Nacogdoches made international headlines in February 2003, after receiving much of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster debris.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 25.3 square miles (65.5 km²), of which, 25.2 square miles (65.3 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.2 km²) of it (0.24%) is water. The city center is located just to the north of the fork of two creeks, the LaNana and Banita.
Lake Nacogdoches is located ten miles west of the city. A new lake - Naconiche - will soon be available.
As of the census of 2000, there were 29,914 people, 11,220 households, and 5,935 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,185.9 people per square mile (457.8/km²). There were 12,329 housing units at an average density of 488.7/sq mi (188.7/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 65.98% White, 25.06% African American, 0.34% Native American, 1.13% Asian, 0.11% Pacific Islander, 5.84% from other races, and 1.55% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 10.82% of the population.
There were 11,220 households out of which 25.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 35.7% were married couples living together, 13.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 47.1% were non-families. 33.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 9.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 3.04.
In the city the population was spread out with 20.2% under the age of 18, 30.9% from 18 to 24, 22.3% from 25 to 44, 15.4% from 45 to 64, and 11.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 24 years. For every 100 females there were 87.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.2 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $22,700, and the median income for a family was $37,020. Males had a median income of $28,933 versus $22,577 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,546. About 20.9% of families and 32.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 38.4% of those under age 18 and 13.3% of those age 65 or over. However, traditional measures of poverty can be highly misleading when applied to communities with a large proportion of students, such as Nacogdoches.
Nacogdoches is the oldest town in Texas. (Similarly sister city Natchitoches is the oldest town in Louisiana). Evidence of settlement on the same site dates back to 10,000 years ago. It was one of the original European settlements in the region originally populated with Adaeseños from fort Los Adaes.
Nacogdoches is named for the Caddo family of Indians who once lived in the area. There is a legend that tells of an old Caddo chief who lived near the Sabine River and had twin sons. When the sons grew to manhood and were ready to become leaders of their own tribes, the father sent one brother three days eastward toward the rising sun. The other brother was sent three days toward the setting sun.
The twin who settled three days toward the setting sun was Nacogdoches. The other brother, Natchitoches, settled three days to the east in Louisiana. The two brothers remained friendly and the road between the two communities was well traveled. This road became a trade route and the eastern end of El Camino Real.
Nacogdoches remained a Caddo Indian settlement until 1716 when Spain established a mission here, Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de los Nacogdoches. That was the first European activity in the area, but a mission was not a town - it was a church. The "town" of Nacogdoches got started after the Spaniards decided that the French were no longer a threat and that maintaining the mission was too costly. So, in 1772 they ordered all settlers in the area to move to San Antonio. Some were eager to escape the wilderness, but others had to be forced from their homes by soldiers.
Colonel Antonio Gil Y'Barbo, a prominent Spanish trader, emerged as the leader of the settlers, and in the spring of 1779, he led a group back to Nacogdoches. Later that summer, Nacogdoches received designation from Mexico as a pueblo, or town, thereby making it the first "town" in Texas. Y'Barbo, as lieutenant governor of the new town, established the rules and laws for local government. He laid out streets with the intersecting State Highway 21 (El Camino Real) and U.S. Highway 259 (La Calle del Norte, North Street) as the central point. On the main thoroughfare, he built a stone house for use in his trading business. The house, or Old Stone Fort as it is known today, became a gateway from the United States to the vast Texas frontier.
The city has been under more flags than the state of Texas, claiming nine flags. In addition to the Six Flags of Texas, it also flew under these flags: The Magee-Gutierrez Republic, The Long Republic, and The Fredonia Republic.
In the Cherokee War of 1830, the tribe was expelled from East Texas. In 1838, Spanish settlers launched an unsuccessful last-ditch attempt to regain control of East Texas in the short-lived Cordova Rebellion. Anglo control was permanently established by 1839.
Thomas Jefferson Rusk was one of the most prominent early Nacogdoches settlers. A veteran of the Texas Revolution, he signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and was secretary of war during the Republic of Texas. He was president of the Texas Statehood Commission. He worked to establish Nacogdoches University, which began in 1845 but later collapsed. Rusk committed suicide on July 29, 1857.
In 1912, the Marx Brothers came to town to perform their singing act at the old Opera House. Their performance was interrupted by a man who came inside shouting, "Runaway mule!" Most of the audience left the building, apparently thinking a runaway mule would provide better entertainment. When they filed back in, Julius (later known as Groucho) began insulting them, saying "Nacogdoches is full of roaches!" and "The jackass is the flower of Tex-ass!" Instead of becoming angry, audience members laughed. Soon afterward, Julius and his brothers decided to try their hand at comedy instead of singing, at which they had barely managed to scrape together a living. A historic plaque commemorating the event is posted in downtown Nacogdoches. Given the location of this formative experience, the Brothers' later decision, during the making of Duck Soup, to name the imaginary country "Freedonia" hardly seems coincidental.
In 1997, singer Willie Nelson came to Nacogdoches to perform with his friend, Paul Buskirk, a renowned mandolin player. During his stay, Nelson recorded a number of jazz songs at Encore Studios. In 2004, he released those recordings on a CD entitled Nacogdoches.
On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up during re-entry, depositing debris across Texas. Much of the debris landed in Nacogdoches, and much of the media coverage of the disaster focused on Nacogdoches.
On September 24, 2005, Hurricane Rita struck Nacogdoches as a Category 1 hurricane Nacogdoches experienced the same problems Houston was having because of the unprecedented number of people evacuating the Houston-Galveston area. The city's local shelters were already overwhelmed with evacuees that had come from New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina. Long lines at gas stations, shortages of supplies, food and fuel were widespread. Many Houstonians took the Eastex Freeway (U.S. Highway 59) out of Houston to evacuate through East Texas. Travel times between Nacogdoches and Houston were reported taking about 24-36 hours, when normal travel time is about 2 hours. As a result of Hurricane Rita, U.S. Highway 59 has been designated as an evacuation route by TXDOT, with all of it lanes to be used for contraflow traffic. Nacogdoches was designated as the north end terminus of the contraflow/evacuation route
Nacogdoches hosts the Texas Blueberry Festival the second Saturday in June. The county is the top blueberry producer in Texas and is headquarters for the Texas Blueberry Marketing Association. The city recently tagged itself as the "Capital of the Texas Forest Country". The community is one of the first Texas Certified Retirement Communities
Once a Democratic stronghold, Nacogdoches has in recent years moved steadily toward the Republican Party, being represented in the United States Congress and the Texas State Legislature by Republicans.
Nacogdoches is home to Stephen F. Austin State University, which is a state institution of about 14,000 students. Angelina College (based in neighboring Lufkin) operates a branch campus in Nacogdoches.