Jacksonville- If you are in East Texas, take a moment to enjoy the view from Love’s Lookout! Love’s lookout is perched alongside U.S. Highway 69 north of Jacksonville and offers a grand, 35-mile view of East Texas countryside. For over a century this peak in the Pineywoods has been attracting visitors.
The ridge, part of a long, flat-topped hill that extends for nine miles, has an elevation of 720 feet above sea level and rises 240 feet above the surrounding terrain. The east side of Love’s Lookout overlooks a steep escarpment and a clean view above the pine tree canvas. Towards the west side of the lookout the land gradually rises 12 miles from the Neches River bottom. Visitors can scan the East Texas horizon of several counties from Love’s Lookout, and there are some that claim clear days give way to views clear to Louisiana.
During the dramatic period of early statehood, known as Antebellum Texas, Love’s Lookout was a popular recreation spot, however the site’s history can be traced back to the days of early pioneers and when Indians roamed the Pineywoods.
In 1846, the pass became known as McKee’s pass, after Thomas McKee led a group of Presbyterians to East Texas from Tennessee. McKee and his followers founded the town of Larissa, named by McKee’s son, Rev. T.N. McKee. The little town flourished between 1850 and 1870, until the railroad bypassed the town.
Around the turn of the century, John Wesley Love purchased the property in 1904 and developed a 600-acre peach orchard. After 1910 the bluff became known as Love’s Lookout after Love. After Love’s death in 1925, his wife donated a twenty-two-acre tract to the state of Texas for a state park. However, the state failed to develop the park.
In 1934, the city of Jacksonville purchased an additional twenty-five acres from Love’s heir and developed the two tracts of land as a city park. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-era Works Progress Administration came to the Love’s Lookout to assist in the park development. The Works Progress Administration used native red rocks mined from Cherokee county to construct picnic grounds, a concession stand, an amphitheater, and rock walls long the brink of the mighty hill.
Love’s Lookout attracted visitors from all over East Texas. Students from surrounding school districts often took field trips to the site. It was not at all uncommon for people to travel from Houston and Dallas for a picture perfect picnic.
Later an Olympic size swimming pool was constructed with private funds. The pool was the first cement pool in East Texas. The park also had a dance pavilion as well. At the time of its opening, East Texans could take rent a bathing suit and take a day-long swim for ten cents.
Love’s Lookout amphitheater was used to host sunrise services, plays and other events until about three decades ago. In the 1980s, an earthquake shook that area of East Texas and damaged the amphitheater and made it unsafe for public use.
The Texas Forest Service constructed a forest fire lookout tower upon the hill, too. The tower functioned until the 1980s. By then fire-spotting airplanes had eliminated the need for a manned forest fire lookout tower. The forest fire lookout tower still stands in the roadside park today.
In 1967 the Love family turned the original tract over to the state highway department, which has since developed it into a roadside park. In 1978 the Texas Historical Commission placed a marker on Love’s Lookout.
In recent years the park received a $1.2 million face lift. Cherokee County leaders met their long-time goal of improving the roadside rest area. A new visitor’s center that resembled a tomato picking shed was constructed on the hill as a symbol of Jacksonville’s tomato-growing heritage.
The 35-mile-view is amazing any time of year, but two seasons yield brilliant, colorful views- in the spring when the dogwoods and wild flowers are in bloom and in the autumn, when the hill is on fire with red, orange, and purple foliage.
Every East Texan should stand at the edge of Love’s Lookout and scan the East Texas horizon. Make plans to visit this amazing location in the Pineywoods with your family and loved ones soon!