Stephen F. Austin State University

New county had boundary, money problems (September 2017)

New county had boundary, money problems

By Van Craddock

Longview residents were thrilled in early 1873 when the new "Gregg County" was carved out of adjoining counties. But many folks in Harrison, Rusk and northern Upshur counties weren't smiling. That's because large chunks of those counties were supposed to be taken to create Gregg County.

In June 1873, Longview won an election to become the county seat of Gregg, meaning area residents no longer had to make all-day trips to Gilmer to conduct official business.

The western half of Harrison County was supposed to become part of the new Gregg County, but Harrison's officials prevented that from happening, presenting an April petition to the Texas Legislature opposing "dismemberment" of their county. At the time, Harrison was one of the most politically powerful counties in Texas.

Upshur County officials in Gilmer were miffed as well. When the Gregg County Commissioners Court met in July 1873 seeking "assessment rolls of property assessed in (the new) Gregg County … with all taxes due Gregg County for 1873 which have been collected by Upshur County," Upshur officials rejected the request.

Gregg County then appealed to Texas Attorney General William Alexander, noting Gregg was "an organized county without a dollar in the Treasury." This was a problem because Gregg County needed to pay elected officials, build a courthouse, a jail and new roads.

In August, the attorney general agreed with Gregg County's request, saying Gregg was "entitled to demand and receive a certified copy of the assessment rolls of Upshur County embracing that part of Gregg County taken from the County of Upshur."

It also didn't help that Upshur County officials thought the new Upshur-Gregg boundary line was incorrect, insisting that Gregg had taken too much Upshur territory. Upshur County demanded that a new survey be made. A small portion of the northwestern boundary eventually was returned to Upshur County after a second survey.

It wasn't until late December 1873 that Upshur County finally complied with the attorney general's order and deposited in Gregg County Clerk R.B. Levy's office "a certified copy of the ad valorem tax rolls for the year 1873 … embracing that part of Gregg County taken from the County of Upshur."

The Gregg-Upshur brouhaha had barely died down when a new crisis surfaced, this one involving Rusk County.
In January 1874, some residents of northern Rusk County began to circulate a petition protesting their proposed annexation to Gregg County.

The Galveston Daily News reported Rusk residents had held a Jan. 31 rally at Kilgore and "were unanimous and enthusiastic on the subject." The petitioners intended to ask the Texas Legislature "to create the County of Coke, and they have met with a most flattering response, securing about seven hundred and fifty names."

The proposed Coke County (to be named for Richard Coke, who had just been elected governor of Texas) would include "nine hundred voters, four hundred and twenty square miles, and a million dollars of taxable property" according to one contemporary newspaper.

However, in February 1874, the Texas House approved "a bill to enlarge the boundaries of Gregg County" by a vote of 63 to 15. Formal approval came on April 30 when Gov. Coke signed the annexation into law. Some 140 square miles of northern Rusk County now belonged to Gregg County, almost doubling the new county's size.

The Gregg County seat of Longview quickly became a railroad and business center. By Gregg County's first federal census in 1880, the county reported 8,530 residents while Upshur County boasted 10,266.

It wouldn't be until the 1940 census, six decades later, that Gregg officially overtook Upshur in population. Upshur County reported 26,178 folks that year while Gregg County, fueled by discovery of the great East Texas Oil Field, had 58,027 residents in 1940.