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Loop 281 arches north across Longview like a rainbow framing an East Texas shopper’s paradise. That is the only stretch of Longview I knew for years: national brands, restaurants and movie theaters.
That is, until my friend Ellen asks me to join her for lunch at Deb’s Downtown Café. I walk along West Tyler Avenue, thinking how nice it is to enjoy slow traffic and join people making their way on foot.
Over lunch, we catch up on life, our families and work. Then she asks me if I want to play tourist for the afternoon.
“I want to show you the heart of the city,” she says.
Ellen is a longtime resident of the area and proud of her hometown. West Tyler Avenue turns into East Tyler Avenue as we cross North Center Street. We stop in front of a Longview Heritage Marker explaining that in 1870, O.H. Methvin deeded 100 acres to Southern Pacific Railroad in exchange for one gold coin. That original 100 acres is now the city’s downtown. “When Texas became a state in 1845, farmers started homesteading,” says Ellen, a Texas history buff. “Before that, Caddo Native Americans lived in this area.”
Standing under an awning to shade ourselves, Ellen points to the Longview World of Wonders. “That’s our new children’s museum,” she says.
We walk the half block to North Fredonia Street and the Gregg County Historical Museum, a stately, ginger-colored brick building with columns flanking its entrance. The museum is in the Citizens National Bank, a 1910 building that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its ornate interior showcases the area’s history.
Inside the bank’s vault, we see an exhibit chronicling the 1894 Dalton Gang robbery of nearby First National Bank. The robbery ended with the outlaws in jail, and the original hold-up note is on display.
I roam from a Victorian-era setting to an area dedicated to the oil boom. Placards state that the discovery of the largest oil field in the lower 48 states saved Gregg County from the Great Depression in 1930. Almost half of the field’s 200 square miles lay in the western third of the county. Kilgore and Gladewater were transformed into boomtowns. By the time drilling slacked off in 1935, 15,000 wells and 95 refineries populated the field.
In the basement, we find the Buddy Calvin Jones Caddo Collection. Display cases feature pottery, arrowheads and primitive tools, all donated by the Longview native.
Jones, an archaeologist, made his first discovery at age 7 and continued excavations throughout his lifetime. In 2003, the museum acquired the Jones collection of 4,000 items. The collection includes items excavated in northeast Texas in the 1950s and 1960s, and date to 1700.
Outside, we head south on North Fredonia Street. At East Tyler Avenue, we take a left to the Longview Museum of Fine Arts.
We walk through the front doors and into the whisper-quiet main gallery. Colorful pieces of contemporary and traditional art appear on two levels. The museum houses more than 400 paintings, etchings, woodcuts, photographs, lithographs, sculptures, pottery and collages.
“Most of the art is created by Texas artists,” I recall my friend whispering.
As we walk back to our cars, past photography studios, law offices and restaurants, discussing all we experienced, Ellen tells me about some of the city’s other attributes: ArtsView Children’s Theatre, Longview Ballet Theatre, Longview Symphony, Theatre Longview and the East Texas Symphonic Band. “And, of course, the Great Texas Balloon Race held every year in June,” she mentions as we approach my car.
I know now that, although I travel here often, I didn’t really know this city at all.
Marilyn Jones lives in Henderson and writes about travel.