Craddock: Vote in 1873 determined future of Awalt

By all rights, Awalt — not Longview — probably should have been the county seat of Gregg County.

But an election held in late June 1873 sealed the fate of little Awalt, which was eventually swallowed up by the thriving railroad community called Longview.

When the new “Gregg County” was carved out of southern Upshur County earlier that year, some folks in Awalt figured their town would be a shoe-in for county seat. After all, Awalt had been around for 26 years and was situated near the geographic center of the new county.

Presbyterian preacher Solomon “Uncle Sol” Awalt had arrived in East Texas in 1847, coming from Tennessee. The Rev. Awalt held a prayer meeting under towering pines, and from that meeting came Pine Tree Cumberland Presbyterian Church and what is now the Pine Tree Independent School District.

Near Sabine

A village began to grow up around the church at “Awalt,” which was on the old Tyler-Marshall Road (today U.S. 80 in West Longview), not far from the Sabine River.

When the Civil War came along, Rev. Awalt served as chaplain for a Texas Infantry unit until illness forced him to return home. He stayed at Pine Tree Cumberland Presbyterian until 1872 when he left to organize other East Texas congregations.

The following year, the Texas Legislature created the new Gregg County. Solomon Awalt along with Britton Buttrill, T.A. Harris, John Page, William Wilburn, H.G. Williams and John Witherspoon were named county commissioners.

A county seat and officers were needed for the infant county. Awalt and Longview were the only two towns vying for the county seat in the June 25-June 29, 1873 election.

Although only three years old and situated on the far eastern side of Gregg County, Longview had a lot going for it. It was a railroad center and a boomtown.

Commercial train service had begun at Longview in February 1871. In addition to the Southern Pacific (soon acquired by the Texas and Pacific), by 1872 the International Railroad (later called the International and Great Northern) also was operating in town. Longview became the commercial center for much of East Texas.

On the other hand, the rail line that was building west had bypassed little Awalt.

The election for county seat wasn’t much of a contest. The final tally was Longview 524, Awalt 125.

Rapid growth

Longview continued its rapid growth. In February 1874, an unnamed newspaper correspondent wrote a glowing article on the county seat in the state’s biggest newspaper, the Galveston Daily News:

“Since the organization of our county, a very large majority of the citizens of Rusk County … have been most anxious to be annexed to Gregg, and the petitions numerously signed have been forwarded to the Legislature.

“It is contemplated by our citizens to erect a first-class wagon road bridge over the Sabine River, at or near Brown’s Bluff, which is five miles south of Longview… The building of this bridge will add largely to our trade from the south side of the river, which is now very heavy, and especially our retail trade.

“The spirit of improvement seems to be rife in our town. Besides many handsome and commodious residences that are in course of construction, several stone business houses have been, and are, now being built.”

In April 1874, the Texas Legislature allotted Gregg County additional acreage, this time moving a sizable portion of northern Rusk County into the new county.

Over time, “Uncle Sol” Awalt’s village disappeared from maps. Awalt became part of the Greggton community, which was annexed into Longview in 1959.

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

Today's Bible verse

“The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.”

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