Zavalla, originally called Zavalla Prairie, is at the intersection of U.S. Highway 69 and State Highway 63, twenty-five miles southeast of Lufkin in southeastern Angelina County. Zavalla is not to be confused with the Zavala, which lies just over the Jasper county line. Zavalla was established in 1900 on the Texas and New Orleans Railroad, which was owned by the Southern Pacific Railroad and extended from Rockland to Dallas. The community was named for its location on the empresario grant made to Lorenzo de Zavala. By 1901 Zavalla had a sawmill established by Amos Hodge to exploit extensive nearby tracts of longleaf pine timber. Several other sawmills and a turpentine camp belonging to Benton McMillan rounded out the timber industries there. Zavalla was also a rail shipping point for wood products. Livestock raising and farming also contributed to the early economy. Cotton was the main money crop. J. A. Barge, Sr., established an active cotton gin at Zavalla. The town's first business was a saloon built by Josh Lott. Later, general merchandise stores were built by James Fondren, Fred Rodrigues, and R. C. (Cal) Brashears. Alex Sumrall, an early postmaster, also began the town's first drugstore. The post office was established on January 19, 1901, with Jesse C. Fondren as postmaster. In 1928 Zavalla was the center of the Texas naval stores business, which relied upon local pine resins and turpentine. In the 1930s Xact Clays (later Magcobar and, later still, Dresser Industries) began to process local clays for use in oil well drilling mud. Also in the 1930s one of two experimental tung orchards in Texas was planted near Zavalla. By 1936 it was the only orchard in Texas producing tung, from which is extracted an oil used in furniture polish, lacquer, and other products. In the 1930s the tung orchards of China were not able to meet the world's needs, and it was thought that tung plantations in Angelina and surrounding counties might someday prove highly profitable. The population of Zavalla varied between 100 and 200 during the first decades of the twentieth century. It increased to 450 by 1945 and reached its peak at 900 in 1974–75, when Zavalla had fifteen businesses. The community was incorporated in 1975, when population growth associated with nearby Sam Rayburn Reservoir prompted the organization of a city government. C. M. Cryer was the first mayor. The population declined to 726 by 1980. In the mid-1980s Zavalla had two schools, several churches (predominantly Baptist and Pentecostal), and a number of businesses. In 1990 the population was 701. The population was 647 in 2000.
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Zavalla by the Numbers
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|742||2019||Texas Demographic Center|
|713||2010||Texas Demographic Center|
|647||2000||Texas Demographic Center|
|701||1990||Texas Demographic Center|