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History & Culture of Polk County

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Polk County is located in the Pine Forest of East Texas and is bounded on the southwest by the Trinity River and on the northeast by the Neches River. Its southern boundary is approximately 70 miles from north-northeast Houston.

The county has a long history of human settlement and was initially the home of several Indian tribes that inhabited Texas. Many present-day streams still bear the names of famous Indian Chiefs. Records indicate that in the early 1800s the Alabama and Coushatta Indians established camps along both the Trinity and Neches rivers.

Southeast Texas, between Nacogdoches and Galveston, which includes present-day Polk County, was a much-neglected area during the Spanish era. Although this section was included in a vast royal land grant made in 1526 in a commission to colonize the territory between the Rio Grande and Florida, its only occupants for almost 300 years continued to be numerous Indian tribes. The Big Thicket seemingly discouraged exploration and defied settlement by other people.

In 1745-46 an expedition was led into East Texas, which included a trek down Long King Creek west of Livingston and westward out of the county. Later this expedition re-crossed the Trinity River moving eastward and through the present Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation and into Tyler County. Historically this appears to have been the first European expedition to cross the county and it was done following Indian Trails that existed at the time.

In 1757, a road was marked out by Spanish troops crossing a portion of Polk County along the Trinity River. Later this road was extended to provide a route to Nacogdoches by forking on the Trinity and running northeastward through Dallardsville before leaving the county.

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Spanish claim to the area was established when a Spanish Mission was built on the Trinity River in 1856. In 1790, Fort Libertad was established and the area was annexed to the State of Coahuila. Later, the Polk County area was included in Haden Edwards Fredonia Republic, and later sold and acquired various times. In March of 1846, Polk County was formed as a political subdivision of the state of Texas. The county was named in honor of the 11th President of the United States, James K. Polk, who was president at the time. Through the interest and concern of Sam Houston, the Alabama and Coushatta Indians were given a permanent home on the eastern portion of the county. In 1870, Polk County was re-divided and took its present-day boundaries with the remainder of the area being allocated to San Jacinto County.

The Civil War left its mark in Polk County. Over 900 local men joined other Texans to fight for the Confederacy between 1861 and 1865.

Prior to 1860, most of the settlers in East Texas were from the South, primarily Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi. Other settlers came from Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Missouri. Initially these settlers attempted to raise crops as they had done on their previous farms, in their native states. However, the soil and conditions in the area soon discouraged this and the local lifestyle remained on a very basic level.

historic site

As in other areas, the coming of railroads to Polk County drastically changed the local economy and provided a system of transportation, which led to a vast migration of families who could not make a substantial living farming. The remaining residents turned to the forest for a livelihood and began to market the county’s primary resource—timber. The market for timber production was provided by the settlers who were moving to central Texas, including those who had just left East Texas. The timber industry has remained Polk County’s primary resource. In fact, our area continues to be the largest timber producing region in Texas.

A very important development to Polk County was the construction of Lake Livingston on the Trinity River. Recreational activities on the lake are unlimited. The impact of the lake tourism business, summer tourists and those who come to enjoy the natural beauty of the area, along with assorted residential opportunities, have become of major importance to the area.

Polk County has seen an amazing amount of growth and activity. Along with tourism and recreation, the timber industry continues to play a large part in the local economy. Also, the oil and gas industry has made an impact with exploration and the development of oil and gas production, and pipelines.

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