Streetscape of historic downtown Henderson
Location of Henderson, Texas
Henderson is a city in Rusk County, Texas, United States. The population was 13,712 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Rusk County.Henderson is named for James Pinckney Henderson, the first governor of Texas.
The city has functioned as a major crossroads in Northeast Texas over the last two centuries, with several major highways passing through the business district of the town, including U.S. Route 259, Texas State Highway 64, U.S. Route 79, Texas State Highway 43, Texas State Highway 42 andTexas State Highway 64.
Annual events in the city of Henderson include the Heritage Syrup Festivalin November, celebrating the east Texas tradition of syrup making, and theEast Texas Sacred Harp Convention in August.
The city has a vibrant Historical District, with many buildings dating back to before the American Civil War. The city has 19 historical markers, including homes dating from the 1880s, churches, and colleges. Downtown Henderson is one of the most dramatic and charming downtowns in the East Texas area. Colorful, canvas awnings highlight the ornate buildings which house Henderson's downtown merchants and offer shade to downtown shoppers visiting the various antiques stores, clothing stores, and dining facilities lining the Main Streets.
The city of Henderson is older than the State of Texas itself. Founded on land donated by W.B. Ochiltree and James Smith, the city became the county seat of Rusk County when an act of legislature created Rusk County on January 16, 1843. First Baptist and First Methodist churches were established in 1845 and 1842 respectively. The first courthouse, made of wood, was completed in 1849. After the Civil War, the International and Great Northern Railroad crossed through Rusk County but missed Henderson. In 1874, the Henderson and Overton Branch Railroad Company built a stretch of railroad connecting Henderson to the tracks running through Overton. This stretch of railroad was later sold to Missouri Pacific Railroad (now Union Pacific) and remains in use to this day.
In 1878, a small fire destroyed the courthouse, and a brick courthouse was built in its place. This encouraged the construction of several other brick buildings, including the Howard Dickinson House, now a historical site.
In the late 1920s, C. M. "Dad" Joiner brought in the Daisy Bradford #3 Discovery Well six miles northwest of Henderson. The discovery of oil in October 1930 created a booming economy in the area, with the population of Henderson increasing from 2,000 to over 10,000 in a few months. The oil fields in and surrounding Henderson, part of the hugely producing five-county East Texas Oil Field, continue to provide a large part of the wealth of the town, county and region.
On August 5, 1860, a fire broke out and burned most of the booming town of Henderson. Forty-three buildings, including two hotels, were destroyed in the fire, for a loss of 220,000.
According to the Depot Museum, a man named John Crow recalled the fire as follows:
"I was about eight years old when Henderson burned. I went to town with my father the day after the fire. It burned every house as well as I recollect, except the Flanagan Brick Building. I remember I was barefooted and careful not to burn my feet. My father said at the time they thought a fellow named Green Herndon, a union man, had hired a negro woman to burn Henderson. Herndon was a northerner and was a pronounced opponent of secession. On the negro woman's testimony, a mob gathered, threw a loop around his neck, tied it to a saddle horse which went around the public square dragging Herndon to death. Then they hung the boy to a tree and shot it full of holes…War was in preparation and people were in fits of anger. When the war broke out, the men got all the files they could find and went to the blacksmith shops and made knives and swords. There was much laughter and I remember they said, "We'll whip those damn Yankees with axes and butcher knives. Everyone was anxious to go."