Settlers from an earlier community called St. Clair moved en masse a few miles east to the Texas and Pacific Railroad when it was built through in 1872. In 1931, oil was discovered, and the population doubled to 1,000 overnight, reaching 10,000 at the height of the boom. (One of Texaco's first derricks and pumping units is preserved in the 100 block of W. Commerce along with a historical marker.) The city is now a trade center for agriculture and lumber. The "Antique Capital of East Texas" boasts more than two dozen antique shops.
Events include the East Texas Gusher Days in April, the Gladewater Round Up in June, and the Gladewater Arts and Crafts Festival each September.