The Reverend Wouldn't Recognize His County Nowadays
By Van Craddock
It didn't start out to be Gregg County.
Folks in the new Upshur County village of Longview were getting tired of having to travel to the county seat, Gilmer, to conduct official business. They wanted to carve a new county out of the East Texas Piney Woods.
So in January 1873, Rep. Bluford Brown, a part-time Methodist preacher representing Upshur County in the Texas Legislature, introduced a bill creating "Roanoke County" out of southern Upshur County, western Harrison County and northern Rusk County. Apparently a number of Virginians had settled in the Longview area and wanted a name that would remind them of home.
However, sentiment soon arose to name the proposed county for a fallen Civil War hero, Confederate Gen. John Gregg. In the spring of 1873, Brown changed the name on his bill and formally proposed "Gregg" instead of Roanoke.
Now, this was Reconstruction Texas and the governor was Edmund Davis, a Republican who had served in the Union Army during the "late unpleasantness." Davis wasn't too keen about having a new county named for a Rebel general. On May 13, 1873, the 13th Legislature presented the bill to Davis, who simply ignored it.
In addition to opposing the name, Davis pointed out the proposed county would be much smaller than the constitutional limit of 900 square miles. Also opposing the bill were elected officials from Harrison County. In the 1870s, Harrison County (with Marshall as county seat) was one of the most populated, politically powerful counties in the state.
Despite the lack of Davis' signature or any acreage from Harrison County, Gregg County came into being in mid-1873 when Secretary of State James P. Newcomb certified the act as law. By April 1874, the Texas Legislature had formally extended the Gregg County boundary south of the Sabine River into a portion of Rusk County, almost doubling Gregg's initial land area. Even with the land from Rusk County, at 276 square miles Gregg is the seventh smallest of Texas' 254 counties. (In case you're wondering, the only smaller counties are Rockwall, Somerville, Camp, Delta, Morris and Rains.)
In late June 1873, residents of the new Gregg County elected officials and picked Longview (524 votes) over Awalt (125 votes) as the seat of government. Construction began on a courthouse, jail and public roads. In its first census in 1880, Gregg County boasted 8,530 residents.
The county soon became a railroad and trade center. In 1931, Gregg discovered it was one of five counties sitting atop the great East Texas Oil Field. Gregg became the biggest oil-producing county in Texas, having produced 3.3 billion barrels of oil since discovery of the field. "Black gold" brought untold wealth to the county.
By the way, Reconstruction Gov. Edmund Davis lost his bid for re-election. At first he refused to vacate his Capitol office to his successor, Richard Coke. When armed conflict appeared imminent, Davis gave in and left Austin. He died in 1883 and is buried in Austin's State Cemetery.
No county is named for him.