Walker County is one of the most historic counties in Texas. Best known as the home of General Sam Houston, hero of the Texas Revolution and the leading political figure in early Texas, Walker County is brimming with history aside from General Houston.
Walker County's principal city Huntsville was the leading cultural center of Texas prior to the Civil War. Leaders in law, education and business flocked to Huntsville and seeded other parts of Texas as it deveoped in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Because of its cultural influence, the area came to be known as the "Athens of Texas."
Walker County and Huntsville were a cradle of learning and education in early Texas. The first history of Texas, History of Texas from Its First Settlement in 1685 to Its Annexation to the United States in 1846, was written by Walker County pioneer Henderson Yoakum.
The earliest school in Huntville was the Huntsville Academy, probably also known as the "Brick Academy," was founded in 1845. Austin College, which is now located in Sherman, Texas, was founded in Huntsville in 1849 by Presbyterian minister, Daniel Baker, and Sam Houston was one of the first trustees. Andrew Female College, a pioneering institution for educating women, was founded in 1852 by the Methodist Church.
Sam Houston Normal Institute, now known as Sam Houston State University, was founded in 1879 on the site of the former Austin College.
Huntsville can be also considered the birthplace of the University of Texas. In 1859 Dr. Pleasant Williams Kittrell of Walker County introduced a bill in the State Legislature to create a state university. It passed, but the disruptions of the Civil War and its aftermath prevented it from being implemented. In 1879 Gov. Oran Roberts visited Huntsville for the dedication of Sam Houston Normal Institute. While Gov. Roberts dined with a group of civic leaders at the Steamboat House, then owned by prison superintendent, T. J. Goree, the conversation turned to the need for a state university. Gov. Roberts was convinced and returned to Austin where he began to advocate creation of the University of Texas, which finally occurred in 1883.
George Washington Baines, Jr., great-grandfather of President Lyndon Johnson, was a Baptist minister in Huntsville and later President of Baylor University.
Walker County was also an early leader in law. Sam Houston was Huntsville's most famous lawyer. Three of the four largest law firms in Houston were co-founded by natives of Huntsville. James A. Baker helped form Baker and Botts, and Judge James A. Elkins was a founding member of the Vinson Elkins firm. Tom Ball was one of the founding partners of the Andrews Kurth firm.
The Huntsville Item is the second oldest newspaper in Texas. Marcellus E. Foster, the Huntsville native who founded the Houston Chronicle, started his career at the Item.
Walker County and Huntsville also produced successful businesspeople. The Gibbs brothers, Thomas and Sandford, founded Gibbs Brothers & Co., the oldest business in Texas still operating under the same ownership in the same location. Several people who made their fortunes in the Texas oil business. These include James Smither Abercrombie and descendants of the Evander Theophilus Josey family.