Mineola (population 4,550) was first settled in the 1840s near an artesian well used by traders. The town came into existence when the railroads built lines through this part of the State. In 1873, the Texas and Pacific and the International-Great Northern Railroad raced to see which could get to Mineola first, with the I-GN reaching the finish 15 minutes earlier.
The railroads made Mineola a vital link in the area's commerce. Mineola's "Mineral Well" stood at the intersection of Broad and Johnson Streets for many years, with trains stopping long enough for the crew and some of the passengers to drink the "health-giving" water.
Before 1873, the town was called Sodom. The city government was organized in 1873, a post office opened in 1875, and the town incorporated in 1877, but a fire in the 1880s destroyed 18 buildings. By 1890, the town had a population of 2,000, seven churches, several schools including a black free school, hotels, and banks.
Mineola, in the heart of the East Texas timber belt, produced railroad ties and lumber. During the community's first 60 years, farm products included cotton, livestock, fruit, and berries. A chair factory opened in 1886, became a crate and basket factory in 1900, and operated until 1952.
Highway improvements, a gas pipeline, and the establishment of a railroad terminal facilitated growth during the 1920s, and the discovery of oil in parts of Wood County and construction of a railroad shop spurred the economy during the 1940s. By 1950, diversified farming gave way to cattle raising and watermelon crops. Subsequently, sweet potato farming, a creamery, a nursery, and a company that supplies poles to the telephone company helped the economy.
Although the town remains a shipping center, tourism plays an increasingly important role in the town's economy. Mineola was designated a "National Main Street City" in 1989, and more than $6 million to date has been spent in renovating buildings in the central business district.
Downtown Mineola is once again a flourishing center of commerce and a weekend getaway destination. Its buildings reflect the history of the area and the artistry and craftsmanship of bygone eras. Decorative cast iron columns from the turn of the century stand next to Carrara glass facades of the 1930s. Hotels built in the heyday of the railroads, as well as several historic homes, have been renovated and serve as bed and breakfast inns and retail locations.
Mineola's 80-year-old Art Deco Select Theater is the oldest continuously operating theater in Texas, and offers both first run films and live productions. Mineola's most recent success has been the restoration and reuse of the historic railroad depot, once again serving the community as a transportation hub.
Transportation Enhancement and City Economic Development funding, as well as money raised by the Main Street Board and Landmark Commission, support this project. When complete, the depot will be restored to its 1906 character and house a railroad museum.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2005.