The 1863 Map of Shelby County: Setting the Stage for our Historic Courthouse

June 15, 2016 - A rather unique map of Shelby County was published in 1863. It is the only local map I have found which locates the exact middle of the county, marks it, and then labels it as “center,” even before the founding of the town. Of course, the cartographer was defining the center of the county (and not the town name) but, even with no proof, I believe that Judge Parker (our founding father) had something to do with cartographer J. Browne’s unique work. For sure, it is a documented fact that the plan for the eventual move of the county seat was some twenty years in the making and not simply a result of an impromptu act of “thieves in the night.”

Although you may view the full map online by selecting Map #4013 at The Texas General Land Office (, some limited information accompanies the map’s image: Piney Woods Region; Shelby County; Created July 1863, Compiler—J. Browne; Size 18.6 x 22.3 inches scaled at 4000 varas per inch; General Features—Center of county marked, surveys, creeks, bayous; and Named Features—Towns: Shelbyville, Logansport; and Rivers: Attoyac. Again, note that a general feature was “Center of county marked” well before the town of Center was founded, and that the only Shelby County town on the map was Shelbyville. This is clear evidence to support the historical statement that “the middle of our county was marked, and soon it was decided the town to be located there should be called “Center.” (The truth of that statement, of course, still leaves the story rather incomplete.)

My excitement at finding such a map triggered new thoughts about our historic courthouse, with hardly a day passing when I do not observe its dominating presence. Could it be that we are taking for granted the historical importance, even the financial importance, of our jewel in the middle of town, the grand courthouse, surrounded by our equally historic downtown square? We call it “The Shelby County Historic Courthouse;” our citizens shortly after it was built referred to its grounds as a “pleasure park,” and our early neighbors to the northwest in Buck Snort (Buena Vista) enviously called it “a beautiful and extensive plaza.” Indeed, Shelbyville citizens were ready to fight to retain the rights to it, and those of Buck Snort felt that even their wonderful race track rated second only to Center’s courthouse. 

As far as Shelby County/Center pride is concerned, nothing rivals our historic courthouse. We have bragging rights for a rich history of intrigue as a part of “no man’s land,” for a geographical position just north of “the Gateway to Texas that led to Shelby being one of the first counties, for the location and often-told stories of the Regulator/War, and for the unique history of a successful, one-night effort to relocate the county seat to Shelby County. But beyond that, we have an historic courthouse that is one of a few Texas’ 254 courthouses to be featured in “Texas Escapes” magazine (April, 2002). It is, without question, the most-often photographed landmark in the area. Not just Shelby County historians but those throughout Texas recognize it as a treasure. It is indelibly linked to our county and town, with even international visitors to Texas sometimes routing their trip to our town because our historic courthouse was on their “must see” list.

At this time, when our city’s history is a popular topic of talk, writing, and planning because of a major anniversary celebration of Center’s founding, let us reflect our pride in this jewel that has held together our community for 150 years and stands today for all to see—the Shelby County Historic Courthouse.