The History of
Every city has it’s story about how it came to be. Longview, Texas could well be called the “Gold Dollar City.” This is not because of any typical discovery of gold but because of a land transaction for the sum of one gold dollar and which resulted in the founding of Longview.
After the Civil War the railroad resumed its westward progress and was looking for a place to build its next station. O. H. Methvin, a farmer offered 100 acres of land to the railroad for one gold dollar. The condition placed on the deal was that the railroad platt and build a town on those 100 acres. Mr. Methvin did well in the deal by selling the next 50 acres for $500.
The original 100 acres have been designated as Longview’s One Hundred Acres of Heritage. In the heart of this historical district is Heritage Plaza dedicated to the first 100 years of Longview’s history, the Gregg County Historical Museum, Longview Museum of Fine Arts and the Gregg County Courthouse.
Tyler Street is the dividing north-south line of Longview’s 100 acres and was recently re-constructed to become another landmark celebrating the history of this great city. Block by block, Tyler Street was transformed into an ever more appealing destination. In the center a clock tower was erected to commemorate the 100 Acres of Heritage. With the conclusion of the project in 2004, could enjoy a pleasing environment in downtown Longview with existing and new businesses there to welcome them.
In the spirit of its name — which was inspired by the view from the porch of O. H. Methvin’s home on top of Rock Hill — Longview has a forward view toward the future, knowing that its friendly folks, pleasing weather, beautiful scenery and ideal location in the Texas Lake Country, offers any visiting group an experience to remember and a reason to return.
A quick tour through Longview’s first 100 years
Panel 1: First Came the Railroad
The original site of Longview lay on the western outskirts of Earpville, a pioneer Upshur County community along the old Marshall-Tyler Road (today known as U.S. 80). Founded around 1850 by James Earp, Earpville (pronounced “Arpville”) consisted of several farmhouses, a post office, blacksmith shop, a church, one or two stores, stagecoach stop and campground. After the War Between the States, Northern capital allowed the Southern Pacific railroad to expand toward California from the pre-war terminus at Marshall. The Southern Pacific bought a 100-acre tract in April 1870 from farmer 0. H. Methvin, laying out a town site in advance of track construction. The name “Longview,” implying farsighted plans, was selected for the new town and was inspired by the scenic view from atop Rock Hill, where Methvin’s home was located.
Panel 2: The Railroad Transforms a Pioneer Community: 1871
Sale of lots began in September 1870, with the Southern Pacific buying another 50 acres from 0. H. Methvin to extend its town site further west. To attract investors and to speed development, streets were given a metropolitan width of 100 feet. The Longview Post Office was established Jan. 27, 1871, with O.H. Pegues, Jr. appointed first postmaster. On Feb. 22 that year, commercial train service began at Longview with great celebration. The track ended at a locomotive turntable between Center and High streets. In May 1871, the one-square-mile town of Longview was incorporated. At age 20, James Stephen Hogg (first native-born governor of Texas 1891-1893) founded the city’s first newspaper, the Longview News.
Panels 3: Longview Becomes the Hub for Railroad Expansion: 1872
By 1872, Longview received nationwide attention by serving as temporary head of the nation’s Southern rail line. Business, population, and construction were stimulated by wagon traffic from a large area since Longview provided the closest rail access. Soon the International Railroad Co. (later named International & Great Northern) was serving Longview, its route crossing the Southern Pacific track about 600 feet east of the city limits. The tederally-mandated Texas & Pacific – which had acquired the Southern Pacific – began laying track westward toward Dallas. Thriving Longview became the commercial center for a large portion of East Texas.
Panel 4: A New County is Born: 1873
In January 1873, Upshur County Representative B.W. Brown (a Methodist lay preacher) introduced a bill in the Texas Legislature to make Longview the seat of a new county to be composed of portions of existing Upshur, Rusk, and Harrison counties. The county of Gregg was (named for slain Confederate General John Gregg) was created, although initially composed of only 143 square miles taken from Upshur County. In April 1874, an additional 141 square miles south of the Sabine River was taken from Rusk County and given to Gregg. Longview won over Awalt (Willow Springs) to become county seat. The Texas & Pacific belatedly donated an entire city block as the courthouse square, then platted a new town at Awalt, which remained undeveloped until it became Greggton in 1929.
Panel 5: A Railroad Boom Town Settles Down: 1874
Like the oil boom 60 years later, the railroad boom of the 1870s was a rowdy, colorful period that resulted in lasting improvements. Longview consisted of about 60 hastily built frame buildings near Center and Tyler streets. Almost half of the early buildings were devoted to saloons and gambling, and Longview soon hired a city marshal. The growth of the local religious community also helped tame the town as it grew. By 1877 the town had six church buildings representing Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Christian (Disciples of Christ) denominations. Part of the population was accommodated by eastward expansion of city streets to what would become known as Longview Junction. After an 1877 fire destroyed the northern half of Longview’s wooden downtown, brick and stone became the dominant construction materials for commercial buildings.
Panel 6: Rails, Timber, and Cotton Bring Growth: 1877
What eventually became the Santa Fe line running southeast from Longview Junction was begun in 1877 by the locally capitalized Longview and Sabine Valley Railroad Company. As railroads opened virgin forests to harvest, 20 steam-powered sawmills were making pine lumber in Gregg County. By 1877, Barner Brothers mill at the Junction had about 50 employees and a capacity of 20,000 board feet of lumber per day. The rail transport, together with barbed wire and other agricultural innovations, allowed an increasing populace to be engaged primarily in growing cotton. Cotton remained the indispensable cash crop and principle foundation of the local economy. Cotton and corn respectively occupied about one-half and one-third of the cultivated acreage of Gregg County. The corn provided fuel for the mules and the staple of the human diet.
Panel 7: The Good Old Days: 1880s
Greater Longview developed around two focal points, each based on a separate depot on the Texas & Pacific track. The downtown depot was on the west side of Fredonia Street while the Junction depot was near the site of the original International depot. Beginning in 1883, the shortest mule-drawn streetcar line in the nation operated between the two depots. (Until the 1940s, trains stopped at both depots). The grand Mobberly Hotel was built in 1884 at the Junction. The city’s increased wealth brought several banking institutions, including F.J. Harrison and Co., A.E. Clemmons & Sons, and First National Bank. Other establishments serving early Longview residents included Peoples State Bank and the Citizens National Bank. The latter was housed in the Everett Building (built 1910), now home to the Gregg County Historical Museum.
Panel 8: “Dolly” – Longview’s First Fire Engine: 1890s
To serve the growing population (2,034 residents by 1900), a volunteer fire department was organized in 1885. Like many other volunteer fire departments of that era, it was a hobby and social club for young civic leaders. The department was based in an octagonal brick building on Tyler Street near the rear of the TAP depot. The department’s first engine was called “Dolly” in honor of the former Dolly Northcutt. In 1894, Bill Dalton and his outlaw gang robbed the First National Bank, located across Tyler Street from the fire station. The robbers shot their way out of town on horseback after a gun battle that saw two citizens and one outlaw killed with several others wounded. In 1897, a new courthouse was erected and the local Lacy Telephone Company began serving the community.
Panel 9: Longview Charters First Industry in Texas:
As of 1890, the Kelly Plow Works reportedly was the only non-sawmill industry in the county other than an ice factory. The Kelly plant, supposedly the first chartered industry in Texas, had relocated to Longview from Marion County in 1882. Kelly became well known throughout the South for its popular light turning plow, the Kelly Blue. The plant operated until the 1970s, producing not only plows but also other implements, machines, and tools used in agriculture. Other manufacturing soon followed, including a box factory (whose whistle timed the daily lives of residents for at least 40 years), the Longview Mattress and Bedding Company, the East Texas Pottery Company, and Longview Iron Works, the latter turning out gasoline engines, sawmill machinery, and general foundry products.
Panel 10: Technology Brings Modern Conveniences: 1904
Longview was led into the 20th Century by Mayor Gabriel Augustus Bodenheim (1873-1957), known affectionately as “Bodie.” Serving as mayor 1904-1916 and 1918-1920, Bodenheim oversaw Longview’s first municipal water works, sanitary sewer system and street- paving projects. Known for his red lapel carnation and gold-headed cane, the mayor engineered the long-delayed annexation of Longview Junction, bringing the city’s population to 5,000. In appreciation, a landscaped downtown “Bodie Park” was created in his honor. The Longview Independent School District was created in 1909, replacing a wooden 1883 high school with a three-story brick structure featuring an impressive cupola. New elementary schools built in this period were Campus Ward, First Ward and Northcutt Heights.
Panel 11: Transportation: Model T’s, Trains and Trolleys
J. Garland Pegues established the City Garage (later Pegues-Hurst Ford) in 1904. However, all roads leading out of Longview remained dirt wagon tracks, so railroads remained the city’s lifeline. In 1910, there were 18 daily passenger trains. Beginning in 1911, Longview’s rail center image was boosted with formation of a fourth line, the Port Bolivar & Iron Ore railroad. The Santa Fe took over the line in 1914. In the 1970s, the PB&10 right-of-way within Longview was developed as Cargill Long Park. In 1912, the city’s mule-drawn streetcars became electric trolleys. Local industry included Graham Manufacturing Company’s box factory, producing containers for shipping fruits and vegetables. R.G. Brown’s sawmill and lumber mill and a large planning mill operated by Castleberry & Flewellen provided local employment.
Panel 12: The End of the Beginning: 1920s
By 1920, Longview boasted 9 1/2 miles of paved streets, concrete sidewalks, electric streetlights, municipal garbage collection and a paid fire department with the state’s first two pumping trucks. In 1920, the Longview Rotary Club was organized as the city’s first service club. By 1920-21, a 16-foot-wide strip of asphalt known as State Highway 15 (future U.S. 80) became the first paved road across Gregg County. In 1926, the East Texas Chamber of Commerce was organized at Longview, and in 1929 the five-story Gregg Hotel (later doubled in size by new owner Conrad Hilton) was constructed. But Longview experienced economic instability. Cotton profits declined due to soil exhaustion and pests such as the boll weevil, and the lumber industry suffered as local timber was depleted. In January 1929, the Texas & Pacific moved its division offices and shops to Mineola taking away 700 families. Then came the Great Depression.
Panel 13: First Discovery Wells & Then the Boom! 1930
Black gold! Suddenly, the Great Depression was forgotten with late 1930 discovery of the East Texas Oil Field, biggest in the world. Trapped in a layer of porous sandstone called the Woodbine formation some 3,600 feet below the surface, the field was some 40 miles long and five miles wide. Nearly half of the huge field was in Gregg County. The Longview Chamber of Commerce offered a prize of $10,000 for the first oil well in Gregg County within 12 miles of the city. Realtor B.A. Skipper – who long had believed there was oil here – and other investors had already begun drilling on a farm owned by Kelly Plow Works manager F.K. Lathrop. On Jan. 28, 1931, the well blew in, capable of producing 18,000 barrels per day. The possibility of a single field loomed. The oil boom was on.
Panel 14: The Oil Boom Brings Renewal: 1930
Thanks to discovery of the East Texas field, Longview’s population nearly tripled during the decade, to 13,758 by 1940. While the rest of the nation suffered through the Great Depression, Longview’s citizens, businesses and industry, schools and churches thrived. A new courthouse, city hall, post office, public library, and community center were built, along with a high school, county hospital (later Good Shepherd Medical Center) and railroad station. The five-story Gregg Hotel, opened in 1930 and doubled in size by Conrad Hilton five years later, stood on the present site of Heritage Plaza. Prominent residential developments of the era included Forest Hills, Nugget Hill, Surrey Place and the Mobberly Addition. State Highway 15 was widened and became U.S. Highway 80, nicknamed “Main Street of Texas” across the oil field.
Panel 15: World War II Alts Aftermath: 1941-45
During World War II, Longview served as gathering point for the “Big Inch” pipeline. Two feet in diameter – the largest pipe yet constructed – the “Big Inch” line carried crude oil to Pennsylvania. From there, branches led to East Coast refineries. Completed in July 1943, the “Big Inch” protected the bulk of the nation’s wartime fuel supply against German submarines which threatened tanker ships. It is said that the Allies rode to victory on East Texas crude. With the coming of the war, Longview was selected as site of a major U.S. Army hospital. Harmon General Hospital consisted of 232 frame buildings on a 156-acre tract off Mobberly Avenue. The facility was dedicated Dec. 15, 1942, serving thousands of GIs before deactivation on Jan. 20,1946.
Panel 16: A City That Grows: 1940’s
Longview News-Journal Publisher Carl Estes successfully led a civic effort to bring R.G. LeTourneau’s excavator manufacturing company here. An ardent lay evangelist, LeTourneau also established a technical institute on the site of the former Harmon General Hospital. The technical evolved into what now is LeTourneau University. With rapid growth came the need for a modem airport. Land was purchased with county funds from a 1940 bond issue. The Gregg County Airport (now the East Texas Regional Airport) was opened in summer 1947. Lake Cherokee was developed in the late 1940s by private interests led by banker Verne A. Clements. Forest clearing and excavation for the lake was done by R.G. LeTourneau’s company to test his heavy equipment products.
Panel 17: Industry Accelerates Economic Growth: 1950’s
The area’s industrial development was greatly enhanced in 1950 when the Texas Eastman petrochemical plant located near Longview. What originally was intended as a small butyraldehyde plant became the city’s biggest employer and the second largest petrochemical plant in Texas. Eastman officials selected the Longview site because of an abundance of hydrocarbon raw materials, fresh water availability, railroad lines, and a labor force with a high work ethic. During this time, numerous smaller industrial operations were brought to Longview, supplanting declining oil field and refinery employment. The nonprofit Longview Industrial Districts’ parks attracted several of the new firms.
Panel 18: The Fabulous Fifties: 1950’s
The end of World War II ushered in a long period of national prosperity, and Longview thrived thanks to the East Texas Oil Field and associated natural gas. Construction in Longview during the 1950s rivaled or exceeded that of the 1930s. Major projects included a 10-story bank building, new sanctuaries for First Baptist and First Methodist churches, the Petroleum Building, Jaycee Exhibit Building at the Gregg County Fairgrounds, a new high school auditorium, and several new school campuses. Major residential subdivisions of the 1950s included Forest Park and Brookwood. By decade’s end, the city’s population had increased from 24,502 to 40,050 – a 63 percent growth rate.
Panel 19: Longview Expands Its Influence: 1960’s
The last decade of Longview’s first hundred years was a time of historic and fundamental change. In 1962, the “slant hole” scandal brought unfavorable national attention to the East Texas Oil Field. In 1963, the city reached west of its own developed area and annexed the unincorporated community of Greggton, including much of the Pine Tree Independent School District. Construction of Loop 281 (begun in 1964) and Interstate Highway 20 (completed through Gregg County in 1968) helped decentralize the city’s development. Longview’s major industrial addition of the decade was the Schlitz (later Stroh) brewery. The city continued its healthy population growth, boasting 46,744 residents at decade’s end.
Panel 20: Completing a Century of Development: 1970
The decade of the 1970s saw complete integration of the Longview Independent School District. For the first time, African-Americans were elected to the Gregg County Commissioners Court, City Council and School Board. In May 1970, Longview celebrated its centennial with a ten-day festival involving a large segment of the population. As the decade unfolded, plans were under way for a new Longview High School campus, civic center, historical museum, oil museum, and shopping mall. After a hundred years, Longview had outgrown its comfortable image as a small town. Boasting such amenities as a symphony orchestra, ballet theater and art museum, the far-sighted community had come a long way from its humble beginning of “100 Acres of Heritage.”
Acknowledgement: This brief history of Longview was written by Nancy Green McWhorter and her husband, Eugene W. McWhorter. Appreciation is gratefully expressed to Gregg County Historical Foundation and Longview Rotary Endowment Fund, Inc., for permission to incorporate passages from Traditions of the Land: the History of Gregg County and fromThe Club and the Town: The Rotary Club and the City of Longview, Texas, Year by Year from 1920 to 1995, both books written by Eugene W. McWhorter. Used by permission. All rights reserved.