Alto, also known as Branchtown, is an incorporated community at the junction of U.S. Highway 69, State highways 21 and 294, and Farm roads 752 and 1911, eleven miles south of Rusk in southern Cherokee County. The settlement was founded around 1849 by Robert F. Mitchell on land acquired in a lawsuit with John Durst. The site was once a part of an extensive grant to Nacogdoches merchants William Barr and Samuel Davenport. A local post office opened in 1850 under the name Branchtown. In 1852 the town was renamed Alto ("high"), reportedly at the suggestion of Captain Henry Berryman, because of its location at the highest point between the Angelina and Neches rivers. Because it was situated on the Old San Antonio Road, the settlement quickly developed into a commercial center and stopping point for travelers. Mitchell opened a store in 1851, and by the eve of the Civil War Alto had several stores, a blacksmith and livery shop, a saloon, a cotton gin, and a school for girls. After the construction of the Kansas and Gulf Short Line Railroad through the town in the mid-1880s, Alto drew residents and businesses from many nearby communities. By 1885 the town had four gristmill-cotton gin combinations, a sawmill, a church, a district school, a saloon, several general stores, and a population of 600. A newspaper, the Alto News, was begun in 1893; under the name Alto Herald it continued to be published in the early 1990s. A bank was established in Alto in 1903, and in 1909 the town was incorporated.

Adapted from the official Handbook of Texas, a state encyclopedia developed by the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). It is an authoritative source of trusted historical records.

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Currently Exists


Place type

Alto is classified as a Town

Associated Names

  • (Branchtown)
  • (Lacey's Fort)


  • Latitude

Has Post Office


Is Incorporated


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Alto by the Numbers

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Population Counts

Pop. Year Source
1,282 2019 Texas Demographic Center
1,225 2010 Texas Demographic Center
1,190 2000 Texas Demographic Center
1,027 1990 Texas Demographic Center