Waxahachie, the county seat of Ellis County, is on Interstate Highway 35E and U.S. Highway 287, thirty miles south of Dallas in the central part of the county. The name comes from an Indian word meaning "cow" or "buffalo" and is also the name of a local creek. Waxahachie was established as the seat of the new county in August 1850 on land donated by Emory W. Rogers, a pioneer settler. Rogers, J. D. Templeton, W. H. Getzendaner, B. F. Hawkins, and J. H. Spalding were among the first settlers in the community, which began with just over 100 residents and grew rapidly from the start. In 1850 the first county courthouse was built, and a general store and the post office opened. Other businesses and residences soon followed. Local residents had organized a Methodist church in the spring of 1849 at Rogers's home. The first church building was constructed in 1851 on land owned by Rogers. Before the Civil War four churches-Methodist, Baptist, Cumberland Presbyterian, and "Old School" Presbyterian-existed in Waxahachie. The community's first school of any consequence, the Waxahachie Academy, was established in 1860 and operated for thirty-seven years. A system of free public schools soon developed. The community's first bank, owned by J. W. Ferris and W. H. Getzendaner, began operation on July 1, 1868. The first newspaper, the Waxahachie Argus, began publication in 1870. The town has continued to support at least one newspaper since that time. Waxahachie was incorporated on April 28, 1871, and adopted a mayor-alderman form of government. Four years later the state legislature granted a corporate charter to the investors in the Waxahachie Tap Railroad to construct and operate a rail line to Garrett, twelve miles east. Ground was broken for the line on June 14, 1875; construction was completed, and the line was in operation in September 1879. Within one year of its completion the road transported over 5,000 bales of cotton from Waxahachie and carried over 140 carloads of lumber into the community. The arrival of additional rail lines during succeeding decades combined with the county's growing agricultural production to accelerate prosperity and rapid growth. The Civil War and Reconstruction seemed to have little effect on the development of Waxahachie.
By 1880 the population stood at 1,354. The following year the Waxahachie Tap was absorbed by the Houston and Texas Central Railway, which extended the line, and thus the town's connections, to Fort Worth. Six years later the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad built through Waxahachie. In 1876 the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, had founded a high school called Marvin College in Waxahachie; in 1884 the church sold the institution to the town for use as one of six free public schools. That year Waxahachie had ninety businesses. By 1899 it had over 100 businesses, including an electric light factory. Its population rose from 3,500 in 1890 to 4,000 in 1892, and by 1892 four banks and three weekly newspapers operated in the community. The mule-drawn Waxahachie Street Railroad provided public transportation. The population reached 4,215 in 1900. In 1900 and 1901 a cotton textile mill, capitalized at $100,000, began operation. The finished plant had 204 looms and 9,000 spindles and used 4,000 bales of cotton a year to produce single-filling duck and toweling cloth. The plant doubled its capacity in 1907, but, like many of the plants constructed during the South's "cotton mill campaign" of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it eventually became unprofitable and closed down.
Trinity University moved to Waxahachie from Tehuacana in 1902 and operated there until 1942. The Nicholas P. Sims Public Library opened on April 5, 1905, on land donated by W. H. Getzendaner. The library began from Judge O. E. Dunlap's collection. The Trinity and Brazos Valley Railway completed construction through Waxahachie in 1907. Five years later the completion of an electric interurban line from Dallas through Waxahachie to Waco further increased the town's transportation facilities. By 1920 Waxahachie had a population of 7,958 and 200 businesses, including three banks, three cottonseed oil mills, five cotton gins, and two daily and two weekly newspapers. Local manufacturing plants in 1926 included cotton textile mills, a garment factory, a broom factory, and an ice and ice cream factory. Besides Trinity University, a high school and four elementary schools, served 250 students. In 1933, when the town was incorporated, it had a population of 8,042 persons and 280 businesses.
Though population growth slackened during the years of the Great Depression and World War II, the reversal was not lasting. The town's number of businesses decreased from 280 in 1933 to 212 in 1945, but its population actually increased to 8,655. This increase was no doubt connected to the local agricultural, commercial, and industrial economic foundation. Although Trinity University left the town in 1942, its grounds were occupied the following year by the Southwestern Bible Institute, which moved to Waxahachie from Enid, Oklahoma. This institution later changed its name to Southwestern Assemblies of God College and became coeducational. A branch of Navarro College is also located in Waxahachie. Between 1952 and 1964 Waxahachie had a population increase from 11,196 to 13,712. Local businesses continued to number around 300. Although the population declined slightly from its high of 15,720 in 1968 to 13,452 in 1977, the town became increasingly industrialized. A cottonseed oil mill, feed and poultry processing plants, and clothing, furniture, and fiberglass manufacturers all operated in the community. In the late 1980s Waxahachie had 336 businesses, including the Waxahachie Daily Light and radio station KBEC.
Waxahachie has been nicknamed the Gingerbread City because of the architecture of several beautiful homes and buildings remaining from before 1900. A yearly tour known as the Gingerbread Trail includes Victorian-style houses with gingerbread carpentry, the most popular architectural style, as well as combinations with Queen Ann's, Classic Renaissance, or Roman Doric revival. The red sandstone and granite Victorian courthouse, designed by James Riely Gordon and completed in 1897, graces the town's square. The Nicholas P. Sims Library (1905) and the octagonally shaped Chautauqua Auditorium (1902) are examples of the 300 Waxahachie structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the 1980s four movies were filmed in Waxahachie-Places in the Heart, 1918, and Tender Mercies (all 1985) and The Trip to Bountiful (1986). The town is home to the Ellis County Historical Museum and Gallery and also hosts the annual Scarborough Renaissance Faire and an annual Christmas parade and tour of homes. In 1990 Waxahachie had a population of 18,168.