Gregg County, in northeastern Texas, is bounded on the north by Upshur, on the south by Rusk, on the west by Smith, and on the east by Harrison counties. Longview, Gregg County's largest town, is 130 miles east of Dallas and sixty-five miles west of Shreveport, Louisiana. The county's center lies at approximately 32°30' north latitude and 94°50' west longitude. Gregg County comprises 273 square miles, with an elevation ranging from 230 to 524 feet above sea level. It is within the East Texas timberlands. The terrain is gently sloping to hilly, with well-drained to moderately well-drained loamy and gravelly soils. Numerous streams drain to the Sabine River, which runs through Gregg County from northwest to southeast. Temperatures range from an average high of 96° F in July to an average low of 38° in January, rainfall averages 47.18 inches per year, and the growing season extends for 247 days. Mineral resources include oil and gas, sand, and gravel.
Northern Gregg County was a part of the hunting grounds of the Caddo Indians, and the part of the county south of the Sabine River was occupied at times by various Indian groups, generally peaceful farming people. Soon after 1800 the Cherokees were driven west across the Mississippi River, and they in turn drove the other Indians out of Northeast Texas and occupied the area. There is much remaining evidence of the Cherokees in Gregg County. One of the earliest roads across Gregg County was the Cherokee Trace, which crosses from north to south and passes over the Sabine near Longview; it was used by the Cherokees when driven from East Texas by President Mirabeau B. Lamar in 1838, and later served as a military road from South Texas to Fort Lawson on the Red River.
The first land patents in the area that became Gregg County were issued in 1835 by the Republic of Mexico and were subsequently recognized by the Republic of Texas. The earliest Republic of Texas grants were issued in 1838, and by 1858 almost all of the area that became Gregg County had been surveyed and patented. In the early days of the republic, the land was occupied by settlers rather than speculators. Among the old settlements were Camden, Peatown, Danville, and Fredonia, south of the Sabine; and Arpville, Killingsworth, Pine Tree, and Bethel north of the Sabine.
By 1872 both the International-Great Northern and the Texas and Pacific had built rail lines in the area that became Gregg County, which was marked off from southern Upshur County by the Thirteenth Texas Legislature on April 12, 1873. The bill originally called the new county Roanoke, but during passage of the legislation the name was changed to Gregg, in honor of Confederate war hero John B. Gregg. Longview was selected as the county seat. By an act of the Fourteenth Legislature, on April 30, 1874, Gregg County was extended southward to add a portion of northern Rusk County.
The county grew steadily from a population of 8,530 in 1880 to 16,767 in 1920, but declined to 15,778 before the census of 1930. During the 1930s the number of county residents increased dramatically, largely because of the East Texas oilfield discoveries in 1931 and the growth of related industries. The county population was 58,027 by 1940 and 61,258 by 1950, a 5.6 percent growth in ten years. From 1950 through 1970, the population grew every ten years by 5,000 to 8,000. The most spectacular growth occurred between 1970 and 1980, when the number of residents grew from 23,566 to 99,495, despite a recession in the oil industry.
In censuses between 1880 and 1930, with the exception of 1920, Black residents in Gregg County were more numerous than white. In 1910 Blacks comprised 55 percent of the county population, and in 1930, 52 percent. After 1931, with the influx of oil entrepreneurs and their employees, the White population increased considerably relative to the number of Blacks. Between 1930 and 1940 the number of Whites rose from 7,555 to 43,548, while the Black population rose from 8,198 to 14,423. In 1980 Blacks numbered 17,807 and whites 79,806.
Gregg County, probably due to its sizable Black population, voted Republican in four presidential elections (1880, 1884, 1896, and 1900) during the late nineteenth century. However, the county vote was overwhelmingly Democratic from 1904 to the presidential election of 1952, when Republican Dwight Eisenhower carried the county. In presidential elections from 1952 through 2004, Gregg Countyhas consistently voted Republican. Third parties have had minimal influence except during the election of 1968, when 8,109 votes were cast for George Wallace (as opposed to 5,733 for Hubert Humphrey and 9,278 for Richard Nixon). The trend seems to be in the direction of continued conservatism. In the 1992 presidential election, the county cast 20,542 votes for George H. W. Bush and only 12,797 for Bill Clinton; in 2004, George W. Bush beat John Kerry 29,939 to 12,306.
From 1880 to 1930 Gregg County was predominantly agricultural, with cotton and corn as the most important crops. The number of farms increased steadily to a high of 2,000 in 1930 and then began to decline. By 1982 the county had only 378 farms, which produced primarily beef cattle and hay. Agricultural land values were high, however; farm property was valued at $60,453,918. Manufacturing, related primarily to the lumber industry, was relatively limited from 1880 through the 1920s. The total value of manufactured products in 1929 was $2,243,573. Retail business provided employment to fewer than 500 people in 1929.
The discovery of oil in Gregg County in 1931 brought a boom just as the rest of the country and much of Texas was facing the Great Depression. County population increased in a matter of weeks from around 16,000 to more than 100,000. In 1935, the post office receipts of Longview rose to $100,000, and bank deposits rose from $500,000 to more than $10 million. Freight shipments increased 1,000 percent. In 1932 a $350,000 jail and courthouse were erected in Longview. More than $2 million was spent on road building between 1932 and 1937. A new county hospital built in 1934 cost $65,000 and a nurses' home $15,000. The schools spent more than a million dollars for new buildings and equipment in Gregg County between 1932 and 1936. In order to keep pace with the astonishing growth, the state constructed a highway from Longview to Kilgore, a distance of twelve miles, at a cost of over $600,000; repair to other roads was estimated to exceed $200,000.
Though the oil boom eventually ended, the economy of Gregg County did not stagnate. By 1940 retail sales for the county had increased to $22,320,000, 951 stores employed a total of 2,301, and 52 manufacturing establishments employed 704 wage earners. In 1950 combined wholesale and retail sales totaled $125,431,000; and, by the early 1960s, $188,654,000. Employment increased from 14,237 in 1952 to 17,184 in 1966. Also significant was the rise in wholesale-trade employment from 1,324 in 1953 to 3,154 in 1980, and in retail trade from 5,584 in 1953 to 9,524 in 1980. In 1984 wholesale and retail trade together accounted for a total of 13,247 employed. In 1953 service employees were 2,166 in number, and in 1984, 7,903. By 1980 education levels in the county had risen dramatically, as the percentage of high school graduates was 65.5 percent, compared to 33 percent in 1950. Interstate Highway 20, completed around 1970, had improved transportation and attracted new commercial interests.
The recession in the East Texas oil industry, beginning around 1982, seriously affected employment in Gregg County. In 1981 only 6 percent of the workers (2,988) were unemployed. But by 1982, 10.1 percent of all workers were unemployed; the unemployment rate peaked in 1983 at 12.2 percent, with 6,561 workers unemployed. By August 1985, 10.5 percent of the workforce continued to be unemployed, a total of 5,518 workers. The total production of oil in Gregg County from 1931 to January 1, 1985, was 2,887,007,007 barrels. Crude production in 1984 was 36,695,427 barrels, down from 53,390,345 barrels in 1972. Production has dropped steadily since at least 1972, even though Gregg County was the fifth highest producing county in Texas in 1980 and 1982. The problems in the troubled oil industry were reflected by employment increases and decreases in other areas of the county economy. Between 1953 and 1984 Gregg County employment increased in all business activities with the exception of mining, which showed a slight decrease from 4,357 to 4,073. Manufacturing employment, which rose from 3,448 in 1953 to a high of 10,713 in 1980, declined to 7,509 in 1984.
The census counted 104,948 people living in Gregg County in 1990, 111,379 in 2000, and 123, 204 in 2014. About 59.6 percent of the population in 2014 was Anglo, 20.3 percent was African American, and 17.5 percent was Hispanic. More than 69 percent of the residents over age twenty-five had four years of high school, and almost 20 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century oil, manufacturing, tourism, agribusiness, and lignite mining were central elements of the area's economy. More than 3,001,000 barrels of oil and 57,982,007 cubic feet of gas-well gas were produced in the county in 2004; by the end of that year 3,285,627,108 barrels of oil had been taken from county lands since 1931. In 2002 the county had 444 farms and ranches covering 46,660 acres, 44 percent of which were devoted to crops, 26 percent to pasture, and 26 percent to woodlands. In that year farmers and ranchers in the area earned $2,416,000 (down 20 percent from 1997); livestock sales accounted for $1,866,000 of the total. Cattle, horses, hay, and nursery crops were the chief agricultural products. Longview (population, 82,314), the seat of government, was the county's largest city; other towns include Kilgore (14,793), Gladewater (6,563), White Oak (6,511), Clarksville City (886), Liberty City (2,397), Lakeport (998), Rolling Meadows (362), and Warren City (460). Tourist attractions include the Great Texas Balloon Race, which has been held annually in Longview since 1978.