The county was established by the state legislature in 1858, out of parts of three adjoining counties: Jefferson, Liberty and Tyler. It was named Hardin after the Hardin Family of Liberty County. Some have the mistaken idea that the new county was named after the infamous gunman and son of J.G. Hardin, but John Wesley Hardin was not born until 1853 in Polk County and did not become famous until about 1871.
The county seat, named Hardin, was established in 1859 and was located about three miles west of the present city of Kountze. The town was also named after the Hardin Family.
The first court house was built at Hardin in 1859 and is said to have been a two story log building. The community is now called "Old Hardin" to separate it from the town of Hardin in Liberty County. The site of the first courthouse in "Old Hardin" is marked by a state historical marker.
Hardin County is the home and center of the Big Thicket of Southeast Texas, a unique biological area like none other in the world. It has been called the "Biological Crossroads" of America and contains the greatest variety of plants of any comparable area in the United States. It is estimated that the original Big thicket included at least 3.5 million acres strectching from the Neches River on the east to the Trinity River on the west and from the Pine Island Bayou on the south to Village Creek or Alabama Creek on the north.
Many of the early settlers came into Southeast Texas by steamboat from New Orleans through Lake charles and Sabine Pass and up the Neches River and Village Creek to the Hardin County area. Some of them crossed Village Creek about eight miles north of Kountze and settled in the Providence community about 1830. This was probably the first settlement in what was to become Hardin County. Some of these people were James McKinney, Hugh McNeely, the Hollands, Jordans and others. Some of their descendants still live in the Providence area. James McKinney operated a ferry on Village Creek at Providence before the famous McNeely Bridge was built. The McKinney Cemetery is named for the McKinney Family.
Old Concord was located on the north side of Pine Island Bayou near where it runs into the Neches River. Concord was settled in 1856 and is said to be the first settlement on the southern edge of the Big Thicket. It became the southern terminal for steamboat traffic on the Neches River. Steamboats, flatboats and keel boats were used on the Neches River from 1830 up until about 1880, when the first railroad was built into Hardin County from Beaumont. Steamboat owners had a monoply on frieght and passenger travel until the coming of the railroads. There is a state historical marker at the site where the Old Concord Road crosses U.S. Hwy 69 at Lumberton.
Completion of the railraod from Beaumont to Rockland sealed the doom for Hardin as the county seat. When the Kountze brothers, Herman and Augustus, bankers from New York and Omaha, built the first railroad from Beaumont to Rockland, they decided to by-pass the town of Hardin and build it straight to Woodville. In the meantime, the courthouse in Hardin mysteriously burned and the citizens of the county decided to move the county seat to Kountze.
Hardin County had only been in existence for three years and the State of Texas had been with the United states 16 years when the Civil War started. Hardin County was not really interested in the issues that caused the Civil War. A few people in the county had slaves, but it was not a major issue in the social lives of the county. The issue of states versus federal rights had little impact on the wilderness frontier such as existed in Hardin County. However, when the election was held in February, 1861, Hardin County voted with the rest of the state to secede from the Union.
After the Civil War, great changes began to take place in the county. The wholesale harvesting of timber, and later, the drilling for oil, took its toll on the economy of the area.
The railroads took the place of the steamboat, and non-residents began to flock to Hardin County to profit from the resources. The early railroad, built by the Kountze brothers, was sold to the Texas and New Orleans Railroad. The Santa Fe Railroad had crossed the Trinity River into Hardin County and was soon linked up with the Beaumont and Kansas City Line at Silsbee. With the completion of the railroads in 1882, Hardin County was changed forever. Silsbee became the largest town almost over-night, communities such as Fletcher, Chance-Loeb, Village Mills, Honey Island, Olive, Long Station, Nona, Grayburg, Hester, Bragg, Votaw, Thicket, Dies, Frecenius, Hook's Switch and many other sawmill towns were built up and down the railroads. John Henry Kirby established an oil, railroad and lumber empire that dominated the economy of Southeast Texas for nearly a hundred years.
Shallow well drilling for oil in the county began as early as 1860, but the decade beginning with 1900 can be called the "Oil Age" in Hardin county. At the time prospectors were drilling at Spindletop in Jefferson County, drilling was beginning in the Sour lake, Saratoga and Batson areas. The crews at Spindletop won the race to drill the first Southeast Texas Gusher, which changed the world. The honor could have easily gone to Sour Lake. Shortly after the 1901 discovery well at Spindletop, successful wells were drilled at Sour Lake, followed by gushers a Saratoga and at Batson. Thus, Hardin County came to be ranked as one of the prime oil fields in the world.
Even before the discovery of oil at Sour Lake and Saratoga, both of these communities had become famous for the mineral springs in this area. People flocked to the springs from far and near to drink the water and bathe in the mineral-laden pools. Health spas were built and many famous people, including Texas hero Sam Houston, who came to bathe his wounds from the Battle of San Jacinto, came to bathe in the pools. Oil discoveries at both places ended the health resort business that had existed for several years. Many of the larger oil companies. including Texaco at Sour Lake, Paraffine Oil Company at Saratoga, and the J.M. Guffey Petroleum Company, had their start in Hardin County.
COMMUNITY AND ECONOMY: