African-American History

G.W. Jackson

G.W. Jackson was born in 1856 in Alabama. He was educated at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee and was an author of a number of books on education. He was a pioneer African-American educator, known statewide; he established the Corsicana school system for black students and served as the high school principal for 45 years. A Dallas black monthly newspaper giving a brief history of their city’s history of education, wrote: “…before Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School was built, Dallas’ black secondary students rode the Interurban daily to Corsicana’s Fred Douglas High School…”.

The G.W. Jackson High School, built in the 1920s, replaced the Fred Douglas High School, which was destroyed by a fire. The community named the school for the man who had devoted his life to the education of African-American children. It is said to be the first brick constructed black school house built in the State of Texas.

G.W. Jackson was well respected by all of Corsicana and was active in church and civic leadership. He was grandmaster of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows for six years. His obituary, written July 22, 1940 reads that he had one son, a Harvard graduate, who was employed by the New York City Post Office.

When the G.W. Jackson High School burned in 1971, as a result of arson, the house located on MLK Boulevard became the sole structure associated with the man who the African-American community in Corsicana find most meaningful.

Corsicana, county seat and largest city of Navarro County, is in the central portion of the county 58 miles southeast of Dallas at the junction of Interstate 45, U.S. highways 75 and 287, and state highways 22 and 31. It was established in 1848 to serve as the county seat of newly-established Navarro County. José Antonio Navarro, a hero of the Texas Revolution after whom the county was named, was given the honor of naming the new town; he suggested Corsicana after the island of Corsica, the birthplace of his parents.

David R. Mitchell, an early area settler, donated 100 acres for a town site, and with the assistance of Thomas I. Smith, platted the land and began selling lots. The new town was centered near a log tavern built in 1847 and owned and operated by the Rev. Hampton McKinney. The first courthouse, a two-room log structure, was constructed in 1849, and served as a church, meeting hall, and civic center until a new frame building was constructed in 1853. The first school, taught by Mack Elliot and a man named Lafoon, opened in the old courthouse in 1847, and a short time later the Corsicana Female Literary Institute began operating.

Businesses in Town
Within a few years of the town's founding, a large number of mercantile establishments opened on and around the courthouse square, and new brick courthouse - a symbol of the town's growing prosperity - was erected in 1858. The first newspaper, the Prairie Blade, was founded in 1855; it was replaced by the Express in 1857, which in turn was replaced by the Observer on the eve of the Civil War.
Read more about the history of Corsicana (PDF).

history of Corsicana

The Navarro County Historical Society was organized in 1956 by Alva Taylor of Corsicana and Joe Daniel of Kerens. Two years later, the Pioneer Village was conceived to serve as a depository for the County's surviving historic structures, heirlooms, artifacts and other family treasures.

The Village is located at the famed "Watering Hole" where early day settlers circled their wagons for defense against the Indians. Today the site is part of the city park located on land named for Beauford Jester of Corsicana, former governor of the State of Texas. Navarro County Historical Society is a non-profit organization.

Bruce McManus

912 W Park Avenue
Pioneer Village
Corsicana, TX 75110

Phone: 903-654-4846


oakwood cemetary

Oakwood Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Navarro County, dating back to the early 1800's. The diversity of grave sites is truly something to behold. It is said that more than 500 veterans of the Civil War rest here. The cemetery is not only one of architectural substance, but also a place of historical significance. Many people make special trips to view the vast contrast that occurs in the presence of natural beauty and ancestral architecture.

700 N 15th Street
Corsicana, TX 75110

The birthplace of Texas Oil industry

Corsicana Oil History
Soon after, the first commercial oilfield in Texas developed from this discovery well east across residential Corsicana. Eighty-five foot high wooden oil derricks sprouted from every yard and vegetable patch. By 1900, the Corsicana town oilfield was yielding 800,000 barrels of oil annually with over 600 operating wells completed within the city. 

The Corsicana town oilfield was the first commercial oilfield development anywhere in Texas, pre-dating the discovery of the famous Lucas gusher at Spindletop in 1901. In fact, the Lucas gusher was drilled by a Corsicana drilling crew, the Hamill brothers, with Corsicana drilling equipment freighted to the gulf coast site.

Oil Industry Firsts
Other oil industry firsts for Corsicana included the first commercial oil refinery built in the mid-continent west of the Mississippi River. The refinery (1898) was built by a predecessor company of Magnolia Petroleum Company and Mobil Oil, under the direction of Texas oil industry pioneer Joseph S. Cullinan. Exxon Mobil, successor of Magnolia Petroleum and Mobil Oil, maintains one of the four original stills from the historic refinery on the company’s South 15th Street facility in Corsicana.

Numerous founders of the oil industry titans soon to come - including Magnolia Petroleum (Mobil Oil), Humble Oil (Exxon), Texaco, and Gulf Oil - found their start in the Texas oil industry in Corsicana in the 1890s.

Be sure to visit Petroleum Park, the birth place of the Texas Oil industry.
418 S 12th St.
Corsicana, Texas 75110

oil history

Navarro county is home to more than 152 Historical Markers and Corsicana's Downtown is a Nationally Registered Historical District with more than 120 contributing historic buildings. In addition, our local history has been preserved with Bronze Statues throughout the city, depicting the likeness of local historical and influential figures.

For a full list of Texas Historical Markers in Navarro County.  

historical markers

tree lined brick streets

A majority of the city's surviving buildings and homes were built following the big oil boom of the 1920's and 1920's. This tour guide of the Carriage District focuses on the surviving structures built between 1846 and 1900 within the Carriage District. However there are structures of the period elsewhere in Corsicana, and there are homes within the Carriage District built after 1900. As you travel, note there are several of the homes with either a Texas Historic Landmark Plaque or a Corsicana Historic Landmark Plaque, or in some cases both. The carriage district tour guide is made possible by the Corsicana Preservation Foundation.

Carriage District Homes

home tour here

download the

General Joseph Orville ""Jo"" Shelby (1830-1897) led a cavalry force of Missourians known as the Iron Brigade and later, the Iron Division. From 1861-1864, his troops rode with generals Thomas C. Hindman, John S. Marmaduke, and Sterling Price in Missouri and Arkansas. During this time, Shelby earned praise for his command.

Planned Attack
Shelby and his men wintered in Texas in 1864-1865. In the spring, when word of Confederate surrenders in the east reached him, he was ordered to lead his men to Shreveport, Louisiana, to surrender. Instead, they planned an attack on the city to prevent collapse of the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy.

Waylaid by severe weather, they decided to go to Mexico. Shelby's soldiers stopped along the banks of Chambers Creek, south of Chatfield. Near here, they made their last bivouac as a Confederate unit. The next morning, June 2, 1865, the troops lined up for assembly and held what has been called "the last review of the Confederacy." By that time, they were the last organized unit in any Confederate state.

Flee to Mexico
Following the review of his troops, Shelby delivered his farewell then asked his men to accompany him to Mexico. Hundreds reportedly answered his call. The next week, while his men gathered supplies from nearby Corsicana, Shelby visited the Hodge Oaks Plantation of Capt. Robert Hodge at Chatfield. Once prepared, the troops left for Mexico, where their offer of military service to Emperor Maximilian was diplomatically rejected. The men were offered land, though, and many, including Shelby, stayed.

In 1867, Shelby returned to Missouri, where he farmed and served as U.S. Marshal. His dedication is celebrated there, as well as in Texas.

4511 FM 1603
Chatfield, TX 75105

last review of the confederacy site