Sunday, February 17, 2013


"Lone Star Historian" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published almost 40 books, half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. 

Beaumont has labeled itself "The Museum Capital of Texas." When I drove to Beaumont recently for a speaking engagement, I arrived early so that I could once again enjoy the city's excellent museums. I stopped first at the Visitor Center, which houses the Babe Didrickson Zaharias Museum. Raised in Beaumont, Babe was a superb all-around athlete: a three-time basketball All-American, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, and the first star of the women's pro golf tour. Sports fans and parents of daughters will enjoy the free exhibits, and maps and brochures of Beaumont attractions will facilitate a visit to the city.

The Fire Museum of Texas is located in the two-story brick fire station built downtown in 1927. Outside, tourists are greeted by the "World's Largest Fire Hydrant." a 24-foot-tall prop donated by Walt Disney Studios in honor of 101 Dalmatians. My mother grew up in a fire house, because my grandfather was the only paid fireman of the Lampasas Fire Department. I've always enjoyed visiting the Fire Museum of Texas, with its antique vehicles and equipment. 

 A short walk brought me to the Texas Energy Museum. The executive director of this state-of-the-art facility, genial Ryan Smith, acquainted me with the museum's background and layout. It was my first time to visit the Texas Energy Museum, and I was highly impressed and entertained. Next door is the Tyrell Historical Library, which offers thousands of books on Texas history, genealogical research resources, and a fine art collection. Erected in 1903 as the First Baptist Church, the Romanesque-Gothic building is a magnificent example of historical architecture. Across the street is the Jefferson Theater, a vast and ornate movie house built in 1927, and now beautifully restored as a performing arts enter. I was permitted to tour this glorious old theater during a Beaumont meeting of the East Texas Historical Association. But I wanted to photograph the auditorium for this blog, and security personnel graciously granted me access to the interior.

Also downtown is the Edison Museum, which boasts the largest collection of Thomas Edison's inventions west of the Mississippi, as well as interactive exhibits. The Art Museum of Southeast Texas, while not a history museum, is a major cultural center of Beaumont's museum district.

Several blocks west of downtown is the McFaddin-Ward home, a beaux-arts colonial mansion and carriage house built in 1906-1908. Beautifully furnished, the mansion hosts guided tours every half hour. The McFaddin-Ward mansion is a notable attraction in a city that offers many tourist attractions of an historical and cultural nature. Another such attraction is the Gladys City boomtown, an excellent living history museum which I described in my last blog. The history-minded traveler can spend a busy and enjoyable day in The Museum Capital of Texas. 
Tyrell Library
Jefferson Theater

McFaddin-Ward House
Gladys City

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