Crows Nest is a rural town, 35 km north of Toowoomba and 100 km north-west of Brisbane. Although located in the region defined as the Darling Downs, Crows Nest is hilly country, situated in the dividing range on the eastern edge of the Downs proper. It originated as a stopping place for timber haulers bringing logs out of the mountain forests. A local Aborigine, known as Jimmy Crow, lived nearby in the hollow of a large tree.
In 1849 James Pearce took up the Crows Nest pastoral run. A failure, the station land was progressively resumed and thrown open for selection and closer-settlement. Crows Nest town reserve was declared in 1876, and surveyed in 1877. Although primarily a timber town, agricultural selection diversified the economy beyond timbering and pastoralism.
By the early 1890s Crows Nest had two stores, a hotel, school (1877) and two churches. In 1886 the town was connected to Toowoomba by rail, making Crows Nest a local railhead and creating further commercial impetus. Crows Nest's population approached 500 by the turn of the century, and in 1903 the Australian handbook described it thus:
In 1913 Crows Nest Shire was formed by severance from Highfields Shire, a testament to the continued population growth in the elevated agricultural lands as fostered by closer-settlement begun in the 1880s and the opening of the rail connection.
The prosperity of Crows Nest's economic base was reflected in the formation of an Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society. Pugh's Queensland directory (1925) recorded the continuation of sawmilling, a branch of the Downs Co-operative butter factory, an aerated waters factory, commission agents and motor garages. A Lutheran church opened in 1926. One of Australia's best known rural estate firms began in Crows Nest as Ray White, auctioneer, general agent and land office in 1902. His son, Alan, expanded the business to Brisbane. The town's interwar population was 800-900 people.
Many of its young men enlisted in World War II. One local, hairdresser and tobacconist John French, was posted to the 2/9th Batallion. After service in Libya, Tobruk and Syria, French was sent to Milne Bay which the Japanese invaded in 1942. With his company under intense fire, French single-handedly silenced two machine-gun posts, but was killed attempting to subdue a third. A posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross, he is remembered by the town's French Memorial Library.
In 1949 Crows Nest Shire expanded toward Toowoomba, with the absorption of part of Highfields Shire. By the time the railway line was closed in 1961, Toowoomba's steady urban growth had expanded toward the town. The road to Toowoomba became a minor tourist route, with galleries and home-farm outlets exploiting the passing traffic en route to the Crows Nest falls or the Bunya Mountains further north.
Crows Nest's population increased by about 30% in the two decades from 1980-2000. The town has an active shopping area, swimming, golf and bowling facilities, a hospital, regional art gallery, progress association, historical society, showground, the former shire hall and the Carbethon folk museum. The town's centre is a park with a statue of 'Jimmy Crow'.
Five homes were destroyed in a bushfire in 2004.
Crows Nest's census populations have been:
Darling Downs, Queensland, the garden of Australia, Brisbane, Intelligence and Tourist Bureau, 1908
From tall timbers: a folk history of Crows Nest Shire 1988, Crows Nest, Crows Nest & District Tourist & Progress Association, 1988