13. THE PORT ARTHUR-ORANGE BRIDGE (free; parking forbidden)-, 5 m. E. of the Port Arthur city limits on State 87, spans the Neches River, and in 1940 was the tallest highway bridge in the South. The structure permits the passage of large ocean-going vessels, with a vertical clearance for shipping of 176 feet. The tiptop height is 230 feet.
Completed on April 13, 1938, after three years of work, the $2,750,000 structure is the result of 20 years of effort by Port Arthur interests to obtain an overland outlet to the east. It gives direct access to Louisiana by way of Orange.
In order to obtain solid foundations across swamps adjoining the Ship Canal, it was necessary to sink the main piers of the bridge 100 feet below water level. In completing the structure, 11,000 tons of steel, 31,700 cubic yards of concrete, and 19,000 gallons of paint were used. During the period of construction, which began March 3, 1936, six workmen lost their lives. The bridge is 7,700 feet long, the main span covering 680 feet. The width of the roadway, which has a grade of five per cent, is 25.5 feet.
Sam H. Crosby, who represented the interests of Grinnell College of Iowawhich had purchased 3,500 acres of marsh land along the Nechesdid much to start the program that resulted in the construction of the bridge and State 87. Crosby built his house where the present-day Port Arthur Yacht Club is, at the junction of the Ship Canal and the River. To get to town, he was forced to go by boat to the city slip, eight and one-half miles distant. It had been believed that to build a road through the marshes would be too expensive to be practicable; but Crosby, inconvenienced by the lack of an overland route, insisted that the marshes could be drained and a roadbed filled in.
Crosby took his plan to Abe Goldberg, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Port Arthur, who referred it to a good roads committee for consideration. In 1923, during the tenure of County Commissioner Charles Hughes, who favored the road plan, a dump was thrown up through the marsh by means of a steam shovel dredge. A rough thoroughfare, muddy in wet weather, was at last completed to the Neches. In 1925 Orange County began construction of a similar highway, on its side of the river. In April, 1925, the State Highway Commission took over the Orange-Port Arthur road, and work was begun on the Orange County section. Jefferson County officials agreed, during that year, to provide free ferry service across the Neches on completion of the highway.
When the road was opened and ferry service begun on May 8, 1926, 10,000 persons were there to assist in the celebration. The highway was a wide, smooth and well-graded shelled route. The Jefferson County section, known as the Dryden Road, covering five and one-half miles, had been built without state aid funds, $30,000 having been appropriated from a million-dollar bond issue voted in 1921. Additional money was obtained from the county road and bridge funds. Of the total expenditure, $15,000 was used in dredging the marshes, and $6,000 in building embankments. A channel 125 feet wide and ten feet deep at the ferry crossing was dredged at a cost of about $6,500.
A. C. McFarlane of Orange was awarded the operation of the ferry. Maintenance of the Dryden Ferry Road was assumed by the state in July, 1930, and in August, the ferry went into day and night operation with all toll charges eliminated. During that month, travel over the new road mounted, clogging ferry service; this condition again started agitation for a bridge across the Neches.
Pontoon bridges, bascule bridges, a tunnel under the River, and a structure high enough to allow the passage of the largest oceangoing vessels, were discussed. On December 29, 1933, the United States War Department announced approval of plans for a “span of fixed structure with clearances of 155 x 600 feet.” But not until October 28, 1934, did the bridge factions agree, those from Beaumont offering to end the controversy and join Port Arthur if that city’s representatives would approve a vertical clearance of 185 feet. The matter ended with a compromise figure of 176 feet. Both groups agreed that the bridge should be free of toll charges.
During November, the bill authorizing construction of the bridge was passed by the state legislature. A bridge bond election held on January 12, 1935, carried. The State Highway Commission signed an application on July 17, 1935, for a Public Works Administration grant, which was approved for $1,141,742 on August 24.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the allocation for the bridge on September 5, and on September 27, G. G. Wickline was appointed state engineer in charge of the project. Consulting engineers were Ashe, Howard, Needles and Tammen of New York and Kansas City.
The Union Bridge and Construction Company of Kansas City, Mo., was awarded the substructure contract; the Taylor-Fitcher Steel Construction Company of New York did the steel erection work.
Rising from the flat coastal plain to the height of a 20-story building, the bridge is visible for miles.
14. THE ATLANTIC REFINING COMPANY PLANT (not open), 7.5 m. N. of Port Arthur on State 87, is known locally as Atreco. Here is a $5,000,000 plant constructed since 1923 to supply refineries on the eastern coast of the United States with crude oil from Texas fields. When this refinery was completed Port Arthur became one of the greatest oil refining and storage concentration points in the world.
Covering 1,350 acres, the plant has a complete modern refining unit with a daily capacity of approximately 22,800 barrels of crude oil. It consists of a combination cracking unit in conjunction with a thermal polymerization plant, and complete naphtha-treating equipment. There are 44 storage tanks with a total capacity of 1,227,000 barrels.
Fourteen buildings are in the plant, including an office, storeroom, boiler house, compressor house, tool room, machine shop, sanitary building, and several pumphouses. There are approximately two miles of railroad trackage in the refinery and terminal property, and approximately three miles of shell roadways. The steam boiler plant consists of three Edgemoor boilers with a total rated horsepower of 1,206. Electrical supply is purchased.
Most of the tankage has a foam-fire protection system; there are also hose carts and other fire-fighting apparatus. A private telephone system serves all units of the refinery.
The present annual production of gasoline and fuel oils amounts to approximately four million barrels, 63 per cent of which is for domestic use, and 37 per cent for foreign shipment.
The refinery personnel averages 200 employees, while the pipe line terminal has an average of 82 employees. The annual payroll is approximately $575,000. Michael J. Welsh, plant manager, has been with the Atlantic Refining Company since 1892.
In 1923, the Atlantic Oil Producing Company acquired nearly 500 acres of land for the purpose of constructing a sea-loading terminal on the Neches River, near Port Arthur. By additional purchases, and conveyances between companies, the Atlantic Refining Company and the Atlantic Pipe Line Company acquired the present acreage. The initial installation provided for the handling of petroleum from tank cars to vessels.
An eight-inch pipe line connection with the facilities of the Texas Pipe Line Company at Port Neches, and those of the Magnolia Pipe Line Company at Smith’s Bluff, was made in 1925. In January, 1929, a ten-inch pipe line from the deep west Texas fields to Atreco was placed in operation, and during 1931, a ten-inch line was constructed from the east Texas oil fields.
The company’s history, which dates from the early days of petroleum in Pennsylvania, has been given distinction by two of its early officers, John Wesley Van Dyke and W. M. Irish, who made definite contributions to the advancement of the oil industry.
Van Dyke conceived the railway tank car designs which are in general use today. After a study of so-called “naphtha” marketing methods, he had erected in Pittsburgh in 1915 the first modern gasoline service station. Shortly before 1900 Van Dyke, who was then chairman of the Atlantic Company’s board, and Irish, president of the company, devoted themselves to an intensive study of improved refining technique. The fruit of this research was the first complete petroleum distillation process, resulting in a national saving of $17,000,000 annually.
Port Arthur Plant
In 1866, in the infant days of the industry, various oil interests were combined as the Atlantic Petroleum Storage Company with tanks and wharves at Point Breeze, Philadelphia. Four years later this concern became the Atlantic Refining Company, “which managed,” according to a recent sketch in the Port Arthur News, “to continue existence despite a bad fire and a price war.”
After four more years the Atlantic became a Standard Oil Company unit. But it struggled on without great success as a money-maker until 1909. That was the first year of Henry Ford’s mass production of automobiles. Here was a vast and immensely profitable market for the hitherto waste “naphthas”prior to this time “gas” was something used for cooking, illumination, and cleaning. But in 1911 a Supreme Court decision dissolved the Standard Oil Company, owners of the Atlantic Refining Company.
Dissolution of this tie left the Atlantic interests badly handicapped. As reorganization began, the company found itself deeply in debt. Van Dyke was chosen president of the orphaned concern. Slowly but steadily the Atlantic battled its way to firmer ground, and by 1916, with the launching of the H. C. Folger, it had begun construction of its own fleet of tank steamships.
During the World War Atlantic engineers matched the superior grade of fuel produced by Germans. As a result, it soon supplied American combat planes with the new fuel.
When the refinery was opened there came to Atreco many workers whose fathers and grandfathers had been in the oil business.
15. THE THOMAS W. HUGHEN SCHOOL FOR CRIPPLED CHILDREN (open third Wed. each month, 8:30-3:20), 3648 28th St., is one of the few public institutions of its kind in the United States where children suffering from cerebral spastic palsy can receive both treatment and education. The school is sponsored by the Port Arthur Society for Crippled Children, and operates directly under the Division of Crippled Children of the State Department of Education. The Port Arthur Independent School District provides a teacher.
Like the first public school in Port Arthur, the three buildings of the institution were completed within a single day by an army of workmen, all members of the Building Trades Council, who donated their services. Most of the material and equipment was given by merchants and civic organizations.
The one-story buildings are painted white and are of frame construction. The largest of the group contains a classroom, a recreation room, and an office. Another building has a dining room and kitchen. The third is used solely for treatments given by a physiotherapist.
Classes are held five days a week, from 8:30 a.m. until 3:20 p.m., during the school year. Since the children vary in age, individual instruction is given. Half-hour rhythm classes are held; simple songs are taught for speech improvement. By means of a piano or phonograph, appreciation of music is instilled. A half-hour period is devoted to occupational and educational toys, in play exercises calculated to develop coordination and concentration. The children also receive a daily individual period of muscle training. These physical exercises relax and develop muscles, and help to bring them under voluntary control. Here, as in the classroom, speech improvement is stressed. A special effort is made to arrange schedules so that extra periods of rest, needed in this type of treatment, are obtained by the patients. The result is a well-rounded program, which develops each child physically and mentally. Although the institution is for crippled children, only those suffering from spastic paralysis were treated in 1939.
The first work of this kind in Port Arthur and the surrounding territory was begun by the local Rotary Club in 1922. But by 1933, appeals had become so numerous that the Port Arthur Society for Crippled Children was organized. A school was opened in two small rooms at St. Mary’s Hospital, Gates Memorial, on March 1, 1937, with 11 children attending. Though classes were conducted for only five months, sufficient improvement was noted to make it evident that the work should be continued.
During the summer of 1937, plans were made for the present units. Eleven additional Texas counties cooperated with Jefferson County in the project. The present school was opened on October 11, 1937, and was formally dedicated on October 17 in honor of Thomas W. Hughen of Port Arthur, who has been active in the interest of the project, donated the six lots upon which the institu- tion stands, and arranged for the purchase of additional lots at cost within two years.
An orthopedic clinic is held on Tuesdays at St. Mary’s Hospital, Gates Memorial, and a neurologist conducts a clinic on the second Sunday of each month, at the school. A monthly fee of $20 is charged for private cases, while treatment of those eligible for state aid is paid for by the Division of Crippled Children of the State Department of Education. In 1940 there were no dormitory facilities, and parents provided transportation for their children. State-inspected boarding homes are available for out-of-town students and patients.
16. THE TEXAS COMPANY REFINERY (admission by arrangement; no smoking), N. end of Houston Ave., is the largest of this company’s refineries in the Southwest; its buildings and tanks cover 4,799 acres, of which the refinery occupies 1,377. Another 700 acres are covered by water reservoirs of a million gallons capacity.
Within the plant are 36 batteries of Holmes-Manley vertical stills, developed by R. C. Holmes, former president of the Texas Company, and Fred T. Manley, former vice-president of its refining department. These units have a capacity of 135,000 barrels of crude oil daily.
More than 16 miles of railroad tracks are within the plant’s property. Here are loaded or unloaded the 6,400 tank cars used by the company to transport petroleum or its products, most of which are processed in Port Arthur. Oil is stored in 1,172 steel tanks scientifically constructed, and having a total storage capacity of approximately 17,595,000 barrels.
Operating in conjunction with this refinery is the Texas Pipe Line Company, which owns 5,300 miles of pipe lines, exclusive of those within the plant at Port Arthur. These bring petroleum from fields in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico, and Louisiana. More than two score pumping plants keep the raw petroleum flowing. Along these lines run hundreds of miles of company-owned telephone and telegraph lines.
The plant’s direction is under Fred P. Dodge, works manager, and Frank C. Wallace, general superintendent. Approximately 3,800 persons are employed at the Port Arthur plant, representing many trades. The annual payroll of the refinery is more than $7,300,000. This is augmented by labor costs at Texaco Island and at the Port Neches plant, where asphalt products are processed.
The marine division, established in 1903, operates 23 tank steamers, 17 motor ships, and 202 tugs and barges, which carry cargoes coastwise and to many countries.
The CANNING PLANT (open by arrangement), one of the largest of its kind in the world, is on 50-acre Texaco Island, formed when the Port Arthur Canal, the Turning Basin, and the Kansas City Southern Railroad slip were dredged. By 1908 the company found it needed five-gallon cans for the export shipment of refinery products, and built two galvanized iron buildings on the Island to house its case and package division. More than a million pounds of imported tin plate were brought here. The first shipment of cans made on this spot was loaded on the sailing vessel Pickle just before fire destroyed the plant and 200 feet of wharf in March, 1910.
Concrete was used in rebuilding both the factory and the docks, and a year after the fire, 20,000 cans were being turned out daily. Employees rode to work on canal boats or on the Hobo, a train of canvas-covered flat cars. A mill for the manufacture of shooks (cut wood for cases), was erected; but by 1916, the output of the plants on the Island was so great that the present four-story specialty factory and office building, and more warehouses were built.
In 1939 more than 350,000 cans were fabricated daily. From 50 to 60 million cans annually are filled with Texas Company Refinery products, while more than 40 million are shipped to other industrial plants, such as factories producing paint and syrup. More than 600 persons are employed on the island, making cans with capacities ranging from two ounces to 35 pounds.
Operating in connection with this plant is the lithographing department, where sheets of tin plate are decorated in color for labels and signs.
The formation of the Texas Company was a direct result of the discovery of oil at Spindletop in 1901. When the Lucas gusher blew in, and weeks of wild speculation followed, no one at first thought of anything but drilling for more oil. Hundreds of men scrambled to lease all available land. Only one person, an Englishman named James Roche, had a scheme for selling the tremendous output of Spindletop’s gushers.
Roche, said to have been an ex-member of the British Parliament, was living in Hotel Sabine, and while seemingly in poor circumstances, never appeared in the dining room in the evening without wearing a dinner jacket. Following the discovery of the first well, Roche bought options on oil production at three cents a barrel, and upon about 1,000 acres of land near Sour Lake in Hardin County. He then approached George M. Craig, who represented John W. Gates’ local interests as well as those of the Port Arthur Land and Townsite Company, and asked for an option on land upon which he wanted to build a refinery.
Craig had instructions to sell land to no one, because of the oil boom, and when he refused to help Roche the latter announced that he would be compelled to take his plant to Sabine Pass. Craig then let him have 40 acres in which he had a half interest; the deal was consummated as a 60-day option, with no cash down. Roche immediately sold his holdings to the Hogg-Swayne Syndicate and departed for England.
The syndicate soon organized the Texas Fuel Company, with capital stock of $50,000. Its purpose was to refine oil. In the syndicate were prominent oil men, including Joseph S. Cullinan, then of Corsicana, who offered the Gates interests stock in the company. Craig refused to enter the syndicate until Cullinan told him that he was to be president; he finally purchased $5,000 worth of stock. Soon afterward this organization became known as The Texas Company. Arrangements were made for Craig to interest Gates in the Producers Oil Company, organized in 1901 with a capital stock of $1,500,000. Gates offered to take a half-interest in the refining company, which the board refused. Finally a compromise was made, with Gates and his associates holding 47 per cent of the stock, the local stockholders 47 per cent, and Craig the remainder.
The charter of the Texas Company was filed in Austin on April 7, 1902, with capital stock listed at $3,000,000the largest capitalization of any charter filed in the state to that date. Directors were given as L. H. Lapham and Arnold Schlaet of New York; John W. Gates and J. C. Hutchins of Chicago; Joseph S. Cullinan, Corsicana; Rod Oliver, Dallas; R. E. Brooks, Walter T. Campbell and E. J. Marshall of Beaumont. The main office of the company was in Beaumont, with branch offices in Port Arthur, Sabine Pass, Galveston, and Houston.
By June 9, 1902, the company was building 15 storage tanks near Spindletop and had nearly completed its pipe line to Port Arthur. On October 4, 1903, oil was being delivered from the field to the refinery for processing.
The Texas Company in 1906 acquired the property of the Evangeline Company, which had consolidated the year before with the Central Asphalt and Refining Company of Port Neches, thus forming the basis of the Texas Company’s present asphalt plant.
The Kirby Bank cleared for South American ports on August 7, 1910, with 100,000 cases of Texas kerosene, the first full cargo of this product to be sent to South America from any port south of Baltimore. Since that time, cargoes of the products of this company have been received in many ports throughout the world.
The ASSEMBLY BUILDING (open by arrangement), just inside the main gates of the plant, is a $200,000 air-conditioned recreational center constructed during 1938 for the use of employees of the company. Of modernistic design, the building is T-shaped, two stories in height, and of concrete, finished in stained wood, glass bricks, and marble. It contains an assembly room that seats 1,200 persons, and is equipped with a public address system.
The rear part of the building has a penthouse, also 200 shower bath stalls, a locker room containing 3,430 tier steel compartments, and facilities for maintenance.
17. THE GULF OIL CORPORATION REFINERY (open by arrangement; no smoking), adjacent to the W. city limits on State 87, is one of the largest oil refineries in the world, covering approximately 4,000 acres of former swampland. The actual plant spreads over 1,500 acres, and a fresh-water reservoir covers another 1,000. The great metal tanks gleam cleanly in the sunlight, and their squat, fat, round forms seem to the eye like giant confections, frosted with silver icing.
Petroleum is brought to the refinery in pipe lines from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Louisiana fields, and by tank steamers from Pennsylvania. Much of it is stored in 1,200 tanks, which have a total capacity of eight million barrels. They are protected by the Foamite system of fire extinguishing.
All the principal products of petroleum are made, including various grades of gasoline, kerosene, gas oils, fuel oils, engine and cylinder oils, lubricating oils, paraffin wax, and grease. In addition, specialties having a petroleum base are manufactured, including insecticides, penetrating oil, household lubricants, cleaning and lighting fluids, automobile wax and polish, and oil for electric motors. More than 100,000 barrels of crude oil are processed daily. Also in operation are plants for the manufacture of sulphuric acid, aluminum chloride and oxygen, all of which are used in refining processes within the plant.
Ocean-going vessels take cargo at the refinery’s 3,000-foot concrete wharf, which projects from the plant’s location on an arm of the Sabine-Neches Canal. Large pipe lines and pumps load vessels so promptly that a ship carrying 150,000 barrels can arrive, load and depart within 24 hours.
Inside the plant’s confines is every facility for operating, including a completely organized fire department with full-time employees. Elevated tanks, cast iron water mains, a large pumper, thousands of feet of fire hose, and other usual pieces of auxiliary equipment have been installed to meet fire emergencies. A watchmen’s division is maintained; an up-to-date first aid station has a full-time medical staff and ambulance service.
The company operates its own telephone switchboard, carrying about 400 numbers. A leased telegraph service and Station WPA, on the grounds, enable the refinery to keep in touch with oil fields, other company refineries in Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, division sales offices, bulk distributing terminals, the central office in Pittsburgh, and vessels at sea. Three modern electric plants furnish light and power. A switch engine and several locomotive cranes are maintained to handle the cars received and shipped daily.
Among the 4,000 employees are representatives of practically every mechanical craft, including machinists, boiler makers, pipe fitters, welders, tinners, plumbers, carpenters, electricians, lead burners, clock and instrument repairmen, engineers, firemen, switchmen, masons, and insulators. The many large shops include those for machine, boiler, welding, tin and carpenter work, a can factory, and a plant for lithographing cans used in the distribution of packaged products.
At REFINERY PARK, within the plant, is an employees’ clubhouse containing a large assembly and dance hall, bowling alleys, billiard tables, and other recreational facilities. There is a well-stocked library of current magazines and periodicals; adjacent to the building is a tennis court lighted for night playing. Various athletic activitiesnot only inter-departmental, but with outside teamsare sponsored by the company. Once a year, a picnic is held for employees and their families.
The refinery’s history is linked with the momentous discovery of oil at Spindletop, 15 miles north. The land upon which it stands was once the site of the home of John Sparks. From the time the Sparks family moved to the north shore of Lake Sabine in 1853, until the Spindletop oil discovery, much of the region was frequented by alligators, muskrats, snakes, and other swamp creatures.
But when Spindletop blew in with a great roar on January 10, 1901, scattering timbers, bits, and bull rigging over the prairie, there began a herculean effort to control and market the raw petroleum that was staining the ground and the streams. James Guffey and John Galey, backers of the Spindletop venture, after the first wild days of the resultant oil boom sought shipping facilities, which for a time seemed non-existent.
A pipe line was finally extended toward Port Arthur, the nearest tidewater port, and on February 13, 1901, the Beaumont Daily Journal announced a report that “a known representative of the Standard Oil Company is at Port Arthur and . .. has definitely decided to locate the storage station of Guffey and Galey at Port Arthur.” Two days later, a document was filed in the county clerk’s office at Beaumont in which the J. M. Guffey Company agreed to sell the Gulf Company of New Jersey, doing business at Morgan City, La., fuel oil from Lucas Well No. 1 and from any other wells that the company might acquire during a three-year period.
When the J. M. Guffey Company was reorganized in May, 1901, and the name was changed to the J. M. Guffey Petroleum Company, stockholders and officials included Andrew W. Mellon; Capt. Anthony F. Lucas, the geologist who promoted the discovery well, and supervised its drilling; William P. H. McFaddin; Valentine Wiess; Robert and Hal W. Greer; J. C. McDowell and Colonel Guffey.
There are stories that exhaustive but successful tests were made on a kitchen stove with this oil, in order to determine its refining possibilities. As a result, the first refinery was opened on 80 acres of land donated by the Port Arthur Townsite Company. The Port Arthur Herald of September 14, 1901, announced that the “baby refinery of the J. M. Guffey Company” had commenced work the week before, and that the plant was nothing but a great laboratory; details of experiments of several runs of oil from the new field had not been made public.
The Gulf Refining Company was chartered in November, 1901, with a capital stock of $750,000, to erect and operate two large refineries then under construction at Port Arthur. Scott’s Official Oil Directory for the year remarked, “This is a refining company and closely related to the J. M. Guffey Petroleum Company.”
The Port Arthur Herald on November 30, said:
Members of this company are also the principal stockholders of the J. M. Guffey Petroleum Company, which already owns twenty or more of the largest producing wells in the field. The Gulf Refining Company owns 500 acres of land adjoining the two refineries. About 3000 steel storage tanks will be located on this tract of land. These tanks will be kept constantly full of oil from the wells of the J. M. Guffey Petroleum Company, and the product will be put through the refining process as rapidly as possible.
The first company-owned vessel loaded was the T. M. Guffey, the earliest ship of the great Gulf Company fleet. The channel was so shallow then that it was necessary to use facilities of the Port Arthur Dock Company, and lighter the oil from the refinery to the ship. But by the end of the year the company announced that it had made arrangements to transport Texas oil to coastal points in three tank steamers that would enter the trade immediately, and in two others for which contracts had been signed.
An announcement was made in February, 1902, that the Gulf Refining Company, “an auxiliary of the J. M. Guffey Petroleum Company,” had let the contract for a third refinery. It was “the third largest in the world, having a fire still charging capacity of 40,000 barrels with two 1,200-barrel steam stills in addition,” and was to cost a million dollars. A year later, 300 men were employed regularly, and 6,000 barrels of crude oil were being processed daily. From the time of its opening, the refinery has been in continuous operation on a 24-hour basis, with one exception. That was during and following the 1915 hurricane, which flooded the plant, causing fires and other destruction. Since that time a flood protection levee has been constructed.
Legion are the stories told about the men who made and built the Gulf Corporation Refinery. For 25 years, John W. Tryon– -who retired as general manager in 1929made his rounds of the plant on horseback, inspecting the men and the 20-mile pipe line, and overseeing the creation of gasoline as a by-product of “cheese-box” stills.
Charles Coleman, former safety director, was manager of the first baseball team in Port Arthur. Team members were known as Coleman’s Pets, and were under his management for eight years. There is a tale of one time when a tank of oil became ignited, and Coleman loaded a brass cannon, intending to shoot a hole in one side of the tank, but used too large a charge, and, in the words of a refinery worker, “shot plumb through it and another tank, too.”
Charles Stevenson, plant manager, in 1902 was office boy for General Superintendent Warren. During that year the company built a barn to shelter the horses and vehicles of its employees, in contrast with the numerous automobiles that line the main streets of the refinery today.
18. THE SABINE PASS BATTLEFIELD (open day and night, free), 14 m. SE. of Port Arthur to the town of Sabine Pass, then L. from Sabine Pass 1.6 m. on a shell road to the site of old Fort Griffin, .1 m. L. Here on September 8, 1863, occurred one of the state’s most decisive Civil War battles.
An heroic bronze statue of Lt. Richard W. (Dick) Dowling, whose small company of volunteersthe Davis Guardsmanned the guns of the mud fortress during the engagement, dominates the 1.65 acres of the battlefield park. The seven-foot figure, mounted on a base of Texas granite, was created by Herring Coe of Beaumont, sculptor. It shows the likeness of the young “fighting Irishman,” stripped to the waist, with a pair of field glasses in one hand, in the other a firebrand. The Dowling memorial was erected by the State of Texas in 1937.
Landscaping of the park was sponsored by the Wharton-Bee Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, of Port Arthur. The main area is carpeted with grass, and in the lower part are abelias, ligustrums, salt cedars, and live-oaks. The site of the fort was donated by the Sabine Land and Improvement Company, and the Southwestern Land and Development Corporation. The park has benches for visitors.
Lt. Richard W. Dowling Monument
Several inscriptions on the base of the monument describe events of the battle, and one is a quotation from President Jefferson Davis of the Confederate States:
There is no parallel in ancient or modern warfare to the victory of Dowling and his men at Sabine Pass, considering the great odds against which they had to contend.
Following the secession of Texas from the Union on February 23, 1861, preparations for military operations began in this area in the spring, when a committee was appointed to perfect a defensive organization. Fort Sabine, a temporary building, was erected, and two old 12-pound guns captured during the Mexican War, were placed in position. Since ammunition was scarce, women of the town were requested to supply stocking legs “to be used to manufacture cartridges.” These were found to be too irregular, so the ladies made sacks of strong domestic, which answered a better purpose.
A Federal blockade tightened along the Texas coast. Sabine Pass was a strategic harbor, and to protect it and the area lying inland from it, Maj. J. B. Likens swore in a battalion. The little fort received two more guns, 18-pounders. Soon Likens was promoted to the command of a regiment, and Lt.-Col. A. W. Spaight became commander of the forces at Sabine Pass.
In July, 1862, the British ship Victoria ran the blockade and entered the port. There was illness aboard; none suspected that it was yellow fever until the disease became epidemic. Citizens and soldiers fled, leaving at the fort only a few men, most of whom were convalescent. On September 23 three Federal gunboats appeared off the Pass, and two of the invading craft crossed the bar on the following morning. Only 30 Confederates were on hand to repel the attack that followed. Spaight reported, “I take pleasure in stating that our men, fighting at this intense odds . . . and while shells were bursting over their heads and within the works, stood to their guns and served them with great coolness. They could not be restrained from mounting the works and shouting and waving their hats in defiance.”
Fort Sabine, however, was demolished.
Military activity greatly increased in the Sabine-Neches region following the brief battle, and detachments of the reorganized battalion of local volunteers guarded vital points, such as the bridge across Taylor’s Bayou, which the Federals attempted to destroy. Sabine Pass had become a port for blockade runners. Late in 1862 Federal gunboats bombarded the town at the Pass, destroying most of it.
Two river steamboats, the Bell and the Uncle Ben, were converted into “cotton-clads”—and their decks piled with bales of cotton, to conceal guns and troops, and to protect the vessels from shells. These steamboats on the morning of January 1, 1863, engaged blockading craft and forced the retreat of the latter. The Federal gunboats Morning Light and Velocity were compelled to surrender, and the latter was towed over the bar. The Morning Light was burned to prevent its possible recapture.
Soon Colonel Spaight and his troops were ordered to Louisiana, and Col. W. H. Griffin was given command at the Pass. Under the supervision of Col. V. Sulakowski, chief of the Engineering Corps, a new and stronger fort was erected and named Fort Griffin. On September 1, 1863, Colonel Griffin and his command left for Bonham, Tex.; two artillery companies under the command of Capt. F. 0. Odlum remained to guard the Pass.
A Federal invasion of Texas was momentarily expected during this period; at first it was believed it would be by land from Louisiana, then, toward summer, reports were that it would be attempted along the coast. In August, Federal Commodore H. H. Bell, in a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, assigned command of a naval force to Lt. Frederick Crocker, who had orders to attempt the capture of Sabine Pass, and to land 4,000 troops if possible. Should this plan prove successful, military experts of both Confederate and Federal armies agreed, Texas would quickly become the prize of the North, since troop movement into the interior of the state could easily be made from the sheltered harbor of the Pass.
On the morning of September 8, Captain Odlum, appealing for help, wrote, “Nine Yankee vessels have arrived off the bar, two of them inside, within a mile of the fort.” Hurried defense preparations were made in Fort Griffin; Captain Odlum placed about 200 troops inside the fort, assigned the Davis Guards to the six guns of the emplacements, and ordered a company of Spaight’s Battalion aboard the Uncle Ben. The number of Davis Guards is not certain; official reports indicate that there were from 40 to 47. Lieutenant Dowling was ordered to “reserve fire until the steamers are within range, and then aim at their wheelhouses so as to cripple them.” The attacking party aboard the gunboats, according to official estimates, was about 1,000 men. A surprise attack that had been planned by Lieutenant Crocker failed, due to miscalculations. No answer was received from Fort Griffin when the Federals opened fire, about 6:30 o’clock of the morning of the battle. Col. Leon Smith, reporting the engagement later, wrote:
During the day until 3 p.m. our guns had not opened on the enemy as the range was too distant. . . . But the enemy arriving within good range, our batteries were opened, and gallantly replied to a most galling and terrific fire from the enemy.
Colonel Smith had hurried from Beaumont to the aid of the fort, when firing was heard in the vicinity of the Pass; troops from that town were being rushed to the battle area, aboard the Roebuck. But neither the reinforcements nor Captain Odium’s forces inside the fort actually participated in the battle, which was conducted for the Confederates almost entirely by Lieutenant Dowling’s gunners, and the men of Spaight’s Battalion aboard the Uncle Ben.
The gunboats Clifton, Sachem, Arizona, and Granite City sailed to within 1,000 yards of the fort, according to Colonel Smith, who reported that batteries of some of these Federal ships were “gallantly and effectively replied to by the Davis Guards. . . . One and all, God bless them. The honor of the country was in their hands, and they nobly sustained it.”
A shot soon crippled the Sachem, and the Clifton, grounded, was left to continue the fight alone, as, through a miscarriage of Lieutenant Crocker’s orders, two of the Federal gunboats failed to take part in the battle. Only five of the Federals’ 27 guns were used during the 45-minute engagement. The two disabled ships surrendered; the others escaped. Federal losses in killed and wounded totaled 30. Captain Odlum reported that “Our loss was strictly and positively nobody hurt.”
Lt. Henry C. Dane, attached to the Federal service as a member of the signal corps aboard the Sachem, later wrote an account of the incident for the New York Herald, in which he erroneously referred to Lieutenant Dowling as the commander of Fort Griffin. Parts of his reported interview with Dowling follow:
“And are you the shaughran,” I asked, “who did all that mischief? How many men and guns did you have?”
“We had four 32-pounders and two 24-pounders, and 43 men” was his reply with a blush.
“And do you realize what you have done, sir?” I asked. “No,” he said frankly; “I do not understand it at all.”
“Well, sir, you and your 43 men, in your miserable little mud fort in the rushes, have captured two gunboats, a goodly number of prisoners, many stands of small arms, and plenty of good ammunition, and all that you have done with six popguns and two smart Quakers. And that is not the worst of your boyish tricks. You have sent three Yankee gunboats, 6,000 troops and a General out to sea in the dark.”
By a resolution on February 8, 1864, the thanks of the Confederate Congress were extended to Captain Odlum, Lieutenant Dowling and 41 men composing the Davis Guards “for their gallant defense which was characterized as ‘one of the most brilliant and heroic achievements in the history of this war, and entitled the Davis Guards to the gratitude and admiration of their country’.”
19. THE “SIDEWALK IN THE GULF,” 19.1 m. SE. of Port Arthur on State 87 to the boat basin in Sabine Pass, then by boat, (trips 5-8 daily during fishing season, March 1-Sept. 30; $1 round trip).
This is one of the most popular fishing spots along the Texas Gulf coast. It is literally what its name implies, and is the result of a Federal project that placed a concrete cap, for additional strength, on the east jetty at Sabine Pass, in 1937. During 1940, this capping was lengthened 1287 feet, while that on the west jetty, already covering 2608 feet, was extended 4172 feet. For years anglers had known that east jetty, forming an artificial reef in the Gulf of Mexico, provided excellent fishing grounds, but because of sharp rocks it was dangerous for boats to venture close.
Although it is five miles from the mainland, the “sidewalk” is large: ten feet wide, six feet above high tide, and about one and one-half miles long, measuring from the tip of the jetty toward the land. At the shoreward end is a wooden wharf, 50 feet long and six feet wide, built by the Junior Chamber of Commerce of Port Arthur, incorporated for that purpose as the Jaycee Fishing Corporation, with funds raised by public subscription.
The wharf was opened to the public on July 28, 1937. During the ten days following, the “sidewalk” was used by 800 fishermen; in 1939, more than 3,000 fishermen tried their luck here. Catches have included tarpon weighing 100 pounds or more, blue-tip and heavier sand sharks, mackerel and kingfish, pompano, cabio (ling), sheepshead, spadefish, bluefish, jackfish, redfish, and jewfish.