Houston County, the first county established by the Republic of Texas, is east of Waco in the East Texas Timberlands region. It is bordered on the north by Anderson County, on the east by Cherokee, Angelina, and Trinity counties, on the south by Walker and Madison counties, and on the west by Leon County. Its center lies at 31°20' north latitude and 99°25' west longitude. Crockett is the county seat and largest town. In addition to U.S. Highway 287 the county's transportation needs are served by State highways 7, 19, and 21 and the Union Pacific Railroad. Houston County covers 1,234 square miles, with elevations ranging from 200 to 300 feet. The Neches River forms the northeastern boundary of the county, and the Trinity River is the western boundary. The terrain is gently rolling to hilly. Soils are generally light colored and loamy, with very deep reddish clayey subsoils. In the southwest and west the soils are sandy with clayey subsoils. The predominant vegetation is mixed pine and hardwood forests. Between 21 and 30 percent of the land in the county is considered prime farmland. The climate is subtropical and humid, with cool winters and hot summers. Temperatures range in January from an average low of 36° F to an average high of 58°, and in July from 71° to 94°. The average annual rainfall is 42 inches. The average annual snowfall is less than one inch. The growing season averages 260 days a year, with the last freeze in early March and the first in late November.
The Civil War and its aftermath brought profound changes to the county. Its citizens voted overwhelmingly for secession, 552 for and only 38 against, and county men volunteered for the Confederate Army in large numbers. Despite having a white population of little more than 5,000, the county provided nearly 1,000 men to the war effort. Many of these spent long periods away from home during the war, and those who remained behind were forced to deal with the lack of markets and wild fluctuations in the value of Confederate currency, as well as concern for their relatives and friends on the battlefield. The end of the war brought wrenching changes in the county's economy.
In 1904 commercial lignite mining was also introduced. But the mainstay of the economy during the early decades of the twentieth century remained agriculture, particularly cotton farming. Between 1900 and 1930 the amount of land given to cotton culture steadily increased, rising from some 40,000 acres to more than 130,000 acres. In 1926, one of the peak years of the cotton boom, Houston County farmers produced 48,461 bales, placing the county among the leaders in the state. In addition to cotton, farmers also produced significant quantities of corn, butter, milk, eggs, and peaches.
Businesses in the county in the early 1980s numbered 368. In 1980, 14 percent of workers were self-employed, 20 percent were employed in professional or related services, 19 percent in manufacturing, 18 percent in wholesale and retail trade, and 11 percent in agriculture, forestry, fishing, and mining; 11 percent were employed in other counties, and 2,641 workers were retired. Nonfarm earnings in 1981 totaled $183,021,000. Logging remained an important industry, and the county continued to produce lumber, chiefly pine and ash, in commercial quantities, as well as pulpwood. Though Houston County was once heavily deforested, the Civilian Conservation Corps replanted the area in the 1930s, and much of the eastern part of the county is now in Davy Crockett National Forest, which was established in 1935. Lignite coal, fuller's earth, and brick clay were also commercially extracted. Oil and natural gas continued to be produced in sizable amounts; in 1990, 809,916 barrels of petroleum were taken from land in the county.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Armistead Albert Aldrich, The History of Houston County, Texas (San Antonio: Naylor, 1943). Frontier Times, May 1929. Houston County Historical Commission, History of Houston County, Texas, 1687-1979 (Tulsa, Oklahoma: Heritage, 1979). Thomas Nelms Mainer, Houston County in the Civil War (Crockett, Texas: Houston County Historical Commission, 1981). Gifford E. White, The First Settlers of Houston County, Texas (Austin, 1983).