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Historic Mineola: “Gateway to the Pines” Celebrates 150th Anniversary

March 24, 2023 Texas, Texas History

Historic Mineola has a population of just shy of 5,000 people but the East Texas town is big on heart and tradition where the annual events range from the Kiwanis chili cookoff fundraiser to the Daddy Daughter Dance to the Firemen's Rodeo to the Iron Horse Fall Fest that celebrates the area’s legacy as a railroad and transportation hub.

“Mineola, Texas was established in the 1840's and was chartered in 1873 near an artesian well used by traders. The Northern and Texas Pacific Railroads in 1873 and the MKT in 1881 made Mineola a vital link in the area's commerce,” explains the town’s website. “Today Mineola is a destination of choice for individuals in search of quality lifestyle, active and passive recreation, services, and personal growth. Mineola is receptive to progressive innovation yet mindful of preserving its historic and natural resources for future generations.”

Situated less than 90 minutes from Dallas, Mineola’s location in the rolling hills and majestic forests of the Piney Woods has help put in on lists such as “Best Small Towns to Retire in Texas” and “Beautiful Historic Downtown Districts in Texas” which is a cause for celebration in any year but 2023 is quite special in Mineola as the town celebrates 150 years.

Mineola’s Sesquicentennial: 1873 Origin Story

Mineola kicked off its 150th year by unveiling a new town mural and with events to highlight its sesquicentennial all year long, things really got going in March with the following events:

Mineola native senator Bryan Hughes then shared his love for his hometown and its popular attractions, such as the Mineola Nature Preserve – 2,911 acres on the Sabine River that is home to “East Texas species of critters that can fly, walk, crawl, and slither, and home to more than 193 species of birds, numerous wildlife, buffalo, longhorn cattle, and a pristine wetlands environment.”

 

Residents and visitors can walk, hike, bike, bird, fish, picnic, canoe, camp, and use over 20 miles of equestrian trails. The nature preserve is also home to events such as award-winning country star Kasey Musgraves, and Mineola native, holding a charity concert in 2015.

Mineola’s origin story reads like a page torn from a Yellowstone spinoff series script.

The area was first settled in the 1840s near an artesian well used by traders but came to be in a race of two railroads -- the Texas and Pacific Railway (T&P) and the International-Great Northern Railroad (I&GN) raced to see which company could complete a line to Mineola first.

“It was a close race, but the IGN reached Mineola 15 minutes earlier. Both railroads eventually became part of Union Pacific. According to some, the town was named by an International-Great Northern Railroad official who laid out the town site combining a friend’s name–Minnie Patten–and that of his daughter–Ola,” says the Town of Mineola.

With the railroads establishing Mineola as an area transportation hub, a town quickly followed by the Texas State Historical Association establishing this timeline:

  • In 1873 the town was named, and a government was established.

  • In 1875, a post office was opened.

  • In 1876, the Mineola Monitor first started publishing and the weekly was in existence until 2016 when it merged with the Wood County Democrat to form the Wood County Monitor.

  • In 1877, the town was incorporated.

  • In the 1880s a fire destroyed 18 buildings downtown.

  • In 1886 a chair factory opened in Mineola that became a crate and basket factory in 1900 and operated until 1952.

  • By 1890, Mineola had 7 churches, several schools, hotels, banks, and a population of 2,000.

  • In 1895, Mineola became the site of the Wood County Fair.

The area’s abundant timber, the discovery of oil, and farming fueled the area’s economy during the first 100 years, and in the last 50 years, tourism has played an increasingly important role.

Mineola Still at the Crossroads and a Popular Destination

150 years and counting and Mineola is still at the crossroads as the town sits at the intersection of two major U.S. highways – US 69 which runs North/South from Minnesota to Port Arthur on the Gulf of Mexico and US 80 which now terminates in Dallas but was an East/West artery that connected the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean, running from Tybee Island in Georgia to San Diego.

And thanks to renovations, Mineola’s Historic Depot is once again a working train station with the Amtrak Texas Eagle (which connected Chicago to San Antonio) stopping eastbound each morning and westbound each evening.

“The restoration of the Mineola Depot is fitting for a city that owes its existence to the railroad,” says the Town of Mineola about the 2005 project which restored the depot to its 1906 appearance.

The Historic Depot Museum, which features railroad memorabilia and interactive train models that allows visitors to control trains set in a 1930s recreation of downtown Mineola, is a must-see on a trip to the town among other highlights in 2023 which include:

  • The Historic Art Deco “Select Theater” which opened in the 1920s.  The theater, one of the oldest continuing operating theaters in Texas, is now owned by the Lake Country Playhouse shows movies and hosts plays.

  • Mineola Farmers Market, which is held next to the train depot, every Saturday from May through November from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. with special markets in the winter and Christmas season.

  • The Iron Horse Festival each September which features a 5K race, corn hole tournament, pie baking contest, “weenie dog” races, a watermelon eating contest, and more.

  • Mineola Mini Train: the 15-inch gauge track and replica of a Union Pacific train runs the 2nd and 4th Saturday, April through September from Iron Horse Square.

  • Mineola’s Sesquicentennial Spring Fling: May 16 to May 20 event will feature a fun run/5K/10K and disc golf tournament at the Mineola Nature Preserve along with a parade downtown, contests, car show, music, food, and more.

  • Mineola Historical Museum, offers 35 exhibits about the town’s history and is housed in a building built in 1937 as a post office.

  • Mineola Downtown Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places and the 23-acre area is home to a collection of buildings that were constructed between 1885 and 1960.

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