Stephen F. Austin State University

All aboard for Earpville, St. Clair and Fredonia (June 2012)

All aboard for Earpville, St. Clair and Fredonia
By Van Craddock

Longview made it. So did Kilgore and Gladewater. But Earpville, St. Clair, Fredonia and Camden didn't.

Why is it that some towns survived while other Gregg County communities only became historical footnotes?

Well, the railroads played a major role in that. And in Longview's case there's at least a slim chance - although local historians don't buy it - that the Great Indian Spirit ensured that the name of "Longview" would live on forever.

Longview got its name, the generally accepted tale goes, because when the town site was being laid out there was a tall hill - known variously as Rock Hill or Methvin Hill - from which one had a "long view."

But not everybody subscribed to that explanation. None other than R.M. Kelly, who brought his famous Kelly Plow Company to Longview in the 1880s, attributed the city's name to a Mrs. Long, who was the wife of a railroad engineer. She supposedly climbed a hill and remarked about the long view. "You have just named the town," replied the husband.

There is even one story (it's told in Fred Tarpley's "1001 Texas Place Names" book) that an Indian was responsible for the name of Longview. An Indian legend, Tarpley says, is that the Indians, led by Chief White Feather, were traveling to seek relief from a severe drought. The Great Spirit spoke to Chief White Feather, saying, "Ahead lies the land of abundance that thou dost gaze upon from a long, long view."

Judging from the story, the Great Spirit appears to have spoken better English than anyone in East Texas, past or present. However, not much credence is given the Indian tale.

Before Longview came along, there was Earpville, a busy little village and stagecoach stop located in what today is east Longview near the Harrison County line. Earpville (it was pronounced "Arpville" by locals) was named after the respected James Earp, storeowner and postmaster for the area.

Early in its history, Earpville was commonly called "Steal Easy." That's because the burg had more than its share of unsavory characters who would purloin their neighbors' belongings under cover of nightfall.

And did you know Gladewater used to be called St. Clair? On Glade Creek near the Sabine River was the tiny St. Clair settlement. But when the Texas & Pacific Railroad came into the area, the station was named Gladewater.

Another early Gregg County community that long since has become a memory was Fredonia, located just southwest of Longview and founded by Haden Edwards, who had organized the famous Fredonian Rebellion in the 1820s.

Fredonia was established as a town site in 1846 and quickly became a prosperous Sabine River ferry crossing and river port, home to 40 or 50 buildings. Steamboats stopped there, and William Moore operated the ferry that was crossed by many Southern settlers headed into Texas.

But Fredonia was passed over by the railroads, too, and the once-booming town disappeared.

Camden suffered the same fate as Earpville and Fredonia. It was situated on the south bank of the Sabine, near what is now the southeastern Gregg County town of Easton.

Camden was established as a Rusk County town site in 1844, being added to the new county of Gregg County in 1874. It was a community of some importance. Sam Houston spent the night in Camden at least once and spoke at public meetings a couple of times.

Robert E. Lee, a captain in the U.S. Army, led his company across the Sabine at Camden on his way to fight in the Mexican War.

There have been other Gregg County settlements -- Phillipi, Iron Bridge, Killingworth and Bethel among them. But they, too, became only footnotes in East Texas history. They had no railroads, or Indian spirits, to intervene for them.