Longview is not only the oldest town in Gregg County. It is three years older than the county itself. It became a townsite in 1870 and was incorporated in 1871.
When the old Southern Pacific was stretching toward the West Coast, Mr. and Mrs. O.H. Methvin deeded the railroad 100 acres of land on April 7, 1870, for the original townsite.
The railroad platted the land into blocks, streets and alleys and began selling the property for residences and business establishments. In September of 1870, Methvin deeded the railroad 50 more acres and that was added to the townsite.
All of that took place three years before Gregg County was created.
The area that became Longview consisted of mostly hilly land in the southeast corner of Upshur County, devoted more to small farms than to large plantations.
Before the Civil War there were, within what are now the Longview city limits, two rural communities with United States post offices: Earpville in the east and Pine Tree in the west. A Methodist congregation at Earpville, dating back to 1846, later became the present First United Methodist Church of Longview. Today’s Pine Tree Cumberland Presbyterian Church was chartered in 1847.
On May 17, 1871, Longview incorporated, the first community in Gregg County to do so. Earpville disappeared from the map, but Pine Tree endured as a recognizable community, known later as Awalt, then as Willow Springs, and finally as Greggton before being annexed by Longview in the 1960s.
During its early years the city was dominated by Republican Party interests. Among early opponents of the Republicans was James S. Hogg, who established, then discontinued, a tri-weekly newspaper during a short period in 1871. The paper was known as the Longview News. A second weekly was established in 1872 by J.L. Terry. It was known as the Longview New Era.
In its first years Longview was a rough railroad town; violence was common, and nearly half of the town’s businesses were said to have been saloons. Despite its rough character, however, there were already signs in the early 1870s that the town was developing into a more established city.
In 1872 the International Railroad (later the International & Great Northern), built a connection between Longview and Palestine. The railroad joined the Southern Pacific about a mile east of the Longview depot, and the area became known as Longview Junction. A third railroad, the Longview and Sabine Valley, began construction from Longview Junction in 1877.
As the railroads furthered the economic transformation of the region, seven new counties were established in Northeast Texas by the fragmentation of long-established larger counties.
In 1873 a county centered geographically and politically on Longview was proposed; it was to take pieces from Upshur, Rusk, and Harrison counties. Longview became the county seat. When the Rusk portion turned out smaller than hoped and the Harrison part proved unattainable, Longview was left very near one edge of a small and peculiarly shaped Gregg County.
During the 1870s and early 1880s the town grew rapidly. Partly due to a major fire in 1877, the original frame buildings of the commercial center were replaced with structures of brick and stone.
By 1882 Longview had Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Christian churches, as well as three sawmills, two schools, a bank, a planing mill, a cotton gin, a foundry, a machine shop, a street railway, an opera house with a seating capacity of 450, and three weekly newspapers — the New Era, the Surprise, and the Democrat. At least one, the New Item, had come and gone. The estimated population was 1,525.
The area around Longview Junction also developed into a small commercial center, and a street railway running along Fredonia and Methvin streets operated between the two depots. Longview Junction was annexed to the city in 1904.
From 1882 until after World War II, the city’s main industrial plant was the Kelly Plow Co., a very substantial agricultural equipment factory. The town’s population grew steadily during the last years of the 1800s.
By 1910 it had reached 5,155. The Longview Electric Light and Power Co. began supplying electricity about 1895; the first municipal waterworks was installed in 1904; and a sanitary sewer system was installed about 1910.
In 1903 the Graham Manufacturing Co. built a large crate and box factory for farm produce next to the Kelly Plow Co. The Port Bolivar Iron Ore Railroad Co., formed in 1911, built about 30 miles of track north from the Junction as part of an unsuccessful plan to develop Ore City.
Between 1910 and 1920 the population growth slowed, and in 1920 Longview was a rural cotton and lumbering center with an estimated 5,713 residents; African Americans made up 31 percent of the population.
Racial tensions, which had long been simmering beneath the surface, erupted into violence in the Longview Race Riot of 1919. Black residences and businesses were burned and at least one black man was killed.
During the 1920s cotton prices fluctuated and timber supplies dwindled, leading to economic uncertainty for Longview. However, a paved highway, later known as U.S. 80, was built through the town and the population increased by nearly 2,000 during the decade. By 1929 the city had more than 7,000 residents.
The Longview Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1916, promoted the city with an aggressive advertising campaign. The Rotary Club of Longview was organized in 1920. In 1926 Longview became the headquarters of the newly founded East Texas Chamber of Commerce.
In 1929 the Texas & Pacific Railway moved its division offices to Mineola, and nearly 700 families moved away. By 1930 the population of Longview had dropped to 5,036, slightly lower than its population in 1910.
The discovery of the rich East Texas Oil Field in the early 1930s, however, saved the town from the harsh economic effects of the Great Depression.
Located outside the oilfield, Longview was spared the worst aspects of boomtown chaos but was able to capitalize on its position as the established business center and governmental seat of Gregg County. The city was transformed from a sleepy cotton, lumber, and railroad town populated largely by natives to a thriving commercial and industrial city dominated by mostly Southern newcomers.
The population more than doubled during the 1930s, to 13,758 in 1940. That same year the town reported 750 rated businesses. Burgeoning tax receipts allowed city and county officials to build numerous new government structures and schools, including a new county courthouse in 1932.
In 1942 construction began on the Big Inch pipeline, which originated in Longview. It ensured an uninterrupted supply of gas and oil during World War II.
Concerted efforts to attract diversified industries to Longview during the war and for 20 years thereafter were led by Carl Estes, publisher of the Longview Morning News and Daily Journal.
During World War II the government built a large hospital complex, Harmon General Hospital, just outside Longview. After the war, R.G. LeTourneau opened a large manufacturing plant for earth-moving equipment, and he acted with other civic leaders to turn Harmon General Hospital into LeTourneau Technical Institute.
In 1950 Eastman Kodak Co. chose a site near Longview for its new subsidiary, Texas Eastman Co., which became the largest chemical complex in inland Texas. Other developments during the immediate postwar period in the greater Longview area included Gregg County Airport and Lake Cherokee.
In 1966 a Schlitz brewery and associated container factory were built; the beer plant later became the Stroh Brewery, the largest in Texas, producing 4 million barrels annually.