Kelly plowed first industry in Gregg County
By Van Craddock
The Kelly family was so respected in Gregg County that residents of Longview actually named a church after the clan. But more on that in a minute.
There was a time when Longview was known as the home of the famous "Blue Kelly" plow. For years, "Blue Kelly" was just about synonymous with the word "plow." It was the plow used by farmers in Texas and other Southwestern states.
Marion County's misfortune was Longview's good luck when an 1880 fire destroyed the G.A. Kelly plow works near Jefferson.
George Addison Kelly, the man behind the plow, was born in Tennessee in 1832. He arrived in East Texas two decades later, going to work for John Stewart's little plow shop at Four-Mile Branch, a few miles outside of Jefferson.
In 1854 Kelly traveled to Kentucky to learn better manufacturing methods.
Within a few years the firm was renamed Kelly & Stewart. Upon Stewart's death in 1860, Kelly - who had married Stewart's sister, Lucy Anne - became sole owner of the shop.
Melting iron in a crude cupola and using charcoal for fuel, Kelly turned out plows, cooking utensils and stoves. He also made cowbells, which were widely used by ox-team freighters.
Along about 1860 Kelly began turning out his Kelly Blue plow, which sold for $3.50. The plow sold so well that Four-Mile Branch was renamed Kellyville. During the Civil War, Kelly produced cast iron cannon balls and utensils for the Southern cause. He also raised a company of soldiers for the Confederate Army.
When the war ended Kelly resumed production of plows. But in the early 1880s disaster struck. A fire burned the plow works to the ground. Salvaging what he could, Kelly relocated to Longview, by that time a prosperous railroad center in Gregg County.
Kelly was Longview's first real manufacturing concern and is said to have been Texas' first chartered industry. For many years Kelly turned out thousands of Kelly Blue plows from the plant located between High and Center streets downtown.
The firm branched out, producing a variety of agricultural implements. After the turn of the century the company produced a full line of steel plows and tillers.
The G.A. Kelly Plow Co. closed its doors in the late 1960s. Today, a city parking lot covers the spot where the famous Blue Kelly plow had been produced.
G.A. Kelly, who died on Oct. 2, 1909, left his mark on Gregg County civic affairs and for four years was mayor of Longview. When local Methodists built a new brick building in 1900-01, the congregation voted to name the church after Kelly, who had headed the church's fund drive and served as architect and contractor for the project.
For more than three decades what today is Longview's First United Methodist Church was called Kelly Memorial Methodist Church.
It was a fitting tribute. After all, whether you're plowing or doing the Lord's work, one good turn deserves another.