The town where it all started

Published 4:28 pm Thursday, June 28, 2018

High gasoline prices and an economy still struggling to fully reboot means that Greater Port Arthur people may enjoy “staycations” this summer, reveling in the tourism sites within easy driving distance. The News is highlighting 10 of these this summer, places we’d all do well to visit.


By Chris Moore

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“Austin, Texas Jan. 12, 1901 — There is wild excitement throughout Southeast Texas over the oil strike that has just been made three miles south of Beaumont.

The well is owned by C.W. Lucas, and he today succeeded in making a test of the flow, showing that the output for one hour was 700 barrels. At this rate, the flow has a rate of 18,000 barrels every 24 hours. It is said to be the greatest oil strike in the history of that industry. The oil shoots out of a six-inch pipe to a height of 25 feet.”

  • The New York Times Jan. 13, 1901


BEAUMONT — Just off Highway 96, on the edge of Lamar University’s campus, drivers passing by can see what appears to be an oil derrick shooting liquid about 50 feet into the sky. No, a lucky student didn’t hit the oil jackpot. Once a week (weather permitting), Spindletop Gladys City Boomtown recreates the moment that changed not only Southeast Texas, but the world.

On Jan. 10, 1901, engineer Anthony F. Lucas found oil 1,139 feet below the surface, begging a gusher that had never been seen before.

“It completely changes the trajectory of Beaumont 180 degrees,” Spindletop Gladys City Boomtown Director Tony Gray said. “Beaumont was going to be a small lumber town. When they found the oil, everybody came here. This put, not only Beaumont, but Texas on the map. They found oil before in Corsicana, but nothing they had found in the United States was anything like what they found here.”

Gray said that the gusher attracted thousands to Southeast Texas.

“The oil ran for nine days straight,” he said. “Beaumont grew from 9,000 to over 50,000 people almost overnight. They came so fast that they went to the barber shop and rented the chair to sleep on.”

Gray said that at that time, a barrel of oil dropped from $2 to 3 cents due to the boom.

“Industries were still deciding if they were going to go with electric cars or gas-powered cars, and because of the amount of oil, it pushed them to gas-powered cars,” he said. “Planes and ship were also looking for a cheaper, cleaner source of fuel, so that sheer amount really changed the world.”

Gray said that Spindletop is a recreation of the town at that time.

“The buildings are not original,” he said. “Everything in the buildings is of the time period and much of it is from Spindletop itself. All of the business you see here were businesses back then.”

He said the gusher shoots water as high as the original at noon every Wednesday in July.

“It doesn’t run for nine days,” Gray said. “It runs for two minutes and is always a delight to see.”

Below is a list of a few of the buildings that Boomtown has recreated for the public.


General Store and Living Quarters

Inside of the General Store, one can find clothing and materials of the time.

Above the General Store was a re-creation of a living area from the time period. In the back left corner is an antique clock that is sure to catch an eye.

“If you lived in that time, you would likely move your family to the living area and rent out your bedroom,” Gray said. “You can see things that were in real houses back then. One of the things I like to send the kids upstairs to look for is the toilet, which is the chamber pots under the bed. They like it until I tell them that they are the ones that clean it.”

In the kitchen area one can see an old refrigerator and an icebox.

“I call that a good diet plan,” Gray said.



Gray said that the barbershop is his favorite building.

“It really tells the story of Boomtown,” he said. “So many people came here that they rented out the chair for people to sleep on because the hotel rooms were full.”

Inside the barbershop, there are pictures of crowds getting off the train during the oil rush.

“The citizens of Beaumont hated the crime and crowds that the oil brought,” Gray said. “They also saw it as a way to make money so the prices in the corner are inflated prices.”


Gladys City Drug Store

This building has two contrasting rooms by today’s sensibilities. When one first walks in, they see an ice cream parlor complete with a soda machine. In the back, there is a doctor’s office full of medical tools from the early 1900s.

Broussard’s Livery Stable

“Broussard’s is the largest funeral home in Beaumont and they were stored in a stable,” Gray said. “That’s pretty cool. Some people think this is a little morbid to have the caskets in here. They were renting out the horses and wagons for funerals to get extra money. Many people were dying on the oil field. There was at least one murder a night during the Boomtown era. They knew they could get extra money by selling the funeral equipment as well. That’s how they got started.”


Other buildings in Gladys City

The small town features nearly a dozen more buildings including a post office, blacksmith shop, photography studio, stock exchange and printing press.

R.C Grinnell’s Log Cabin Saloon can be rented for parties or gatherings and features the actual bar from the original saloon.

Spindletop Gladys City Boomtown

5550 Jimmy Simmons Blvd., Beaumont

10 a.m.-5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; 1-5 p.m. Sunday

Adults, $5; seniors 60 and older, $3; children 6-12, $2; children 5 and under, free.

Memberships available