Gainesville, county seat of Cooke County, is in the county's approximate geographic center, on Interstate Highway 35 about sixty-seven miles north of Dallas. In the 1840s the first settlers arrived in the area, attracted by the promises of the newly created Peters colony, which offered 640 acres to each head of family and 320 to each single man, plus land for a church in each settlement. In 1850 Gainesville was established on a 40-acre tract donated by Mary E. Clark. At the suggestion of Col. William F. Fitzhugh, commander of a stockade 3 and a half miles southeast, the town was named in honor of Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines. Gaines, a United States general under whom Fitzhugh had served, had been sympathetic with the Texas Revolution. Gainesville originally consisted of three families who lived in log houses near the banks of Elm Creek. Although Gainesville was made a stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail route in 1858, Indian attacks retarded the community's growth in its first decade. During the Civil War a controversial trial and hanging of suspected Union loyalists brought the new town to the attention of the state.
In the decade after the war the county seat had its first period of extended growth, catalyzed by the expansion of the cattle industry in Texas. Gainesville, only seven miles from the Oklahoma border, became a supply point for cowboys driving herds north to Kansas. Within twenty years the population increased from a few hundred to more than 2,000. To the post office, opened in 1851, and the general store were added a number of churches, two banks, a public school, and a weekly newspaper. Gainesville was incorporated on February 17, 1873, and by 1890 was established as a commercial and shipping point for area ranchers and farmers, partly as a result of the arrival in 1886 of the Santa Fe line and the construction in 1887 of the Gainesville, Henrietta and Western Railway. During the 1890s Gainesville College operated for a time, but it was eventually closed, a victim of the depression of 1893 and the consequent rapid decline of the cattle industry.
GAINESVILLE STATE SCHOOL FOR GIRLS. Gainesville State School for Girls was established in 1913 as a home for delinquent and dependent girls. Girls between the ages of eight and seventeen are sent to the institution by court order. The school, originally called the Texas State Training School for Girls, was authorized by the Thirty-third Legislature, which appropriated $25,000 for construction. Under the direction of its first superintendent, Dr. Carrie Weaver Smith (1916 - 25), the school sought to rehabilitate delinquent girls and stressed "character building, formation of habits of self-control and stability, better understanding of spiritual values and . . . an ability to cope with present social conditions," as well as providing an education emphasizing vocational skills.
The school, located on a 160-acre tract just east of Gainesville, began with four dormitories and a superintendent's residence. By 1948, when enrollment reached 198, it took on its present name. At that time the campus included seven brick cottages, five frame houses for the families of staff members, and a number of other buildings including a gymnasium, a hospital, a school building with a cafeteria and an auditorium, a beauty parlor, and a laundry. From the beginning the school has been relatively self-sufficient; food for the girls and staff is grown on 100 to 160 acres.
GREAT HANGING AT GAINESVILLE. Forty suspected Unionists in Confederate Texas were hanged at Gainesville in October 1862. Two others were shot as they tried to escape. Although the affair reached its climax in Cooke County, men were killed in neighboring Grayson, Wise, and Denton counties. Most were accused of treason or insurrection, but evidently few had actually conspired against the Confederacy, and many were innocent of the abolitionist sentiments for which they were tried.
The Great Hanging was the result of several years of building tension. The completion of the Butterfield Overland Mail route from St. Louis through Gainesville brought many new people from the upper South and Midwest into Cooke County. By 1860 fewer than 10 percent of the heads of households owned slaves. The slaveholders increasingly feared the influence of Kansas abolitionists in every unrest. In the summer of 1860 several slaves and a northern Methodist minister were lynched in North Texas. Cooke and the surrounding counties voted against secession and thus focused the fears of planters on the nonslaveholders in the region. Rumors of Unionist alliances with Kansas Jayhawkers and Indians along the Red River, together with the petition of E. Junius Foster, editor of the Sherman Patriot, to separate North Texas as a new free state, brought emotions to a fever pitch.
Actual opposition to the Confederacy in Cooke County began with the Conscription Acts of April 1862. Thirty men signed a petition protesting the exemption of large slaveholders from the draft and sent it to the Congress at Richmond. Brig. Gen. William Hudson, commander of the militia district around Gainesville, exiled their leader, but others who remained used the petition to enlist a nucleus for a Union League in Cooke and nearby counties. The members were not highly unified, and their purposes differed with each clique. Most joined to resist the draft and provide common defense against roving Indians and renegades. Rumors began to circulate, however, of a membership of over 1,700 and of plans for an assault when the group had recruited enough men. Fearing that the stories of Unionist plots to storm the militia arsenals at Gainesville and Sherman might prove to be true, Hudson activated the state troops in North Texas in late September 1862 and ordered the arrest of all able-bodied men who did not report for duty.