Tyler, the county seat of Smith County, is one of the leading cities of East Texas. It is ninety-nine miles southeast of Dallas. The city was authorized on April 11, 1846, when the Texas legislature voted to establish Smith County and a corresponding county seat. The townsite, located near the geographic center of the county, was selected by a panel of commissioners appointed by the legislature and was named for President John Tyler in recognition of his support for admitting Texas to the United States. On February 6, 1847, commissioners purchased a 100-acre site from Edgar Pollett for $150, and a townsite was laid out in twenty-eight blocks around a central square. A log courthouse on the north side of the square served as the meeting hall and church. Another log courthouse was built in 1847 on the center of the Tyler square; it was replaced in 1852, when a new, larger brick courthouse was constructed on the same site. A Methodist church was organized in 1846, and the First Baptist Church was established in 1848. McDonald Lorance served as the first mayor. Tyler was incorporated on January 29, 1850, and instituted an aldermanic form of government. A Masonic lodge was organized in 1848, an Odd Fellows lodge was founded in 1851, and the first newspaper was published the same year. With the growing wave of immigrants from the Old South into Texas after annexation, Tyler grew rapidly. The rich soil of the surrounding area attracted numerous planters, and already by 1850 Smith County had a population of 4,292. Buoyed by the prosperity of the surrounding farms and plantations, Tyler quickly emerged as a leading shipping and commercial center for the region. In 1856, just nine years after its founding, one writer remarked that Tyler was "already a place of considerable importance, and contains many buildings of taste and beauty." Numerous new buildings were constructed in the decade prior to the Civil War. Alfred W. Ferguson erected five brick stores on the northwest side of the square between 1855 and 1858, and Col. George Yarbrough built a three-story building on the northeast side in which he operated a dry-goods store.

As in much of East Texas, the city's economy was heavily dependent on slavery. In 1860 more than 35 percent of the total population of 1,021 were slaves. Not surprisingly, Tyler residents voted overwhelmingly for secession, and local men volunteered for army service in large numbers. During the Civil War Tyler was the site of the largest Confederate ordnance plant in Texas, and in 1863 a large Confederate prison camp, known as Camp Ford, was built four miles to the northeast. With so much of its wealth invested in slavery, Tyler and Smith County suffered from an economic depression in the early post war period. The town's woes were further compounded when the Texas and Pacific and the International railroads both bypassed Tyler in the early 1870s. In April 1874, however, the Houston and Great Northern began service on their branch line to Tyler. In an effort to ensure the town's prosperity, leading Tyler citizens worked to have a spur built from Tyler to Ferguson (Big Sandy). The narrow-gauge line, known as the Tyler Tap Railroad, was completed in 1877. In 1879 the Tyler Tap line was acquired by the Texas and St. Louis Railway Company, which located its machine shops and hospital in the town. The Kansas and Gulf Short Line Railroad, founded the following year, also established machine shops there. Due to the influx of laborers to the railroad shops, the city's population nearly tripled from 1880 to 1890. The postwar period also witnessed other important developments. The town's first bank, the Bonner and Williams Bank, was founded in 1870. Numerous new businesses were built during the 1870s, and despite fires which destroyed several city blocks, the downtown area continued to grow. A public school system was established in 1882, and by 1885 the town had Episcopal, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Church of Christ, and Presbyterian churches, two private colleges, public and private schools, a plow factory, three planing mills, wagon and carriage factories, an ice factory, several gristmills and cotton gins, hotels, an opera house, a waterworks, two banks, and two weekly newspapers, the Tyler Democrat and the Tyler Courier. Tyler achieved city status in 1907, and by 1910 it had 10,400 residents. After an election in April 1915 the city adopted the manager-commission form of government. A new three-story courthouse was built in 1909; it served the county until the present courthouse was constructed in 1954.

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Source: Texas State Historical Association

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