Angelina County (G-22) is on U.S. Highways 59 and 69 northeast of Houston in the East Texas Timberlands region of northeast Texas. Lufkin, the county seat and largest town, is ninety-six miles northwest of Beaumont and 120 miles northeast of Houston, at 31°20' north latitude and 94°43' west longitude. The county is bounded on the north by the Angelina River and on the south by the Neches River. It comprises 807 square miles of gently rolling terrain and is densely forested with pine and a great variety of hardwoods. Altitudes range from 200 to 380 feet above sea level. The Angelina River drains the northern and eastern parts of the county, and the Neches drains the southern and western parts. The largest body of water in the county is Sam Rayburn Reservoir, on the Angelina River; the lake, which extends into Jasper, Sabine, Nacogdoches, and San Augustine counties, covers 114,500 acres and affords county residents good boating, fishing, and swimming, as well as water storage for municipal, agricultural, and industrial needs and for flood control and electric power. Most of the county is surfaced by sand and mud containing lignite and bentonite. This soil underlies rangeland and cropland and is exploited for mineral production. The northernmost edge of the county (generally, the area north of Lufkin) is covered by thin to moderately thick clayey sands over steep slopes and rolling hills. In the piney woods area, longleaf, shortleaf, loblolly, and slash pines provide excellent timber. Hardwoods in Angelina County include several types of gum, magnolia, elm, hickory, and oak. Between 21 and 30 percent of the land is considered good for farming. Mineral resources include natural gas and oil. Temperatures range from an average high of 94° F in June to an average low of 39° in January. Rainfall averages 42.99 inches per year. The growing season extends for 244 days.
The area that is now Angelina County was originally occupied by agricultural Indians of Caddoan and Atakapan-related stock. The county was named for a Hainai Indian girl who, according to Spanish legend, helped early Spanish missionaries of the area around 1690. Settlers who came to the county in the early nineteenth century found Indians of the Hasinai branch of the Caddo confederacies. The Hasinai, to which the Indian girl's group belonged, had an abundant food supply, a relatively dense population, and a complex social organization.
The settlement by Whites in the future Angelina County began before the Texas Revolution of 1836. The first deed on record, dated May 10, 1801, conveyed 5½ leagues of land to Vincente Micheli from Surdo, chief of the Bedias Indians, in exchange for a white shirt, eight brass bracelets, a handful of vermilion, a fathom of ribbon, a gun, and fifty charges of powder and ball. The first Anglo settlers in the district were the Burris family, who in 1820 settled in the northern part of what is now Lufkin at a place then called Burris Prairie. Within a few years other families came from Alto and Nacogdoches, and from other states, to settle along the rivers. Mexican authorities made land grants in the area in 1834–35.
Settlement was still thin when Texas won its independence. Angelina County was organized on April 22, 1846, when Nacogdoches County was divided. The first permanent settler after the county was formed is thought to have been George W. Collins. The population increased quickly thereafter due to the good farming land and to the rivers, which made steamboat transportation possible. The population reached 1,165, 196 of whom were slaves, in 1850. The first county seat was Marion; successively, Jonesville became county seat in 1854, Homer in 1858, and Lufkin in 1892. Lufkin was favored by the route of the Houston, East and West Texas Railway (now the Southern Pacific), which had been built in 1882 from Houston to Shreveport.
Angelina County was settled predominantly by natives of the southern United States, some of them slaveowners who established plantations in their new Texas home. Large plantations were owned by the Stearns, Oates, Kalty, Stovall, and Ewing families. However, many Angelina County farmers were relatively poor men who owned no slaves. In 1847 slaves numbered 154, out of a total population of 834. In 1859 the number of slaves had grown to 427, valued at $269,550, and the total population was 4,271. Cotton culture, however, occupied only 2,048 acres of county land in 1858, a relatively small area for East Texas. Between 1850 and 1860 improved land in the county increased from about 3,000 to about 16,000 acres.
In 1861 Angelina County was the only county in East Texas, and one of only a handful of other Texas counties, to reject secession. This election result was startling when compared with that of Angelina County's neighbor to the immediate south, Tyler County, which supported secession by a 99 percent vote. Angelina County had also given the Constitutional Union party candidate, John Bell, a strong minority vote in the 1860 election. Two companies of county men were organized to fight in the Civil War, but they saw only limited action; only nineteen Angelina County men lost their lives in the war, and no Union soldiers entered the county before 1866.
Before the war, a principal source of wealth in Angelina County was the raising of livestock, since most of the early settlers were not slaveholding planters able to concentrate on agriculture. After the war, livestock was largely supplanted by the lumber industry, and therefore the numbers of cattle did not increase proportionately with the population. Residents declined by 1870 to 3,985, but in 1880 they numbered 5,239. In 1890 the population was 6,306; in 1900, 13,481; and in 1910, 17,705, 2,435 of whom were black.
Economically Angelina County improved greatly in the 1880s because of the arrival of the railroads. Exploitation of the county's pine and hardwood timber became possible, and lumber began quickly to return a bonanza. The construction in 1882 of the Houston, East and West Texas Railway was followed in a few years by the Kansas and Gulf Short Line, which later became the Cotton Belt. Other railroads of the county included the St. Louis and Southwestern, the Texas Southeastern, the Shreveport, Houston and Gulf, the Groveton, Lufkin and Northern, and the Texas and New Orleans, as well as many small tram lines for lumbering. Lufkin is the hub at which most of these rail lines met.
In 1880 county farmers cultivated only about 25,000 acres; landowners were waiting for the railroads so that they could develop their timber. The county had 10,000 cattle and twice as many hogs at this time. It was estimated that the county had 1.3 billion board feet of longleaf and a billion board feet of loblolly pine. After the railroads arrived, the foundation was laid for a way of life and an economy in Angelina County built upon timber and forest products. By 1900 there were at least seventeen sawmills operating in the county, and the population, which had increased only from 4,271 to 5,239 in the period 1860–80, more than doubled in the period 1880–1900, when it reached 13,481. It doubled again by 1930, when it was 27,803.
The World's Fair of 1893 gave a boost to the popularity of southern pine as a building material, and thus to the new economic base of Angelina County. The Angelina County Lumber Company, founded by Joseph H. Kurth, Sr., and others in 1887 at Keltys, along with the Southern Pine Lumber Company, founded at Diboll in 1893 by T. L. L. Temple, became giant industries as southern pine became the chief commercial wood used in America. In addition to the two large mills, about fifteen other lumber companies were begun around the turn of the century in Angelina County. From a modest beginning in 1855, when Dr. W. W. Manning operated the first Angelina County sawmill and employed twelve men, to today, when the annual payroll of a single sawmill may be in the millions of dollars, Angelina County has built steadily on its timber resources. Property increased in value from $401,000 in 1870 to $732,282 in 1881, to $4,372,655 in 1903, and to $10,078,407 in 1913. The county also profited greatly from the development of a method for turning southern pine wood into paper. The Southland Paper Mill, established in 1939 near Lufkin, was the pioneer in the manufacture of newsprint from southern pine.
Lumber and other industries such as foundry and the manufacture of oilfield equipment made Lufkin the fifth largest industrial area in Texas by the mid-1980s. Such smaller towns in the county as Diboll, Huntington, Fuller Springs, Hudson, Zavalla, and Burke were maintained chiefly by the lumber industry. Still other towns, now defunct or severely depopulated, flourished around early sawmills until the timber was cut out: these included Homer, Baker, Clawson, Emporia, Hamlet, Lay, Popher, Yuno, Baber, Davisville, Renova, and Retrieve. Despite the many ghost towns, lumbering continued to form the economic backbone of Angelina County through the early part of the present century. However, after the lumber industry's 1913 peak in the area, Angelina County's potential as an agricultural center was much discussed. Of 601,600 total acres in the county, 158,646 was in cultivation in 1916, when the county had 1,569 farms, as compared with 1,403 in 1900. In 1916 the agricultural census counted 18,877 cattle, 3,300 horses and mules, 32,266 hogs, 4,500 sheep and goats, and 50,000 chickens and turkeys. As timber production began to fall off due to wasteful harvesting practices, conservation and sustained maintenance of forest resources led to more stable town and population growth as well. By 1950, lumber-related industries were still the major employer for the county, providing work for many.
The Great Depression hit Angelina County quite hard. By 1933 more than 2,500 residents were on relief rolls—about 10 percent of the county population. This was mainly because the timber industry in Texas was particularly vulnerable to the depression. The boom in housing and other businesses that depended on lumber ceased abruptly with the failure of banks and lending institutions and with unemployment. Many Angelina County lumber companies were forced to close or to decrease their activities sharply. County inhabitants turned back to small farming and stock raising to feed themselves; the 1935 census numbered more than 18,000 cattle and 17,000 hogs. The Civilian Conservation Corps for East Texas was headquartered in Lufkin during the depression. It served twenty-six counties and seventeen camps in efforts to bring about financial recovery.
Angelina County had a respectable total of both state highways (103.22 miles) and county roads (871.56 miles) by 1937, towards the end of the depression. It also had more farms (2,802) and more cattle (18,659) than five of the eight counties that bound it. By 1944, Angelina County had forty-four firms employing 400 persons, and the value of manufactured goods in 1945 was $25 million. Principal industries at that time were foundries, a creosoting plant, sawmills, and a $10 million newsprint mill, Southland Paper Mills. In 1954 and 1958 wholesale trade in Angelina County amounted to $37,114,000; the county topped a list of ten East Texas counties. Angelina County was also at or near the top of these ten counties in the 1950s and 1960s for retail trade, retail trade increases, service industries receipts, bank deposits, poll taxes, auto registrations (16,518), and chamber of commerce budgets.
The population of Angelina County was 36,032 in 1950, 39,814 in 1960, and 67,600 in 1986. Between 1970 and 1980 the rural population increased by 34 percent, while urban areas had a slightly lower growth rate. The largest ethnic group in the county is Anglo (62 percent), then Hispanic (20.8 percent), and then African Amercian (15.6 percent) next. In 1984 the county had 36,081 persons aged twenty-five and over; 22 percent had only an elementary education, 29 percent high school, and 8 percent college. In 1979 about 10 percent of Angelina County residents income was below the poverty level. The county is a major producer of timber products. It ranked only twenty-first in the state for agricultural receipts in 1982, 82 percent of which were from livestock. County farmers also raise hay, rye, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons, peaches, and pecans.
Between 1970 and 1980 the number of housing units increased by 42 percent. Current production of minerals includes bentonite, clay, fire clay, and drilling mud. In 1982 tourism generated 939 jobs and $7,529,000 in payrolls. Angelina County has generally been staunchly Democratic, although Republican presidential candidates won a majority of votes in the 1972, 1984, and 1988 elections, and Democrat Bill Clinton managed to win only by a narrow margin in the 1992 election. Republican senatorial candidates also fared well during this time. Nevertheless, as in most Texas counties, Democratic officials continued to maintain control of most county offices.
The county's 117 churches have about 38,000 members. The county supports one daily newspaper, the Lufkin Daily News, and two weeklies, the Diboll Free Press and the Zavalla Herald. Recreational institutions include the Texas Forestry Museum, the Lufkin Historical and Creative Arts Center, and the Ellen Trout Zoo, all at Lufkin. The population of Angelina County in 2014 was 87,750.