Center is a city in Shelby County, Texas, United States. The population was 5,193 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Shelby County. It was named for its location near the center of Shelby County, not for its location in Texas; it's near the Louisiana border.
Downtown Center, Texas
As of the census of 2000, there were 5,678 people, 2,034 households, and 1,334 families residing in the city. The population density was 911.0 people per square mile (351.9/km²). There were 2,290 housing units at an average density of 367.4 per square mile (141.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 51.14% White, 34.22% African American, 0.23% Native American, 0.46%Asian, 10.95% from other races, and 2.99% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 18.05% of the population.
There were 2,034 households out of which 32.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.1% were married couples living together, 20.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.4% were non-families. 30.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.61 and the average family size was 3.23.
In the city the population was spread out with 26.3% under the age of 18, 10.9% from 18 to 24, 25.0% from 25 to 44, 18.8% from 45 to 64, and 19.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 86.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $26,061, and the median income for a family was $31,699. Males had a median income of $23,468 versus $19,441 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,233. About 19.4% of families and 23.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 31.5% of those under age 18 and 14.7% of those age 65 or over.
Center is the home to the only remaining Irish castle style courthouse in the US, built in 1885, by J.J.E. Gibson, and maintained by the Texas Historic Commission. The city gets its name from its location in the geographic center of Shelby County.
Shelby County was one of the original thirteen counties in Texas, being organized by the Republic of Texas Congress in 1837. The county was named for Issac Shelby, an American military hero and Governor of Kentucky. Shelby County eventually became one of the most populous and prosperous counties in the state because of its proximity to Louisiana and location along the Sabine River.
The settlement which eventually became the City of Center was originally called White Cottage. A post office was established at this settlement on April 6, 1848.
Al Johnson, an East Texas State Representative, introduced a bill to have all county seats be as close to the center of the county as possible. R.L. Parker, the County Clerk at the time, arranged to have the county surveyed and the center located. A vote was held in Shelby County to move the seat of county government from Shelbyville, the original county seat, to the center of the county. The result of the vote was in favor of relocating the county seat. The people in Shelbyville organized to protect the county records. However, one night in 1866, a group of men led by Parker entered into the courthouse, confiscated all of the records and relocated them to a log cabin near White Cottage. Shortly after the incident, the community became known as Center, primarily to reflect the requisite location of the county seat.
The Center post office opened in October 1866. In 1869, Confederate veterans Captain Jesse Amason and William P. Wilson each donated fifty acres of land for the townsite of Center. According to one historical account, Amason would not give the land unless the new town would have a four acre town square, and that is the reason that Center has such a large Square. Mr. Wilson owned considerable land in the southern quarter of the town. Much of that area is called the "Wilson Addition".
On the night of May 31, 1882, a fire erupted at the courthouse and the building was a complete loss. The county contracted with J.J. E. Gibson, an Irish immigrant, to construct a new courthouse and jail. When the bond of builders J.J. E. Gibson and Pat McLaughlin for the sum of $26,725 was issued in 1884 for them to erect a new courthouse for Shelby County, the firm of Wilson and Martin were among the securities. The courthouse, modeled after an Irish castle, was completed in November, 1885 and is still standing as the centerpiece of the Center Square.
The city celebrates a county wide Watermelon Festival in July and the East Texas Poultry Festival in October each year. The poultry festival is accompanied by the Poultry Festival Pageant in which high school Juniors of the county participate. The Pageant crowns a Poultry Festival Queen who presides over the three day Poultry Festival. The festival is in honor of John Moosberg who started the broiler house system in Shelby County. A mural of the events is located in the Farmers State Bank with John Mooseberg's picture. The Queen is decided by a board of non-partisan, appointed judges. The annual What A Melon Festival also crowns a queen to reign over the festival in July each year.
Also in Shelby County there is the Miss Shelby County Pageant. The Pageant is open to all Shelby County Young Ladies and a PreTeen, JrTeen, Teen and Miss Queen is crowned. The title holder represents Shelby County throughout her annual reign at many area events.