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Jacksonville began on the east bank of Gum Creek in 1847. The name Jacksonville was chosen by local citizens since the town site was on Jackson Smith’s land and Dr. Jackson was among the first to build inside the boundaries of the survey. In 1872 the International-Great Northern Railroad was built through Cherokee County and missed Jacksonville by a few miles. Inhabitants worked out an agreement with railroad officials to survey a new town site on the railroad. In the fall of 1872 most of the original Jacksonville was moved two miles east to the new site on the tracks.

Early in Jacksonville’s history, agriculture was the main focus of the local economy. Jacksonville was a leading center of peach production from the 1880’s to 1914; thereafter, tomatoes were the primary crop until the 1950’s, and the town was dubbed the ‘tomato capitol of the world.” 

Prior to the formation of JEDCO, there was an active group of community leaders who were driven to pursue economic development in Jacksonville. A major catalyst in their efforts came when a plastics company, owned by Mr. Talley Nichols, opened in Jacksonville in the mid 1950's. Robert, Talley Nichols son, recalled the story in a May 2000 article in the Jacksonville Daily Progress:

“The factory that produced Nichols’ “Circle N” toy guns needed not only generous amounts of plastics, but the zinc die-casting process required more advanced tool and die making skills from the labor force. 

To meet that requirement, the elder Nichols started an apprentice program aimed at training new employees to design, build and maintain the plant’s complex production equipment.

‘He (Talley Nichols) encouraged other industries to come to the area and also encouraged employees to go into business for themselves,’ Nichols said, referring to his father’s early innovations.”

Once the leaders in Jacksonville saw the opportunity in attracting spin-off businesses, Jacksonville's industrial base began to grow rapidly. In 1960, these leaders formed the Jacksonville Industrial Foundation. The community rallied behind the foundation and, therefore, enabled the group to attract industries to Jacksonville. The group, along with the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, drew several other prominent manufacturing families – many of whom still operate businesses in Jacksonville today.