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Craddock: Long-ago villages dotted Gregg landscape

Earpville, Camden, Peatown, Awalt, St. Clair, Cotton Plant.

They were all thriving settlements in what today is Gregg County. So were the villages of Bodie, Omega, Carter’s Mill and Freedman’s Ridge.

Communities came and communities went, especially if the railroad bypassed them. That’s what happened in 1871 when the railroad expanded westward from Marshall and Hallsville to a new town site called Longview.

James Earp had founded Earpville (pronounced “Arpville”) in the 1840s. It was located in what today is east Longview and was home to a number of residents. Earpville sometimes was referred to as “Steal Easy,” a moniker given it by travelers concerned about the unsavory characters who inhabited Earpville.

Awalt is long forgotten but it almost became Gregg’s County seat. When the county was created in 1873, the village was named after Cumberland Presbyterian preacher Soloman Awalt. The town was located in the middle of the new county and as such made sense as a government seat. However, residents approved Longview as the county capital with 524 votes. Awalt only got 125 votes.

Sam Houston

Camden originally was called Walling’s Ferry. It was founded in the 1830s and situated near present-day Easton on the bank of the Sabine River. It boasted a hotel, several businesses and several hundred residents. Sam Houston himself is said to have made a speech or two at Camden’s Masonic Lodge. Some time after the Civil War, Camden became a ghost town.

Peatown was one of those two-name towns, too. Originally called Edwardsville, the community was established in the 1840s and sat a couple of miles west of today’s East Texas Regional Airport. One year, the story goes, a local farmer had an unusually large crop of peas and folks began buying from the farmer at “Peatown.” The name stuck. Peatown eventually disappeared from state maps.

Cotton Plant surely was one of the area’s earliest villages. It appeared as early as the 1830s and was located south of Longview along the Sabine River. Some 150 people lived there. Churches, a school and post office were established at Cotton Plant. When a new bridge was built in the area, the town came to be called Iron Bridge. When the post office and school closed, the village withered away.

Stagecoach

St. Clair had been a stagecoach stop and was one of many communities that benefited by arrival of the railroad. In the early 1870s it became a stop along the Texas and Pacific line. Residents eventually moved to the nearby town of Gladewater and St. Clair disappeared. The 1930s East Texas oil boom saw creation of a new community, Clarksville City, on the old town site.

Bodie, a farm community southwest of Longview, was named after the flamboyant G.A. Bodenheim, who became Longview’s mayor in 1904 (and was re-elected several times). At the turn of the century the village became a station on the International-Great Northern Railroad.

Omega was established about the same time as Bodie. Situated in the far northern part of Gregg County, Omega was on the Port Bolivar Railway line and home to a school, businesses and residences. It disappeared from most maps a half-century ago.

Carter’s Mill predated White Oak. Settled in the 1870s, it had a store, mill and a number of residents.

Freedman’s Ridge was south of the aforementioned Omega and founded by ex-slaves following the Civil War. It too was on the Port Bolivar line.

Other Gregg County villages that faded with time are Calhoun, Crews, Shell Camp, Johnsonville, Fredonia, Philippi, Point Pleasant and Tryon.

— Van “Wagon Rut” Craddock’s latest book is “East Texas Tales, Book 2,” available at Barron’s and the Gregg County Historical Museum. His column appears Sunday. Email vancraddock@sbcglobal.net

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Proverbs 3:9

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