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Beaumont (Jefferson County)

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Beaumont, county seat of Jefferson County, the largest city and western-most point of the Golden Triangle of southeast Texas, was platted in 1835 for New Orleans apothecaries Henry W. Millard and Joseph P. Pulsifer and Jasper County merchant Thomas B. Huling. Situated on the west bank of the Neches River, twenty-five miles from the Gulf of Mexico, it lies in Lorenzo de Zavala's sector of the Galveston Bay and Texas Land Company's empresariogrant. In 1837 Millard and his associates expanded the townsite into a two-hundred-acre tract with neighboring property owners Joseph Grigsby and Nancy Tevis. Nancy Tevis's husband, Noah, had been one of the earliest Anglo-American settlers at what, by 1824, was first called Tevis Bluff on the Neches. Beaumont (the family name of Millard's recently deceased wife, who was from Natchez, Mississippi) was designated county seat of Jefferson County by the Republic of Texas in 1838. The comparatively narrow streets of downtown Beaumont are a spatial reflection of the city's geographic and cultural proximity to Louisiana. Street names (for example, Wall and Pearl) repeat those of Natchez.

In 1861 Beaumont was linked by rail to Houston and to Sabine Pass on the Gulf of Mexico, but rail traffic was disrupted by the Civil War and not completely restored until 1876. After the mid-1870s, timber processing became increasingly significant as the Neches River linked the railhead at Beaumont with the enormous forests of the East Texas Big Thicket and Piney Woods. Until the 1890s, however, cattle ranching was of primary economic importance in Jefferson County. As elsewhere along the Texas Gulf Coast, intensive agricultural development began in earnest in the 1890s. By 1900 Jefferson County had emerged as the center of Texas's first major rice-producing region.

Eclipsing all other sources of wealth and transforming Beaumont from an isolated town into a city of statewide importance was the discovery of oil at Spindletop (now in southern Beaumont) in 1901. The construction of an infrastructure of oil pipelines and of the refinery of the Magnolia Petroleum Company (now ExxonMobil) that could take advantage of Beaumont's transportation network saved the city. Railroad construction during the 1890s and early 1900s and the opening of the Neches River ship channel to oceangoing navigation between 1906 and 1916 contributed to Beaumont's expansion in population and wealth. The dramatic reopening of the Spindletop oil field in 1925 underwrote the surge of construction that endowed Beaumont with its most durable architectural monuments.

Beaumont possesses a legacy of distinguished architecture dating from the first half of the twentieth century. Its downtown business district, right on the Neches River, underwent some rehabilitation during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Yet Beaumont seems to be following the paths charted by Orange and Port Arthur, losing more and more of its urban architecture—and urban identity—to disinvestment and suburbanization.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Gerald Moorhead et al.

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