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Port Arthur (Jefferson County)

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Port Arthur, at the southern tip of the Golden Triangle, was founded in 1896 on the west shore of Sabine Lake by Kansas City promoter Arthur E. Stilwell as the southern terminus of his Kansas City, Pittsburg and Gulf Railway (subsequently the Kansas City Southern Railway). Stilwell envisioned Port Arthur as the seaport of Kansas City. With the backing of Chicago investor John W. “Bet-a-Million” Gates, Stilwell also commenced construction of a ship channel through Sabine Lake to the Gulf of Mexico at Sabine Pass, opened in 1899. When the cost of these enterprises outstripped their capacity to generate revenue, Stilwell lost control of the operations to Gates in 1900. The discovery of oil at Spindletop, twelve miles northwest of Port Arthur, in January 1901 proved fortuitous. The Gulf Oil Corporation and the Texas Company (Texaco), both formed at Spindletop, built their first refineries at Port Arthur in 1901 and 1902, respectively. Stilwell commissioned Kansas City architect George A. Matthews to design the Spanish Mission style Sabine Hotel (demolished); Matthews was perhaps responsible for the Baroque town plan of Port Arthur. However, since the downtown business district was located in the southeast corner of the townsite rather than at Gillham Circle in its center, the monumentality of the town plan remains unrealized. During the 1920s, Port Arthur boomed, acquiring a skyline of multistory hotel and office buildings (its most picturesque skyscraper, the eleven-story Goodhue Hotel of 1929, was demolished in 1990), and a second layer of elite neighborhoods northeast of the original townsite. The last quarter of the twentieth century was catastrophic for Port Arthur's architectural legacy. Downtown is a ghost town, although Lamar University–Port Arthur has reclaimed near-town civic buildings.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Gerald Moorhead et al.

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