After Rusk County named Henderson its county seat in 1843, the townspeople planned the downtown area around the original courthouse square. Today, a historic walking tour offers a unique sightseeing experience that includes dozens of original historic buildings, some built as early as the 1880s. The district also features two blocks of the town’s original red brick streets.
Most buildings feature Classical Revival and Greek Revival architecture, while buildings along Jackson Street and the Rusk County Courthouse feature Art Deco styles.
The district has endured many changes over its more than 150 years, but the buildings and businesses endure because citizens still invest in its preservation and beauty. They also work diligently to attract and retain businesses. Main Street Manager Judy Lewis says the district’s buildings are about 95 percent occupied, with two buildings under renovation.
Visitors can enjoy dining or shopping at one of the clothing boutiques or gift shops. Several commercial businesses also occupy the district, and not all buildings are open to visitors, but reviews are positive. Lewis says visitors remark on the beauty and charm of Henderson’s historic downtown, as well as shop owners’ friendliness.
A Texas Main Street City
Henderson became a Texas Main Street Project City in 1988, in a joint venture between the city and the state to improve the downtown district and attract new businesses. Since that time, projects have continuously improved the district.
One of the first projects was Heritage Square, built in 1990 as a focal point and event center for the downtown area. In 1995, Henderson’s Main Street joined the National Register of Historic Districts. A more recent addition (2016) is The Alley, a pocket park with picnic tables, landscaping, and public restrooms.
Beauty is not Main Street’s only attraction, however. Many of the buildings are named individually in the National Register, while some feature Texas state historical markers. A pamphlet, available at Henderson Area Chamber of Commerce at 201 North Main Street, details the downtown’s history and architecture, which visitors can tour while dining, shopping, or enjoying main street events.
A few prominent historic buildings include the Rusk County Courthouse, the First National Bank Building, the Mason-Harris Building, the Edward Barthold House, the Rusk County Library, and the Opera House.
The Rusk County Courthouse stands as a four-story building at 115 North Main Street, with a basement and three upper floors. Constructed in the 1930s, the Art Deco building is the county’s fourth courthouse. A statue of Thomas Jefferson Rusk, a pioneer Texas statesman and the county’s namesake, stands in front.
The First National Bank Building, at 101 South Marshall, occupies the original site of Henderson’s first commercial business opened in 1838, a dry goods store. The bank’s current structure dates from 1902 and features Classic Revival architecture. A 1932 remodel during the town’s oil boom added two more floors to accommodate the increase in business.
The Edward Barthold House on South Marshall, built in 1877, displays the Greek Revival architecture. The house is one of Henderson’s oldest brick residences, and now houses an accounting firm.
The Wathen-March Building, which stands at 100 North Marshall, is also known as the May-Harris Building, after the department store that occupied it. Recently, the city has renovated the building as its new events center.
The Rusk County Library now occupies the building at 104-106 East Main Street, after receiving it as a gift in 1988. The first floor, built in 1909, housed a mercantile business, which added a second floor in 1916.
J.T. Turner built the Opera House at 122 East Main Street in 1885 to hold performances. After the building changed hands in 1918, a mercantile business was there. The theatre is now restored and holds performances by the Henderson Civic Theatre.
For information about attractions, events, and shopping in Henderson, call the City of Henderson Department of Tourism, located at 1500 Lake Forest Parkway, at (866) 650-5529, or visit www.visithenderson.com.