Day Trips

Nacogdoches has more history in its little finger than most other Texas cities have in all of their city limits

Sam Houston and Cherokee Chief Bowles
Sam Houston and Cherokee Chief Bowles (Photo By Gerald E. McLeod)

Nacogdoches has more history in its little finger than most other Texas cities have in all of their city limits. Of course, it's really not surprising that the "oldest town in Texas" would have hosted a long list of historic events.

Named after the Nacogdoche Indians, a Caddo Federation tribe, the city was once an Indian village on Lanana Creek. Originally there were four burial mounds around the town, but three were leveled to make way for homes.

The fourth mound, 516 N. Mound St., was saved from excavation by the landowner, who feared digging would kill a large oak tree at the site. When the tree died, the new owner of the property allowed archeologists to take samples from the mound. Barely 10 feet above street level, the mound is disguised as someone's front yard.

Spanish missionaries arrived at the village in the Piney Woods as early as 1716, but the natives never saw much of a need to visit the log mission. Legend has it that during a severe drought, Father Antonio Margil struck his staff on a dry stone on the bank of Lanana Creek, and two springs began flowing. The water can still be found seeping from the hillside along the hiking trail off of Main Street.

The threat from the French military in Louisiana caused the abandonment of the mission. It wasn't until 1779 that the Spanish returned to the site permanently. Gil Antonio Ybaro resettled the town and built what is now referred to as the Old Stone Fort as a warehouse for goods smuggled across the border from Louisiana. The two-story La Casa Piedra was rarely used as a fort but more often as a saloon and commissary. A replica of the building is now a museum on the campus of Stephen F. Austin University at Griffith and Clark boulevards.

With the transfer of French Louisiana to the United States, a wave of illegal immigrants washed into Spanish and then Mexican Tejas. Nacogdoches was the gateway to the lands west of the Sabine River. Among the new residents were the seeds for three rebellions beginning in 1812, all of which failed. The Fredonia Rebellion in 1826 lasted only six weeks but gave the town a nickname. In 1832, the expulsion of Mexican forces from Nacogdoches allowed the revolution of 1836 to gather momentum in San Antonio.

Before Texas independence, Sam Houston made his home in Nacogdoches, at least on paper. As a land speculator he owned property in and around the settlement. It was in the Adolphus Sterne House, 211 S. Lanana St., that he received the Catholic baptism required for Mexican citizenship. The house is now a city-owned museum and library.

Nacogdoches was the second-largest city in the new republic. It was also the staging area for immigrants. Unfortunately, a series of fires over the decades has destroyed the wooden structures of the original town site. The original business district, like so many small towns, is made up of layers of architecture that replaced the old. The downtown is built around a central plaza in the Spanish style. In the center is the 1917 post office, 200 E. Main St., that is now a visitors' center. Even though most of the downtown buildings are now occupied by antique shops, the city has placed plaques on the buildings that explain the area's deep history.

One of the stories about the old Nacogdoches involved the Marx Brothers before their movie careers. Performing at the vaudeville house at the corner of Main and Church streets, the show was interrupted by a runaway mule-drawn cart. The commotion inspired Groucho Marx to comment, "Nacogdoches is full of roaches."

On Feb. 1, 2003, Nacogdoches entered the history books again when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated over East Texas. Along with Hemphill, San Augustine, and Lufkin, the town is working to build a memorial to the crew.

Commerce, agriculture, and the university have kept Nacogdoches a vibrant 228-year-old city. It is home to many restaurants, hotels, and shops, even though many of the national franchise businesses have moved to the outskirts of town. For more information, call 888/653-3788 or go to

838th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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Nacogdoches, Sam Houston, Marx Brothers

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