Independent School Districts.

Upshur County was organized by an act of the Texas legislature on July 13, 1846. At the time of the organization it was composed of all of what is now Upshur County, Camp County and part of Gregg County north of the Sabine River. Upshur County was originally part of Nacogdoches County, but later when Harrison County was organized, it was included in that county, and therefore all of Upshur County was detached by Harrison County.

 

Able Park Upshur

 

Upshur County was named after Able Parker Upshur who was born in Virginia on June 17, 1791. After serving in several minor offices in the Virginia Legislature, in 1826 he became a Justice of the Supreme Court in Virginia. In
1841 President John Tyler appointed him Secretary of the Navy and then in June 1843, President Tyler appointed him Secretary of the State, and it was here that he laid ground work for the annexation of Texas to the Union.
On February 28, 1844 he was killed in an explosion of the "Peacemaker", a new cannon on the Battleship Princeton, so when the legislature organized this county they requested that it be named Upshur.

Our county seat is Gilmer, located on the Old Cherokee Trace, a trail used by the Cherokee Indians in their travels. Sam Houston, when he lived with the Cherokee, traveled the Trace through here. The location of Gilmer was determined by a flood on Little Cypress Creek. First located near the creek, residents decided to change locations because of frequent floods. On the day of the election a flood kept voters north of the creek from getting to the polling place, so the south side voters won.

 

Thomas W. Gilmer

 

Gilmer was named after Thomas W. Gilmer who was born in Virginia in 1802. He was elected Governor of Virginia in 1840. In 1844 President John Tyler appointed him Secretary of the Navy. He was a strong advocate of the annexation of Texas to the Union. He was killed on February 28, 1844 in the same explosion on the Battleship Princeton that Able Parker Upshur died in, so the Texas Legislature requested that the Upshur County seat be named Gilmer in honor of this great statesman.

Gilmer has a history closely entwined with the founding and early days of the Texas Republic more than 100 years ago. First settled by white men about 1835, this area, which became Upshur County a dozen years later, was filled with Cherokee Indians.

Gilmer’s first court was held on Cherokee Trace under a big oak tree. Judge Oran Roberts, who later became a Texas Governor, presided over this court a few years after the county was established by the legislature in 1846. An historical marker now marks this site.

In addition to becoming a leading trade center in Northeast Texas before the Civil War, Gilmer became an educational center. In 1850 the Methodist Church organized a Male Institute and a Female Institute. In 1858 the Gilmer Masonic Lodge took over the Women’s Institute, but the Civil War interrupted their plans for enlarging the school. After the war Morgan Looney, a Mason and one of the greatest of the early Texas educators, came here from Georgia and took over the Masonic School and established Looney School. Two governors, Charles Culberson and Oran M. Roberts, were graduates. There were many other famous early Texas leaders who were students.