A Picture Postcard History of Longview, Texas
The City of Longview, the early years
EAST TEXAS SETTLEMENT Amid much political wrangling between Washington's slavery and anti-slavery camps, Texas was officially annexed as a state in 1845. Soon afterwards a flood of immigrants arrived. By 1850 Rusk and Harrison counties had the largest population of any Texas county. At the end of the Civil War financially and spiritually devastated Southerners led a new wave of Texas immigrants.
THE FORMATION OF LONGVIEW In 1870 railroad engineers mapped out the area. The traditional story is that one of them stood atop Capps Hill, viewed through a sextant, and declared "What a long view there is from here!" giving Longview its name. Hundreds of new settlers came to the area when the railroad came.
Longview became incorporated on June 24, 1871. Whaley Street, originally called North Street, made the northern boundary of town, Center Street was considered the center of town, and South Street was the southern boundary. Tyler Street was "the road to Tyler".
GREGG COUNTY'S CREATION Some of the earliest settlers of eastern Rusk and Upshur counties stated a need for a site of county government that was accessed easier than Gilmer. In 1873 the Texas Board of Commissioners met to discuss the creation of a new county. Though Mr. Bluford Brown, State Representative from Upshur County who lived in the community of Summerfield, originally suggested the name of Roanoak, the Commission thought the name needed some kind of relationship to Texas and suggested "Gregg" in honor of the late Gen. John Gregg. A few of the commission's membership, including Mr. Brown, had fought under Gen. Gregg during the Civil War and the name Gregg was heartily agreed upon.
On April 12, 1873 approximately 420 square miles of eastern Upshur County was made into Gregg County. John P. Witherspoon, T. A. Harris, William Welborn, Solomon Awalt, Britton Buttrill, John Page, and H. G. Williams were appointed commissioners with the duty to survey the lines of the new county, divide it into 5 precincts, and hold elections for the selection of county officeholders and for the location of the county seat.
Gregg County acquired the northern portion of Rusk County on April 30, 1874, and gained two good Sabine river crossings and a source for river commerce. The county's shape was left with a peculiar handle because the Board of Commissioners' original intent was to add a portion of the western part of Harrison County, but met heavy resistance from the citizens of that county.
At a time when most established towns consisted only of a cotton gin, a grist mill, a couple of mercantile stores, saloons, and saw mills, Longview and Awalt (later known as Greggton) found themselves as rival candidates for the county seat. The agent for the Texas and Pacific Railroad notified O. H. Methvin that his company would donate land for a courthouse site in Longview if it was chosen. This more than likely influenced voting, and Longview won over Awalt 524 to 125.
The county's first elected officers were: R. B. Levy, clerk; M. S. Durham, sheriff; Britton Buttrill, treasurer; S. Taylor, surveyor; Thomas D. Campbell, peace justice, precinct 1; J. M. Sparkman, peace justice, precinct 2; John W. Lawrence, peace justice, precinct 3; W. H. Payne, peace justice, precinct 4; and W. P. Victory, peace justice, precinct 5.
To put some money into the county coffers T. D. Campbell made a personal loan of $500 to Gregg County's treasury.
TO THE TURN OF THE CENTURY In 1877 a devastating fire destroyed most of Longview's business section north of Tyler Street. The W. G. Northcutt Store, the only brick building at that time, was the only building to survive the fire. Shortly afterwards a smallpox epidemic hit Gregg County.
By the early 1880s Gregg County had a population of 8,500. It had mostly gently rolling hills, good climate, and dense forests. Agriculture and the manufacture of lumber were the chief industries. Much of the upland had iron-rich soil that was just right for growing fruit; the soil of the valleys and bottomland was rich and dark, and the principal crops were corn and cotton. Initially stock raising was limited, but by the early 1900s beef cattle was being shipped to packers in large numbers. Truck farming became an important branch of agriculture, and Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, cabbage and peanuts were being shipped north. Longview had grown to over 30 business structures, a wagon factory, and a cotton compress.
By 1890 Longview's area encompassed about 1 square mile and it had a population of about 2700; the adjoining Junction had a population of 500, and combined, a total of about 600 children attended school. At that time Jefferson's population was close to 6,000, Marshall's was was approximately 8,000, and Tyler's was about 4,000.
The Sabine River was as much as 80 feet wide when Gregg County was formed. It became unnavigable by the early 1900s as a result of erosion caused by farming.
THE AGE OF CIVIC IMPROVEMENTS In 1903 Longview became a dry town.
Longview Junction, located just east of the downtown area, was annexed by the City of Longview in 1904, adding much tax money to the city's coffers. Even though it was part of Longview it remained a separate community for many years. Longviewites generally considered Second Street as the boundary between the city and The Junction.
By 1911 Longview had the largest Plow and Implement manufacturing plant in the state, and the largest Box and Crate Factory west of the Mississippi River.
Public and private properties had began adding concrete sidewalks by 1909. A large bond issue was passed in April, 1911, for the purpose of paving all business streets, buying a new sewerage system, and erecting fancy electric light posts about every 40 feet throughout the entire business district.
In 1913, in an effort to uphold enforcement of sanitary conditions to prevent the spread of infantile paralysis, Longview adopted the theme "Clean Up and Swat the Fly."
THE RIOT OF 1919 Following World War I, Gregg County had nearly 17,000 people, with the population almost evenly divided white and black. There was a lot of racial tension as black business leaders encouraged black farmers and merchants with practices that would break dependence on the white businesses. On June 17, 1919 Longview came to the forefront of national attention with the publication of a story in Chicago's black newspaper "National Defender" about Lemuel Walters, a black man, who was alleged to have been discovered in a white woman's bedroom in Kilgore, and was forcibly removed from the Gregg County jail at Longview by a mob, and was killed. Rioting ensued, and in July one hundred members of the Texas National Guard were called in to establish peace.
THE DEPARTURE OF T&P SHOPS In January of 1929 Texas and Pacific Railroad moved its division offices and shops from Longview to Mineola. As a result 700 families and an immense payroll vanished almost overnight.
OIL! Longview was still dealing with loss of the railroad offices, a poor cotton crop, and the general difficulties from the Depression, when on December 28, 1930 the Lou Della Crim gusher came in. It was the first of three major oil strikes in Gregg County, and Longview suddenly became a "boom town". At a time when the majority of the country was experiencing massive unemployment, Longview and East Texas became known as a place where, if you could make anything sellable, you could make a living, and Longview experienced a great influx of people. By the summer of 1931 there were at least 250 businesses in and around Longview whose existence was traceable to the flow of oil. 300 new homes were built in and close to town, and hotels and apartments popped up all over, and yet the housing demands couldn't all be met.
In February, 1931, the possible danger of well fires prompted Longview's city commission to pass an emergency ordinance banning drilling oil or gas wells within the city limits without city consent. This prevented Longview from experiencing the problems with fires that many other towns had.
By late 1931 oil from the East Texas and Oklahoma oil strikes had flooded the petroleum market and the price plummeted to as low as ten cents a barrel. At one time it was joked that a bowl of chili cost more than a barrel of oil.
GETTING FROM HERE TO THERE In 1934 construction on the High Street underpass was begun, and the new Sabine river bridge between Longview and Kilgore is dedicated. The right-of-way for Judson Road was surveyed in 1935.
A group of citizens made the effort to get Highway 80 routed down Sixth Street and across Methvin and Tyler streets, out of concern that the proposed route which bypassed the downtown area was going to adversely effect life in Longview. In 1939 four-lane U.S. Highway 80 between Longview and Gladewater was dedicated.
A Picture Postcard History of Longview, Texas