Plans formulating for Longview's 150th birthday in 2020
Jimmy Daniell Isaac
Dec. 2, 2017 at 11:24 p.m.
Updated Dec. 4, 2017 at 5:19 a.m.
Three years isn't too early for Longview leaders to start planning a 150th birthday party.
Community Services Director Laura Hill and longtime transportation advocate Griff Hubbard are among several people who are "trying to lay the groundwork methodically" for a sesquicentennial celebrating Longview's founding.
Hill was 10 years old when the city celebrated its centennial in 1970. Several men in town who called themselves "Brothers of the Brush," including her father, tried to grow beards reminiscent of late 19th-century men's style, she said.
"I remember my mom sewed me a dress and a sunbonnet, and I got to play dress up," Hill said. "I just remember getting to go downtown and everything we did that week to relive our heritage. … I'm going to guess that kicked off my love of history."
Hill is leading plans for a sesquicentennial celebration that will feature the city's role and reliance on transportation and the many organizations and agencies that contribute to Longview's past and present.
Organizers met this past month to outline early goals for the celebration, she said. Large-scale ideas such as a traveling exhibit from a nationally renowned museum such as the Smithsonian Institution require time, making early arrangements necessary, she said.
"When you're involving organizations outside of Longview, it requires pre-planning and jumping through the hoops," Hill said.
Ideas in the works include local churches holding picnics around town, in which members "might go through their archives and have pictures," she said.
The group has reached out to the Gregg County Historical Museum for photographs from Longview's early days to determine how to assemble large displays.
Hill mentioned a possible re-enactment of a Longview Cannibals baseball game. The Cannibals played 44 seasons in Longview beginning in 1895, and many of its players went on to play with major league baseball teams.
Hill found a 1903 photo of the Cannibals and is considering asking people to dress up in old baseball uniforms for a friendly game.
Baseball isn't the only sport on organizers' list. Organizers also are considering a croquet tournament.
"Croquet was certainly a big-time activity in that late 19th century and early 20th century," she said.
Assistant Community Services Director Dietrich Johnson said he's tasked with communicating the city's early vision for sesquicentennial celebrations with the local arts community "to share with them that their history is important in celebrating this event," he said. He plans to talk with arts leaders about how they fit into the celebration.
"I think it's great," Johnson said. "It creates community pride. It offers lessons for our young citizens, and it gives an opportunity for our more seasoned citizens to reflect and celebrate and to look how far we've come as a city."
Hubbard remembered participating in the 1971 centennial celebration of his hometown of Texarkana. His uncle, the late Wilbur Smith, chaired that community's centennial celebration committee and was also "a railroad man."
"He buried a time capsule, and he and my mother put items in that time capsule for me, which will be unearthed in 2021," Hubbard said. "God willing, I'll be able to find out what they put in there for me."
Longview held its centennial in 1970 to commemorate 100 years since the first town lots were sold.
"Longview was very, very smart," said Hubbard, adding that Texarkana celebrated the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first train into Texarkana in 1871. "But Longview got smart and decided to hold their centennial on the anniversary of the selling of individual town lots."
The 43-year Amtrak employee said starting sesquicentennial planning early is also smart — as is organizers' decision to allow flexibility of scheduling the celebration sometime between January 2020 and May 2020.
"Because of that flexibility, I am very hopeful that a wonderful rail event can be planned," Hubbard said.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, Longview was founded when the Southern Pacific Railroad — later to become the Texas and Pacific and now Union Pacific — extended its track from Marshall westward to what is now Gregg County. The railroad laid out a new town on land purchased from Ossamus Hitch Methvin Sr.
By May 17, 1871, Longview had incorporated and established a post office, but regular rail service to Longview was delayed two years because of the railroad company's financial problems.
The first train arrived in 1872, the same year that the International Railroad built a connection between Longview and Palestine about a mile east of the Longview depot in an area that became known as the Junction. A third railroad connection was constructed in 1877, cementing the city as a commercial and passenger rail hub.
"During the 1870s and early 1880s, the town grew rapidly," according to tshaonline.org.
The sesquicentennial might coincide with a renaissance of centralized transportation options in Longview.
In June 2008, former Longview Mayor and now state Rep. Jay Dean formed a task force on developing passenger rail service in Longview. The committee's efforts led to the city gaining ownership of the train depot, and by 2012, the city broke ground on more than $2 million in renovations to the depot.
The station completed, the city plans to construct a transfer station for its passenger bus system within two years using city, state and Gregg County funding. Once built, Longview Transit expects to move its transfer point to the Sidney Bell Willis station that serves Greyhound buses on Pacific Avenue across from the depot — thus completing the city's decade-long vision of creating the Longview Multimodal Transportation Center.
That vision might be complete in time for the sesquicentennial celebration of Longview's birth and renaissance surrounding transportation.
"I think it's important that we continue to learn about how our city was created and how important the rail community was and how a city like ours was started," Johnson said.
Said Hubbard, "I will be doing everything within the scope of my abilities to make sure that the rail industry is part of the celebration."