Center is 17 miles from the Louisiana border and 118 miles north of Beaumont at the center of Shelby County. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 6.2 square miles (16.2 km²), of which, 6.2 square miles (16.1 km²) of it is land and 0.16% is water.
As of the census of 2000, there were 5,678 people, 2,034 households, and 1,334 families residing in the city. The population density was 911.0 people per square mile (351.9/km²). There were 2,290 housing units at an average density of 367.4 per square mile (141.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 51.14% White, 34.22% African American, 0.23% Native American, 0.46% Asian, 10.95% from other races, and 2.99% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 18.05% of the population.
There were 2,034 households out of which 32.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.1% were married couples living together, 20.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.4% were non-families. 30.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.61 and the average family size was 3.23.
In the city, the population was spread out with 26.3% under the age of 18, 10.9% from 18 to 24, 25.0% from 25 to 44, 18.8% from 45 to 64, and 19.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 86.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $26,061, and the median income for a family was $31,699. Males had a median income of $23,468 versus $19,441 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,233. About 19.4% of families and 23.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 31.5% of those under age 18 and 14.7% of those age 65 or over.
Shelby County was one of the original 13 counties in Texas, being organized by the Republic of Texas Congress in 1837. The county was named for Issac Shelby, an American military hero and Governor of Kentucky. Shelby County eventually became one of the most populous and prosperous counties in the state because of its proximity to Louisiana and location along the Sabine River.
The settlement which eventually became the City of Center was originally called White Cottage. A post office was established at this settlement on April 6, 1848.
Al Johnson, an East Texas State Representative, introduced a bill to have all county seats be as close to the center of the county as possible. R.L. Parker, the County Clerk at the time, arranged to have the county surveyed and the center located. A vote was held in Shelby County to move the seat of county government from Shelbyville, the original county seat, to the center of the county. The result of the vote was in favor of relocating the county seat. The people in Shelbyville organized to protect the county records. However, one night in 1866, a group of men led by Parker entered into the courthouse, confiscated all of the records and relocated them to a log cabin near White Cottage. Shortly after the incident, the community became known as Center, primarily to reflect the requisite location of the county seat.
The Center post office opened in October 1866. In 1869, Confederate veterans Captain Jesse Amason and James C. Wilson, with wife Margaret Davis Wilson, each donated 50 acres of land for the townsite of Center. According to one historical account, Amason would not give the land unless the new town would have a four-acre town square, and that is the reason that Center has such a large square. Mr. Wilson owned considerable land in the southern quarter of the town. Much of that area is called the "Wilson Addition".
On the night of May 31, 1882, a fire erupted at the courthouse and the building was a complete loss. The county contracted with J.J. E. Gibson, an Irish immigrant, to construct a new courthouse and jail. When the bond of builders J.J. E. Gibson and Pat McLaughlin for the sum of $26,725 was issued in 1884 for them to erect a new courthouse for Shelby County, the firm of Wilson and Martin was among the securities. The courthouse, modeled after an Irish castle, was completed in November, 1885 and is still standing as the centerpiece of the Center Square.
At noon on February 12, 1950, an F3 tornado touched down in Center, destroying several buildings. The tornado killed three and injured at least 15 people.
The city celebrates a county wide Watermelon Festival in July and the East Texas Poultry Festival in October each year. The poultry festival is accompanied by the Poultry Festival Pageant in which high school Juniors of the county participate. The Pageant crowns a Poultry Festival Queen who presides over the three-day Poultry Festival. The festival is in honor of John Moosberg who started the broiler house system in Shelby County. A mural of the events is located in the Farmers State Bank with John Mooseberg's picture. The Queen is decided by a board of non-partisan, appointed judges. The annual What A Melon Festival also crowns a queen to reign over the festival in July each year.
Also in Shelby County there is the Miss Shelby County Pageant. The Pageant is open to all Shelby County Young Ladies and a PreTeen, JrTeen, Teen and Miss Queen is crowned. The title holder represents Shelby County throughout her annual reign at many area events. Also each fall,in august, junior girls from shelby county highschools compete against each other in the Poultry festival pageant the winner wins a $2,000 scholarship.
•Charlie Bradshaw, professional football player
Del Shofner, professional football player
Wayne Christian, Texas State Representative
Charles McClelland, Houston Police Department
Dan Duncan, oil tycoon, billionaire, and philanthropist
Bryan Hitt, drummer for REO Speedwagon
John Campbell, blues guitarist
Charles Ray, U.S. diplomatAiken
The City of Center was incorporated in 1893, however, this incorporation was dissolved and the city was reincorporated by means of another charter in 1901. The city developed and adopted a new Home Rule Charter on April 7, 1984. The City of Center operates under Home Rule Charter with a Council-Manager form of government. The governing body, the Center City Council, is composed of a Mayor, two council members elected "at-large" by citywide elections and four members elected from single member districts. The Mayor and Council members serve staggered two year terms. The Mayor and Council are responsible for casting a vision and direction for the city, enacting legislation in the form of ordinances and resolutions, adopting and amending budgets, making appointments to the different boards and commissions and determining the policies of the City. The United States Postal Service operates the Center Post Office.
The City of Center is served by the Center Independent School District.
The climate in this area is characterized by hot, humid summers and generally mild to cool winters. According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Center has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated "Cfa" on climate maps.