Top 5 Surprising Bits of Beaumont Texas History

Photo courtesy of Fire Hydrant: Beaumont Enterprise -- read more at https://www.offbeattravel.com/tji-beaumont-texas-five-surprises.html

If I tell you that January 10th marks the 114th anniversary of the Lucas gusher at Spindletop, which happens to be the defining event in Beaumont history, you'll probably wonder what the heck is Spindletop. And we'll get to that, but there's much more to this Southeast Texas city. Just take a look at these 5 unique historic spots.

The Gusher That Started the Texas Oil Boom

But first, let's talk oil. Oil certainly wasn't unknown before Spindletop gushed upwards in 1901, but there had been no significant oil production along the Gulf Coast previous to that event. It started when Anthony F. Lucas, who was at the time the leading United States expert on salt dome formations, decided to drill Spindletop ... on a salt dome formation south of Beaumont, Texas. There was setbacks and disappointments but when the geyser, named the Lucas geyser, blew it sent up a stream of oil over 100 feet high until it was capped nine days later.

According to Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown at Lamar University

By 1902 there were more than 500 Texas corporations doing business in Beaumont. Many of the major oil companies were born at Spindletop or grew to major corporate size as a result of their involvement at Spindletop. The Texas Company (later Texaco), Gulf Oil Corporation, Sun Oil Company, Magnolia Petroleum Company, and Humble (later Exxon Company, U.S.A.) were a few of the major corporations.
But that was oil history, here's what else sets Beaumont apart.

World's Largest (Working) Fire Hydrant

Sitting outside the Fire Museum of Texas iss the world's largest working fire hydrant, originally built by Disney to promote the re-release of the animated film, 101 Dalmatians. Afterward, the company chose the Beaumont museum as the permanent home for this towering, dog-spotted hydrant, which makes for a popular photo opportunity.

Babe Didrikson Zaharias Museum

Considered to be the greatest female athlete of all times, Babe Didrikson Zaharias Babe was born in Port Arthur, Texas on June 11, 1911 and played every sport offered for girls at Beaumont High School and is the focus of the Babe Didrikson Zaharias Museum . She set records in track and field, was an All-American in basketball, mastered tennis, and was an expert diver, roller-skater and bowler. She participated in the 1932 Olympics but eventually focused on golf becoming one of the 10 best golfers of all time.

She also played baseball with the House of David, which needs a bit of a digression. It was a religious colony founded in 1903 by Benjamin and Mary Purnell and located in Benton Harbor, Michigan. For years it was a major financial and economic force in the area and still exists in Benton Harbor. But one of the things for which it was noted was its baseball teams that barnstormed across the US, Mexico, and parts of Canada.

Getting back to Babe Didrikson, she was paired with George Zaharias in a golf event, and they were married a short time later on December 23, 1938. In 1953 she was diagnosed with colon cancer and died in 1956 at age 45.

This greatest female athlete of all time grew up in Beaumont, and in 1976 this museum was established to preserve the legacy of hometown legend best known for her success in golf and Olympic accomplishments in track and field (two gold medals and one silver).

J.P. Richardson, "The Big Bopper," grave site

Remembered for his 1958 rock hit, "Chantilly Lace," Jiles Perry "J. P." Richardson, Jr.'s (The Big Bopper) life ended tragically in a plane crash along with fellow musicians Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens a year after the release of that hit song. He is buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, reportly at Garden of Seasons Block J Lot 8 Space 6, next to his wife.

The Jefferson Theatre

Since its opening in 1927, the Jefferson Theatre has been the host to some of the world's greatest motion pictures, including the 1946 premiere of "It's a Wonderful Life," attended by the film's star, James Stewart, and director, Frank Capra. After award-winning restoration, the historic theatre reopened in 2003 and still hosts events and entertainment today.

John Jay French Museum

Originally built in 1845 -- well before the Spindletop era -- John Jay French was a home of many firsts in Beaumont. It was one of the first painted houses and first two-story houses, and it remains Beaumont's oldest historic house restored to its original state. Today, the museum is available for tours, summer camps and other educational events.

Photo courtesy of Fire Hydrant: Beaumont Enterprise

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Published: December 11th, 2014



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