Bill Woodall

Bill Woodall

In January 1931, call it 89.5 years ago, 76 residents – all eligible to vote in Texas elections – petitioned Gregg County Judge W.R. Hughes for an election to incorporate the rural hamlet of Kilgore.

There were at that time, said the petition presented by P.E. Barton, 200 “actual, bona fide voters within said City,” part of a population numbering “more than 500 and less than 5,000 inhabitants, to wit, about 1500 inhabitants.”

There followed a metes-and-bounds description of what would be the City of Kilgore. The county judge authorized the election; notice was posted in the Longview newspaper and on buildings at Crims Mercantile Corner, Horton & Dixon’s Café, and the Post Office.

On a percentage basis, Kilgoreos were more devoted to the democratic process then than now… Of 200 qualified voters, 102 cast ballots (550 or so out of a population of 14,000 voted in the most recent city council election) and without dissent they elected incorporation. Voting was held on the second floor of the Speer Building – now 204 N. Commerce where, some decades later, new residents Harvey and Donna McLendon (he is now Kilgore Mayor Pro Tem) would briefly live with their family and where another decade or so late, this writer and his wife would live.

P.E. Barton delivered the petition but J. Malcolm Crim carried the day… he was elected mayor with 100 votes to 2 for Barton. The first city commissioners were Roy H. Laird and Ben Laird, each with 99 votes. Barton got one vote for commissioner, as did Lem Kay and J.T. Crim. The commission had only three members and, as each had day jobs, decisions back then were often made on a 2-0 vote with one member absent. And they were monumental decisions… a city was being designed.

The very first order of business, the first vote, was to appoint the Kilgore Daily News the official organ for the city.

The three commissioners were busy. Organizing a city takes a lot of time. In the first couple of year, the commission often met two to three times a week. Water wells were drilled and lines buried, sanitary sewer system had to be designed and built, streets paved. Before the decade was over Kilgore would have paved sidewalks, a library would be construted, a super-Olympic pool would be built on the but-recently purchased property now called City Park. Eventually the police chief would even have a city-owned vehicle.

Rules had to be drafted defining everything from crosswalks (pedestrians shall cross in the right half of the crosswalk) to traffic issues to swimming pool decorum (no diving off another’s shoulders and no going down the slide in a standing position.) FYI, until 1947 swimmers could rent a swim suit for 15 cents; that year the rate was raised to 25 cents.

During that decade, Commissioner John Earl Bagwell took sick and, while still in office, died. The first mayor, Roy Laird, would be succeeded by J. Malcolm Crim who would serve until the day in 1949 he, too, died.

Next: How to finance a swimming pool.

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