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Henderson (Rusk County)

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Henderson was founded in 1843 as the seat of the new county of Rusk for its central location. A fire in 1860 destroyed much of the wood-built town. In 1930, Oklahoma wildcatter Columbus M. “Dad” Joiner struck oil at a site 6 miles west of Henderson. The East Texas oil field was 43 miles long and 12 miles wide. Within months of Joiner’s discovery, other widely spaced wells revealed the vastness of the East Texas field, and hundreds of small operators and large oil companies immediately inaugurated a drilling craze. Landowners carved their holdings into small mineral leases, offering them to the highest bidder. The town’s population exploded tenfold in a matter of weeks. By the eve of World War II, the boom was largely over. Since 1930, over 30,000 wells have been drilled in the sprawling field, yielding 5.6 billion barrels of oil. The East Texas oilfield is the largest and most prolific oil reservoir in the continental United States.

In the heart of the oil field 10 miles northwest of Henderson is New London, the site of a gas explosion in 1937 in a school, killing 311 children and teachers. A cenotaph (1939, Donald Nelson architect, Herring Coe sculptor) at 10700 S. Main commemorates them. Shortly after the accident, the Texas legislature passed a law requiring an odor be added to natural gas. The accident also led to the professional licensing of architects and engineers in Texas.

Writing Credits

Gerald Moorhead et al.

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