1. ST. MARY’S HOSPITAL, GATES MEMORIAL (open 10-11 a.m., 2-4 and 6-8 p.m. daily), 1931 Ninth Ave. has a $600,000 plant, operated by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. The institution is the outgrowth of a gift made to the city by John W. Gates on New Year’s Day, 1909, in memory of his mother.
Five buildings, all of rose-colored brick with white stone trim, comprise the group. The four-story main building fronts on Ninth Avenue. Directly back of it is the chapel. Right of the chapel is the powerhouse, which contains a Negro hospital and laundry. The convent is left of the chapel and the nurses home is in the rear. The buildings were designed by Maurice J. Sullivan, Houston architect, in modified or conventionalized Georgian style.
The first floor of the main building, which houses complete hospital activities, is devoted to general administration, storage, food preparation, dining halls for the Sisters, nurses and public, and emergency operating rooms. The second floor has complete X-ray and physiotherapy departments. On the third floor are the clinical laboratories. A roof garden is reached by an elevator.
In the powerhouse building are accommodations for white and Negro employees. The second floor has 20 beds for Negro patients, and a small operating room.
The three-story convent building houses 30 nuns. In the three-story nurses home, which accommodates 50 nurses, there are classrooms and laboratories, “beau parlors,” and a small auditorium for entertainments, dances, and concerts.
The chapel has a simple exterior, while the interior is distinctly Italian in character. The walls are finished in soft buff tones of hand-modeled plaster with a decorated acoustical paneled ceiling in a segmental shape. There is a small oak-faced choir loft supported by oak beams with hand-carved corbels. A $15,000 organ was given by local residents. The altar is of rich Italian marble set in a semicircular apse with domical ceiling. It was purchased in Italy by Mr. and Mrs. J. Harry Phelan of Beaumont. On each side of the altar are small marble shrines in niches. The floors are of Italian-type tile, while the furniture and woodwork are of antique oak. Choir stalls for the Sisters and pews for nurses and patients were given by Joseph E. Grammier of Port Arthur.
Frank Connick, world-famous artist in stained glass, has described this chapel as having some of this country’s outstanding glazed windows of thirteenth century type.
The buildings are connected by vine-covered, cloistered walks. Grounds are landscaped; the esplanade leading to the front entrance of the main building is planted in flowers and small evergreens. Here is a large five-pointed Texas star design made of richly colored stones and glass, at the upper tip of which is the inscription St. Mary’s Hospital, traced in pebbles of brilliant hue.
Near a hedge that separates the hospital parking lot from the grounds is the Shrine of the Archangel. A larger one, the Shrine of Our Blessed Mother, stands nearby; it is seven feet high and is surmounted by a cross. A light mounted on the nurses home illuminates this latter shrine at night.
PIONEER PARK, covering 20 acres, is left of the hospital. Within it have been planted red buds, magnolias, elms, hackberrys, oaks, holly, dogwood, crepe myrtle, pomegranates, and oleanders.
The hospital fund donated by John Gates provided for the old Mary A. Gates Hospital, at 300 Lake Shore Drive, for 20 years. The money was, in time, placed in the trust of a board who invested it in Gulf Oil Corporation bonds. These were sold in 1930 for $100,000, which was turned over to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Public subscription added $50,000, and the remainder necessary to erect the new hospital was supplied by the religious order. Six acres of the site were the gift of Travis Lambert of Port Arthur, while the other four acres were given by the Sisters.
When ground for this hospital was broken on March 17, 1929, more than 2,500 persons attended, including high Roman Catholic dignitaries, city officials, and representatives of the medical and nursing world. Upon completion of the hospital in April, 1930, open house was held for three days. The institution was opened for service on May 1, when 25 patients were transferred from the old hospital, and four additional ones received. The next morning, the first baby to be born in the new institution was John Gates Martin, weighing nearly nine pounds.
2. The old SPARKS SETTLEMENT CEMETERY (open), DeQueen Blvd. and Lake Shore Dr., is the site of the oldest burial ground in Port Arthur. Near the Drive in the center of a grassy, landscaped esplanade, and sheltered by a live-oak tree, is a tiny grave enclosed by a miniature white picket fence. At its head is a wooden marker that bears this inscription:
Arthur Stilwell SmithBorn May, 1896 -Died, May, 1896 First Birth, First Death in Port Arthur.
The lone grave marks the site of the family burying ground where John Sparks and his wife, Melinda, and others of the family are interred. The graveyard, when sold to a representative of the Stilwell interests on November 18, 1895, was about 50 feet square and enclosed with a picket fence. The deed stipulated that this space should be reserved; today part of it is under the pavement of the Boulevard.
Mr. and Mrs. Morgan Smith, parents of the first baby born in Port Arthur, heard about the town when they were living in the Indian Territory. They loaded their few household effects into a covered wagon and traveled slowly and laboriously to the new seaport.
When they arrived, they found about 50 persons living in Port Arthur, most of them in tents and improvised shacks. So the Smiths set up their tent at the intersection of present-day Houston Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, where the power plant of the Gulf States Utilities Company now stands.
As soon as the birth of the town’s first baby became known, people hastened to the tent; some of them brought blankets, others offered various gifts. Suggestions for names were numerous, but that of Edward A. Laughlin, lumber dealer, pleased the parents, and the boy was named Arthur Stilwell Smith. The child lived only ten days.
Mr. Laughlin, the godfather, gave yellow pine boards for a coffin which the father made; all the residents attended the town’s first funeral. The tiny casket was buried in the old Sparks Cemetery, which was then at the edge of the town.
In 1933 the Port Arthur Kiwanis Club decided the spot should be designated and cared for, and set up the fence and grave marker. Calendulas were planted by school children; at all times of the year the spot is kept green by foliage. A double row of oleanders lines DeQueen Boulevard’s esplanade, and cottonwoods, live-oaks and oleanders border its sidewalks.
In a corner lot across the Boulevard from the grave is a gnarled hackberry, planted by the Sparks family and said to be the oldest tree in the city. Around this weatherbeaten landmark lies part of the old burying ground, where the pioneers sleep in unmarked graves.
3. PORT ARTHUR COLLEGE (open 8-4 workdays), 1500 Procter St., is a coeducational and nonsectarian commercial college founded and presented to the city on January 5, 1909, by John Warne Gates. Four buildings valued at approximately $500,000 comprise the group on the 15-acre campus.
The institution is the only business and radio college in the United States that is not privately owned or operated for profit. It is governed by a self-perpetuating board of trustees made up of bankers, shippers, manufacturers, merchants, and professional men, who serve without pay. Students can enroll any Monday, since the college has no vacation periods and is in session throughout the year.
Annual enrollment averages 800 students, while the faculty consists of 25 teachers and instructors whose annual payroll is approximately $34,800. Courses of study include radio, business administration, general business, secretarial, stenographic, bookkeeping and general banking, automotive bookkeeping, and preparation for civil service examinations. Upon completion of academic work, students are awarded a certificate from the National Association of Accredited Commercial Schools.
The ADMINISTRATION BUILDING, 1500 Procter St., is a two-story cream-colored brick building of modern American architecture, erected in October, 1909. Entrance to the first floor is by means of wide concrete steps to a two-story, pillared portico. Administration offices are on this floor.
It was in this building that many of the young men needed by Gates for his business enterprises were trained.
The DORMITORY, 1520 Procter St., massive and of cream-colored brick, is right of the Administration Building, and is built in a similar design. The structure has two-story wings on each side of a one-story central building which houses the reception hall, dining room and kitchen. On the right is the boys dormitory, and on the left is one for girls. Entrance is through a one-story recessed portico, across the front of which are four concrete pillars. Calvin A. Logan, of Port Arthur, designed both buildings.
When these structures were planned by Gates, he specified that the necessary ground must be donated by the city. Consequently lands reserved for parks at the intersection of Procter Street and Stilwell Boulevard were utilized for the College.
STATION KPAC (1,220 kc.), 1523 Lake Shore Dr., the newest of the buildings on the campus, is of cream-colored brick, the architecture harmonizing with other units. This $6,500 structure was completed and occupied in November, 1939. William A. Ware, former radio instructor at the college, designed and supervised the construction. Before erection of this plant the broadcasting station was on the first floor of the Administration Building, where it was installed in 1926.
From 1931 to 1933, the college broadcasting unit used a remote control system from Station KFDM of Beaumont, to train students specializing in radio work. However, Station KPAC, whose initials students interpret to mean Kum to Port Arthur College, was founded in 1933, and has been operated by the College since.
Two steel transmitter towers, each 210 feet high, are on park property east of the Woodrow Wilson Junior High School, between Lake Shore Drive and Rue des Soldats. Broadcasts originate in three studios, which are open to visitors. There is a staff orchestra.
The PRESIDENT’S HOME; 1605 Lake Shore Dr., was built in 1900, the first residence to be constructed on the Drive, and was purchased in 1912. The two-story white frame building of plantation type architecture, was formerly the home of George R. Stearns, and was said by the Beaumont Enterprise to be “one of the finest residence building. in the city”
4. The GATES MEMORIAL LIBRARY (open 9-9 workdays), 317 Stilwell Blvd., the gift of Mrs. John W. Gates to the city in memory of her husband and son, is an oblong building of reinforced concrete with an exterior of Bedford limestone. Six large columns of richly carved limestone in classic Renaissance design adorn the loggia, which extends across the front of the building and gives access to the library. The interior wall and floors are of plastered imitation limestone. Wainscoting throughout the building is of marble. Much of the wall space is occupied by windows seven feet wide and fifteen feet high, with small panes in Dutch style. The firm of Warren and Wetmore, of New York City, architects for the Gates interests, designed the building.
The vestibule is separated from the reading rooms by low partitions of glass and glazed metal. An information and charging desk is in the center of the first floor main room and faces the entrance.
Directly behind the desk hangs an oil portrait of John W. Gates, painted by S. Solomon of San Antonio. In the rear is a large reference room. The juvenile reading room is left of the main entrance, and the adult reading room is at the right. Two storerooms, a workroom for library personnel, and the office of the librarian are on the first floor. A glass case containing a collection of rare books is right of the main door, and a tiny ship made of shells is in a glass case to the left.
On the mezzanine floor are four rooms, one of which is a Federal Government repository. Within the other three are collections of magazines and newspapers. Two balconies with iron grilles separate the rooms at each end of the floor.
The Gates Memorial Library in 1939 owned 17,577 hooks. Among these are the Gates family Bible; H. H. Milman’s History of the Jews, Volume 1, published in 1830, and Volume 3, published in 1843; Arthur Murphy’s Works of Cornelius Tacitus, Volume 1, published in 1882; and the Book of Psalms, published by the American Bible Society in 1858.
Nearly 4,000 photographs and prints are among the collections of the library; prints of famous paintings are kept in a special file. In this department also are six stereoscopes and 1,575 stereoscopic views of industrial, animal, travel, and other subjects.
The Gates Memorial Library has an agreement with the school board of the city whereby it repairs, free of charge, the 34,028 volumes in the libraries of nine elementary and high schools of the district.
The site occupied by the Library was dedicated as Library Park in the plat of the city made by the Port Arthur Townsite Company in 1896. Adjacent is LIONS PARK, developed by the Lions Club and presented to the city on July 1, 1939. This park and the ground immediately surrounding the Library, are beautifully landscaped. The park has a two-story bandstand, the lower floor of which is used as a toy-lending library and storeroom, a wading pool and playground, including a softball diamond and volleyball court.
Port Arthur’s first public library was started in June, 1915, when the school board hired a librarian to arrange and classify books gathered during earlier years.
Donations of current periodicals were placed in rooms on the second floor of the Webster School Building. A thousand dollars’ worth of books were purchased, and by the end of the year the librarian reported the number of volumes had swelled to 4,061. Mrs. Gates gave $100 for the purchase of children’s books; the school board spent an additional $500 for reference and periodical material.
These library quarters became crowded, and when this condition came to the attention of Mrs. Gates, she called a meeting of citizens on January 22, 1917, and pledged $30,000 toward construction of a library building and an additional $25,000 for maintenance and for the purchase of new books.
The cornerstone of the present structure was laid on March 2, 1917. Jan Van Tyen, president of the Port Arthur Board of Trade, acted as master mason, using a silver trowel. Dr. Arthur J. Price, president of the Port Arthur College, deposited a sealed copper box in the recess of the stone. Placed within the receptacle were mementos of many kinds, including a collection of south Texas newspapers, telephone books, a list of citizens of Port Arthur, a plat of the early town, coins of the United States and the Netherlands, photographs of Mr. and Mrs. Gates and their son, Charles, various documents, and a tube containing two giant mosquitoes. The insects were treated with a preservative in order that they might give future generations an idea of the size of the pests that plagued pioneer residents.
The Gates Memorial Library was in use by December 1, 1917, but it was not officially opened and dedicated until Gates Day, May 18, 1918.
The Department Club dedicated the Carter Memorial Tablet, which honors the memory of Mrs. Edward S. Carter, first librarian. It was placed on the west wall of the main reading room on October 3, 1927.
5. WOODROW WILSON JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL (open 8:30-4 on school days), 1500 Lake Shore Dr., is one of the tallest structures of Port Arthur’s skyline. The attractive edifice is in a setting of landscaped lawns. It has a tall central tower, flanked on each side by two-story wings of red brick. The middle part, designed by Mark Lemmon of Dallas and completed in 1939, typifies the modern trend in school design; its ornamentation shows the influence of English colonial architecture in the design of public buildings. The limestone facade rises three stories and is topped by a set-back tower, above which is a rounded dome covered with gold leaf one two-thousandths of an inch thick.
In addition to 48 classrooms, there are in the building an auditorium seating 2,000 persons, a cafeteria with accommodations for 800, three shops for manual training, two art rooms, one craft room, one typing room, three music rooms, and administration offices. The library is on the second floor. There is a public address system. Enrollment in 1939 was 2,750 students.
The earliest buildingwhich housed the high school until 1933was constructed in 1906, and was the second to be erected under the 1902 charter of the Port Arthur Independent School District; it cost approximately $80,000. By 1923 this structure was so crowded that two additions were made to the central unit at a total cost of $625,000. One wing was known as the Industrial Arts Building, the other as the Physical Education Building. This provided a limited number of classrooms for academic subjects, and physical education quarters for boys and girls, as well as a swimming pool. Quarters for a home economics department were added; the total cost was about $275,000.
Work of remodeling the building was started in December, 1937, and completed in January, 1939. Formal dedication took place on March 3, 1939.
6. The MASONIC TEMPLE (open by arrangement), 1901.05 Lake Shore Dr., facing Lake Sabine, is on land that was once the property of James Hopkins, the “match king,” one-time business associate and friend of John W. Gates.
The three-story building of yellow brick with terra, cotta trim is of modified Spanish, Gothic, and American architecture. Parts of the ornamentation show the influence of ancient Egyptian temple decorations. The main entrance on Lake Shore Drive is reached by broad stone steps to a recessed entrance, across the front of which are four Corinthian columns two stories in height. A smaller entrance is on the Lake Charles Avenue side.
On top of the building on each side of the front are corner cupolas with red tile roofs; a roof garden for social events is guarded by a terra cotta railing. Steel grilles frame the windows of the third story, while a terra cotta ledge encircles the building at the top of the second floor.
The secretary’s office, club rooms, rest rooms and ladies parlor are on the first floor. The second story has a dance floor, banquet hall, a modern kitchen. The lodge room occupies the third floor.
Oleanders, evergreens, live-oaks and Washington palms give the Temple a semitropical setting that emphasizes the coloring of the building.
Here are the quarters of Cosmopolitan Lodge No. 872, A. F. & A. M., Port Arthur Lodge, No. 1264, A. F. & A. M., and of the Eastern Star, De Molay, and Rainbow Girl groups.
The first meeting of Masons in Port Arthur took place in December, 1903, when twenty-six members of the fraternity who had come to the town to live, assembled in a small room above a furniture store. Because these charter members had come from many parts of the United States, it was agreed that the new organization should be called Cosmopolitan Lodge.
Meetings were held in the Eagles Hall, 5291/2 Procter Street. In 1927, bonds were sold to local members of the order to raise a building fund. Construction was started in January, 1928, and the $200,000 building, designed by the architectural firm of William B. Ittner of St. Louis, Mo., was completed in June of that year.
7. The JEFFERSON COUNTY OFFICE BUILDING (open 8-5 workdays), 500 Lake Shore Dr., locally called the sub-courthouse, was authorized by special act of the Texas Legislature in March, 1933, and is the only one of its kind in the state. Although the county seat is in Beaumont, 19 miles north, the volume of legal business transacted in the southern end of the county was so large that it became necessary to build this auxiliary courthouse.
The $230,000 building, constructed as a Public Works Administration grant, formally opened and dedicated on August 28, 1936, is of white Cordova limestone in modern American design. Charles L. Wignall of Port Arthur, Llewellyn W. Pitts and Fred C. Stone of Beaumont were the architects.
Resting on a reinforced concrete piling foundation, the edifice has a tall central structure of three stories with adjoining wings of two stories each. On the first floor are offices of the county collector, assessor and clerk, commissioners, the health department, the assistant county attorney, deputy sheriff, deputy county engineers, and building superintendent. On the second floor are two justice rooms, a jury room, offices for a justice and clerk, constable’s office, and an assembly room seating 250 persons. The jail is on the third floor of the central structure.
The building stands on the site of the Hotels Sabine and Plaza. When the former was destroyed by fire, the new Plaza rose in its place. This was torn down when it fell into disrepair, to make way for the new courthouse. It was in these hotels that many plans for the future of Port Arthur were made.
The county commissioners purchased the property from the Port Arthur Hotel Company for $50,000, including all of the block except the small part occupied by the Elks Club building.
To facilitate access to the new courthouse, it became necessary to ‘cut a street through the block north of the building between Austin and Waco Avenues. The thoroughfare was named Dick Dowling Street.
Well-kept grounds are sown with Oregon rye grass. Pfitzer and Savin junipers, azaleas, yaupons, crepe myrtles, pineapple guavas, Japanese nandinas and cedars are planted about the base of the edifice. Red bud and live-oak trees are growing on the lawns.
8. PLEASURE PIER (bridge open 5 a. m.-12 midnight, March to November, for fishermen; remainder of year 6 a. nt.-12 midnight), at the foot of Austin Ave., across the Sabine-Neches Canal on the north shore of Lake Sabine, is an eight-acre island created from spoil left by canal construction. Access to the Pier is over a $300,000 bascule-type bridge. A tender raises the bridge, after sounding a siren, to permit the passage of vessels. In 1940, plans were under construction to convert the island into a modern recreational center and, possibly, a sea-plane base.
Extending into Lake Sabine is a free 50-foot wooden fishing and swimming pier built by the Lions Club of Port Arthur in 1932. At the south edge of the island is a two-story wooden pavilion, on the second floor of which dances are held. Tables and benches for picnics are on the first floor. The west end contains a barbecue pit.
The history of the Pleasure Pier has paralleled that of Port Arthur. It was built in 1897 by Arthur E. Stilwell as part of his promotional plans, but was quite different from the present pier. The old one was a 2,000-foot board walk which started in front of Hotel Sabine, and ended at a two-story pavilion in the Lake. At that time the shore of the Lake was about in the middle of the present-day Canal.
The old amusement center resembled a miniature Coney Island. So well known did it become that it was not unusual for long excursion trains to pull into the city, bringing as many as 5,000 week-end visitors. The crowds were so large that for days restaurant proprietors prepared for their arrival by cramming barrels and boxes with fishes, shrimps, oysters, crabs, and other delectables and displaying them along their counters.
A hurricane destroyed the outer end of the Pier late in its first year, but it was repaired, and additions included open-air dining-rooms, bars, bowling alleys, skating rinks, and other amusement concessions.
Many boat races were held on Lake Sabine, with schooners, cat-boats, and dories competing for valuable prizes. Occasionally power boat entries were shipped in, and these added interest to the already popular sport. During the 1907 season, a $12,000 summer theater was built. Because of inconveniences caused by canal dredging, a $5,000 drawbridge was erected in 1908 to connect the mainland with the island.
Fire of undetermined origin destroyed the Pier on the night of October 6, 1908, with damages estimated at $30,000. Not until the summer of the following year, when the influence of John W. Gates was felt in the city, were plans made to rebuild it. A steel drawbridge was constructed across the Canal in 1913 to reach the $160,000 Pleasure Pier then under construction; it extended 2,500 feet into the Lake. During that year the Pier was again opened to the public.
The most popular means of reaching the resort in 1914 was on the String Bean, a long slim street car that operated over a narrow-gauge rail line between the Lake shore and the Pier. The coach, older residents recall, was built along the “plans and specifications of a bean pod, and they often found themselves wondering how its center of gravity prevented it from turning over and dumping the merry-makers in the lake by rolling them off the trestle work. . . . The sky was the limit in seating capacity.”
The project was sold in 1915 to the city for “$1 and other considerations,” with the stipulation that $25,000 be expended for improvements. Bonds amounting to $300,000 were issued and the Pier was reconstructed throughout. This time, a long row of concession houses with Japanese roofs was built. These provided quarters for gambling wheels, shooting galleries, and many other forms of amusements.
A series of misfortunes then befell the Pier, including partial destruction of the bridge by vessels passing up and down the Canal. The Lake was too rough at times for the anchorage of small craft, so a canal was dredged from the Lake to the channel; this furnished safe harbor in bad weather. But Beaumonters claimed these vessels caused a cross current in the ship channel that was a “menace to navigation.” The smaller canal was closed, and boating on the Lake dwindled. Some of the vessels were sold; some crumbled from dry-rot on the shore. The Pier was almost abandoned after the Sabine-Neches Canal was widened.
Hunters and trappers still used Pleasure Pier to reach the city. In 1924, it was reported that “during the month of December, $6,497 worth of produce, furs, fish and other commodities were brought into Port Arthur by trappers coming over the lake, or carried out by them when they returned home. . . . On Christmas Eve, 51 trappers with merchandise valued at $6,000 crossed the bridge.”
A $300,000 bond issue was voted by the city in 1929, and by 1931 the present bridge was completed. The erection of breakwaters along the Lake front was completed in February, 1939, adding 3,500 acres to the city’s water front and Pleasure Pier.
9. The CITY HALL (open 8-5 workdays, 8-12 noon Sat.), 300 Lake Shore Dr., once served the city as Mary A. Gates Hospital. The old hospital building was converted into a city hall, and city officials moved in during July and August, 1930.
Of Spanish mission architecture, the building is a three-story, cream-colored brick structure with a roof of red tile. Charles A. Logan, of the Gates interests in Port Arthur, was the architect.
The first floor is used mostly for storage space. A wide concrete, outside stairway leads to the main entrance on the second floor, where are the offices of the tax collector, auditor, tax assessor, water and park boards. Offices of the city manager, commissioners, city clerk, city engineer, and building inspector are on the third floor.
Port Arthur’s first city hall was a one-room, one-story frame building at 336 4th Street. This was rented by the city during the term of office of former Mayor Nat R. Strong, who also had been the first postmaster.
During the summer of 1899, city officials moved to new offices on the second floor of the Port Arthur Banking Company’s building at 449 7th Street, the first brick structure in the city. This edifice (used in 1940 by the Southern Pacific Lines for a depot and freight house), was called Town Hall until the spring of 1901. At this time the city moved into its first municipally-owned building at the northwest corner of 5th Street Alley and Austin Avenue. A volunteer fire department occupied the ground floor of this frame building, and an outside stairway gave access to the city offices on the second floor. When another and more substantial city hall was obtained in 1909 on 4th Street near Waco Avenue, the old building was sold to Edward A. Laughlin. He moved it back from the street to the alley where it now stands, occupied by a Negro family.
The new stucco city hall was more satisfactory; it served until 1913, when the building was converted into a jail, for which purpose it was still used in 1940. During that year the present two-story brick central fire station at 400 Waco Avenue was completed. Commissioners, the tax collector, auditor and assessor shared the first floor space with the fire department’s apparatus. The mayor and city engineer used a large part of the second floor, and that section directly over the fire apparatus was utilized as firemen’s sleeping quarters. In 1930, when the present city hall was obtained, the building was turned over to the fire department.
10. The PORT ARTHUR NEWS BUILDING (visited by permission), 549 4th St., houses the only daily newspaper in Port Arthur, published continuously since March 17, 1897.
When Arthur E. Stilwell began his million-dollar advertising campaign calling attention to the advantages of the “Magic City by the Lake,” invitations were issued to various classes of business and the professions to take advantage of proffered opportunities. Only two editors responded. One was F. Dumont Smith, editor and publisher of the Kingsley (Kan.) Mercury. He arrived on March 4, 1897, and set up his Port Arthur Weekly Herald plant at 222 Procter Street. The first issue was on sale on March 18, when the excursion train arrived. The other editor, David L. Stump of Kansas City, raced to produce the earliest issue of a Port Arthur newspaper; and, assisted by his sons Leroy, Will, Mark, and Forrest, set and printed the first edition of the Weekly News on a Washington hand press in a baggage car as the excursion train traveled southward. Thus the fore-runner of the modern Port Arthur newspaper was the first to reach the home-seekers, many of whom were to become the town’s citizens, while its rival preceded it on the streets of the mushroom city.
The biggest news of that St. Patrick’s Day came from Carson City, Nev., where a solar plexus blow by Ruby Bob Fitzsimmons won the world’s heavyweight championship from James J. Corbett. Along with this were personal items about passengers, and advertisements concerning the new town and the Port Arthur Townsite Company.
The Weekly News was established at one end of the Natatorium Building near Hotel Sabine. As the town and the newspaper’s business grew, the plant was moved to a building at 4th Street and Waco Avenue. In 1898 larger quarters were needed, and the plant was moved across the street. By 1899 this space was too small, and the Weekly News moved into a brick building at 449 7th Street. At this location the owners decided to issue a daily newspaper for town subscribers, and a weekly for those on mail routes.
Business continued to improve and by 1905 the plant was moved again, this time to a space in the Latimer-Newton Building at Procter Street and Waco Avenue. Mr. Stump withdrew from active management and his son Leroy assumed the position. A motor-driven press capable of printing eight pages was added and Associated Press service contracted for. By 1916 a Sunday edition was being published. This was finally abandoned, and the paper went back to its six-day schedule.
During this period the Weekly News never missed an issue, although there were times when it was literally published as the plant was being moved from one building to another. During the 1915 hurricane, only a small pamphlet was printed.
The Weekly News was sold in 1919 to Charles G. Schless, who had organized a publishing company among Port Arthur businessmen. A new office was opened in the 300 block of Procter Street, where the plant remained until 1923, when it was sold to the News Publishing Company. The new owners built a plant in the 400 block of 5th Street, which sufficed until 1926 when the present structure was erected.
The newspaper occupies a $48,000 two-story, light brown brick building of Spanish design. The entrance is on 4th Street, with the business offices and press room on the ground floor, and editorial and composing rooms on the second floor. Charles L. Wignall of Port Arthur was the architect.
11. THE UNITED STATES POST OFFICE AND FEDERAL BUILDING
(open 24 hours daily), 320 Austin Ave., houses the Government’s Postal, Customs, Immigration, Quarantine, Agriculture, Public Health, and Recruiting Services, and the Port Arthur office of the United States Weather Bureau. Of sand-colored brick with gray stone trim, the building has the Romanesque feeling which tends to predominate in Federal structures erected during the early 1900’s. Over the entrances are large gilded American eagles.
The first contract for construction was let in 1910, and a $120,300 building was completed in 1912. James Knox Taylor was supervising architect; the design was drawn by the Treasury Department. On December 28, 1935, bids were let for a $175,000 addition, with L. A. Simon of Washington as supervising architect. Adjoining property was purchased for $47,000. The new structure was completed in November, 1937.
During the 1915 hurricane, the Federal Building sheltered for 30 hours more than 100 residents who fled there for protection, withstanding a 75-mile-an-hour wind, and water that washed over the front steps. During this period Mrs. J. M. Wright, one of the refugees, gave birth to a seven-pound son, whereupon her husband declared, the structure having saved all their lives, that the child should bear the name, “Federal Building Wright.”
Port Arthur’s first mail was brought to the new town in 1896 by wagon from the general delivery department of the Beaumont post office, and distributed from a small frame building on the northeast corner of Houston Avenue and Procter Street.
Later, the distribution point was moved to the southeast corner of Procter Street and Fort Worth Avenue; on July 5, 1897, a fourth-class post office with a money order department was opened there with Nat R. Strong as the town’s first postmaster. Seven money orders were sold on the opening day. The post office remained at this point until the first unit of the present structure was built.
12. THE GULFPORT BOILER AND WELDING WORKS (not open to the public), W. end of Lake Shore Dr. on the Port Arthur Ship Canal, is a ship-building and repair plant covering six acres, and is housed in six galvanized iron buildings used for workshops. Five large electric cranes shuttle back and forth on 600 feet of waterfront tracks. Facilities permit the simultaneous construction of five ships, each with a maximum length of 300 feet. All vessels built here are of steel, with welded construction throughout. This plant was opened in March, 1931.
Bruno R. Schulz, the owner, came to Port Arthur from Stettin, Germany, in 1909, and opened a small bakery, but later went to work for the Gulf Oil Corporation as a refinery laborer. About 1917 he persuaded officials of the company to send him to a school in Pittsburgh, Pa., where he studied electric welding. Schulz returned to Port Arthur and again became a refinery worker. At last with his savings of $500, he started the Gulfport Boiler and Welding Works at 320 7th Street, soon taking a partner, John L. LeBlanc.
Three years after the company was founded, Schulz laid the first all-electric welded pipe line in the South for the Atlantic Pipe Line Company at Atreco, near Port Arthur.
About 1930 he conceived the idea of an electrically welded barge as an improvement over the riveted type. Experiments which followed showed promise. The result was the first all-welded barge constructed in Port Arthur.
Schulz then installed his shipyard at its present location, which was formerly a canoe landing place above the Sabine Transportation Company. By 1931, the company’s equipment purchased for this new type of marine construction included a battery of ten electric welding machines, each costing about $1,800.
Unlike most shipyards, this plant has no ways. The completed vessels are launched directly into the Ship Canal. Since the plant was opened, 1,939 all-electrically welded vessels have been constructed at a cost of $7,000,000. Two U. S. Government coast-guard cutters were built here during 1939.
The employment personnel of the plant varies from 30 workers during slack seasons to 160 in busy ones. The annual payroll is $240,000.