Kilgore is a city in Gregg and Rusk counties in the eastern part of the U.S. state of Texas. It is the home of Kilgore College. It was the childhood residence from the age of six of the noted classical pianist Van Cliburn. The population was 12,975 at the 2010 census; a 2013 estimate placed it at 13,738.
World's Richest Acre Park in downtown Kilgore, where the greatest concentration of oil wells in the world once stood
|Motto: "The City of Stars"|
Location of Kilgore, Texas
|Coordinates: 32°23′8″N 94°52′7″W|
Kilgore was founded in 1872 when the International-Great Northern Railroadcompleted the initial phase of rail line between Palestine and Longview. The rail company chose to bypass New Danville, a small community about 10 mi (16 km) southeast of Longview, in lieu of a new townsite platted on 174 acres (0.70 km2) sold to the railroad by Constantine Buckley Kilgore, the town's namesake. That way the railroad gained the profits from sale and development of these lands.
The new town received a post office in 1873 and, with a station and transportation for getting commodity crops to market, soon began to draw residents and businesses away from New Danville. By 1885, the population had reached 250 and the community had two cotton gins, a church, and its own school. The racially segregated Kilgore Independent School District was organized in 1910. By 1914 the town had two banks, several businesses, and a reported population of 700. The 1920s showed continued steady growth, and by 1929 Kilgore was home to an estimated 1,000 residents.
Prosperity came to a halt, however, when Kilgore was dealt severe blows by a steep decline in cotton prices (on which most of the town's economy was still based), and the effects of the Great Depression. Businesses began to close and, by the middle of 1930, the population had fallen to 500; the community appeared destined to become a ghost town. Blacks joined the Great Migration out of the South to northern, midwestern, and western cities for work.
Kilgore's fortunes changed dramatically on October 3, 1930, when wildcatter Columbus M. "Dad" Joiner struck oil near the neighboring town of Henderson. This well, known as the Daisy Bradford #3, marked the discovery of the vast East Texas Oilfield. Seemingly overnight Kilgore was transformed from a small farming town on the decline into a bustling boom town. By 1936, the population had increased to more than 12,000 and Kilgore's skyline was crowded with oil derricks.
Oil production continued at a breakneck pace throughout the early 1930s, with more than 1,100 producing oil wells within city limits at the height of the boom. The explosive growth left most civic services overwhelmed, and as a result Kilgore was forced toincorporate in 1931. With the city flooded with male workers and roustabouts, law enforcement struggled to keep order among the shanties, tents, and ramshacklehonkytonks that crowded Kilgore's main streets. On one occasion, they had to summon help from the Texas Rangers to keep the peace.
By the mid-1930s the oil boom had begun to subside, and most of the small oil companies and wildcatters had sold out to major corporations. The boom was essentially over by 1940. But, oil production has remained central to the city's economy. The population, which fluctuated wildly throughout the 1930s, stabilized at around 10,000 in the 1950s. A 2008 estimate placed it at just over 12,000 residents.
Kilgore is home to the Texas Shakespeare Festival, an annual summer repertory company. Founded in 1986. The Texas Shakespeare Festival presents four shows in rotating repertory every summer at the Van Cliburn Auditorium on the campus of Kilgore College.
Based on the style of Normandy cottages, construction of the Kilgore Public Library began in 1933 and was completed in 1939. The New Deal agencies, the Public Works Administration and Works Progress Administration of the President Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, participated in the construction.