Center is seventeen miles from the Louisiana border and 118 miles north of Beaumont at the center of Shelby County. In 1856 or 1857 J. C. and Margaret A. Wilson and Jesse Amason donated the land for the town. The community was involved in the Regulator-Moderator War. In an election called in January 1866 Center was voted the new county seat, but a number of people disputed the results, and no action was taken for some months. Finally, in August of that year some Center residents stole the county records and moved them to Center, thereby permanently establishing Center as the county seat. A post office opened there in 1866. Sam Weaver surveyed the community's site in 1869. In 1882 the town's frame courthouse burned, and it was replaced by J. J. E. Gibson's "Irish Castle," which still stood in the 1980s and was a popular tourist attraction. The town was incorporated in 1893. The Gulf, Beaumont and Great Northern Railway arrived at Center by 1904. Local telephone service was started in 1905 and became part of the Bell telephone system in 1915. Electrical power was available at Center by 1909. The town's growth has generally been slow and steady: its population grew from 1,684 in 1910 to 3,010 in 1940 and to 5,827 in 1980. The 1980 population tabulations showed 3,903 Whites, 1,906 Blacks, 5 Filipinos, and 13 Asian Indians. In the 1980s Center manufacturers processed timber and poultry products. Some tourist trade came from fishermen on Toledo Bend Reservoir. In 1985 local businesses included a newspaper, two banks, two movie theaters, two hospitals, and two nursing homes. Around that time the town also had four low-income housing projects. The Center Independent School District had an elementary, a junior high, and a high school, and there was also a private church school. Center's reported population was 4,950 in 1990 and 5,678 in 2000.