From Staff Reports
There was a day when the plow was more symbolic of Longview industry than the oil derrick.
In that day when agriculture was the biggest single industry in Gregg County, its biggest manufacturing concern was the plow company founded by George Addison Kelly.
The G.A. Kelly Plow Co. in the early years of the century was the largest and best-equipped plow and implement factory west of the Mississippi. It began in a shop near Marshall, prospered for a while in what became known as Kellyville, near Jefferson, and thrived and ended in Longview.
The Kelly Plow Co. had its beginnings in 1843, when John A. Stewart began making crude plows in a shop near Marshall. In 1848, he moved his plow patterns to Four Mile Branch, a popular campsite for wagoners four miles west of Jefferson. The shop, operated by Stewart and Zacharia Lockett, melted iron in a pocket furnace to make crude plows and provided general repairs to equipment at the campsite.
In 1852, Kelly arrived in Jefferson. He had lived in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, and worked on riverboats since leaving the East Tennessee farm home of his parents.
Kelly liked Jefferson, then the metropolis of North Texas and the trading and shipping center of a broad area, and he got a job in the shop at Four Mile Branch.
The firm became “Kelly and Stewart” in 1858, when it erected a larger building and added cast-iron stoves, cooking utensils, machinery castings and andirons to its line of products.
In those days of Western expansion, roads to Jefferson were heavy with wagons bringing farm produce to the bustling market. Kelly saw to it the wagons didn’t return empty. They hauled his plows and other products throughout the Southwest.
Kelly acquired full ownership of the business in 1860, the same year he developed the Blue Kelly Plow, which was to be so valuable and so widely used that “Kelly” became a household word and “Blue Kelly” was synonymous with plow. In his honor, the little community around the shop was renamed Kellyville.
He also married Stewart’s sister. The couple had eight children, one of whom became chairman of the board of Longview’s First National Bank and the first president of the East Texas Chamber of Commerce while heading the plow company for 45 years.
Civil War years
Soon after the outbreak of the Civil War, Kelly raised a company of soldiers, was commissioned a captain and reported for service. His company was accepted, but he was detailed to produce cast iron cannonballs for Confederate artillery along with the plows and utensils so badly needed by civilians.
During Reconstruction, a new pony plow was produced. By 1866, the enlarged business began to manufacture its own iron, smelting East Texas ores in a furnace about two miles west of Kellyville.
When railroads began to cross Texas, wagon trains gradually disappeared from the winding, muddy roads, boats ceased to ply the bayou in effective numbers and the great trading center of Jefferson dwindled to a ghost of its once-booming self. Kelly began considering a move to be nearer new transportation hubs.
After the uninsured plant burned, he transferred the salvage to Longview in 1882. The company began manufacturing general agricultural implements that year, and in 1907 the plant was producing a full line of steel plows and tillage implements.
After George A. Kelly died in 1909, Robert Marvin Kelly succeeded him as president. LeGrand D. Kelly, another son, was co-manager and secretary-treasurer until his death in 1941. George A. Kelly Jr. and LeGrand D. Kelly Jr. managed the business in 1945.
End of the plow
The company seems largely to have stopped manufacturing plows by the 1960s. As late as the 1970s George A. Kelly Jr. was engaged in banking and investing activities and used the name Kelly Plow Co. for his investment company.
When asked why the company went out of business, Mrs. George A. Kelly Jr. said, “Well, when you’re 115 or 120 years old, don’t you think that’s long enough to be active and alive?”
In an interview in 1986, she told the Longview Morning Journal her husband got to the point he was ready to retire and none of the sons were interested in taking it over.
“So he decided it was time to pull his ropes in and get rid of the responsibility,” she said. “So many of the implement companies have consolidated and gone out of business. It’s such an unpredictable business. People in that industry worry when the farmers aren’t doing well and there’s a lot of worry and responsibility attached to it.”