Emory, the county seat and largest town of Rains County, is at the junction of U.S. Highway 69 and State Highway 19, at the center of the county. It was named for Emory Rains, who settled east of the townsite around 1848. The community was originally known as Springville, reportedly for the many springs in the area. A town plat was evidently prepared by the late 1840s, and by 1857 a store, a tannery, a gin, and a number of houses occupied the site. When Rains County was organized in 1870 Springville became the county seat, and the name was changed to Emory in honor of Rains, who had played an important role in the authorization of the county. A post office founded the same year has continued to operate to the present. A log house initially served as a temporary courthouse. In 1872 a two-room frame courthouse was built; it burned in 1879, along with all of the county records, and the county offices were again housed in the log house until 1884, when a brick courthouse was constructed. About 1880 the Denison and Southeastern Railway was built across the county, making Emory a shipping point for the surrounding lumber-producing area. In 1885 the town had two churches, two sawmills, two cotton gins, two saloons, two hotels, a weekly newspaper named the Rains County Record, and a population of 600. The town continued to prosper during the early years of the twentieth century. By 1914 it had three banks and 700 inhabitants, and in 1920 its independent school district was established.
The 1920s witnessed a period of unprecedented prosperity in Emory, and by 1929 the community, now incorporated, had a reported population of 1,000. The Great Depression and the agricultural crisis of the early 1930s, however, began a decline that continued until the 1960s. By 1931 the population had fallen to 750, and by 1936 it had dwindled further to 447, as many inhabitants sought their fortunes in the larger cities. The early postwar period saw modest population growth, but it was not until the late 1950s, when nearby Lake Tawakoni was built and Rains County began attracting large numbers of retirees, that Emory began to see sizable increases in the number of inhabitants. After the mid-1960s the town grew steadily, from 578 in 1965 to 813 in 1985 and 963 in 1990. Over the same period the number of businesses increased from twenty to thirty-seven. Tourism and agriculture form the mainstays of the town's economy. In 2000 the population was 1,021 with 160 businesses.