Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Gladys City

"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 (www.panola.edu) 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.
The first State Historian
to present in a saloon!
On Friday evening, February 8, I was guest speaker at a meeting of the Webb Society at Lamar University in Beaumont. The Walter Prescott Webb Historical Society was organized at the University of Texas in honor of the legendary UT history professor and author. The history departments at many Texas colleges and universities sponsor Webb Society chapters, which provide attendance and programs at the annual meeting of the Texas State Historical Association. Under the leadership of Dr. Mary Scheer, the Lamar University chapter meets weekly on Wednesdays during the school day. Occasionally the chapter meets on Friday evenings, and these events feature a faculty chili-cookoff and a speaker. These occasions take place in the saloon at Gladys City, an outstanding reproduction of the ramshackle oil boomtown adjacent to Spindletop. There was a fine crowd of students and faculty members, and the chili supper was terrific. After eating I became the first State Historian of Texas to present a program in a saloon!

I arrived at Gladys City early so that I could photograph the boomtown buildings in good light. After looking around the visitor center and gift shop, I stepped back into the past. Gladys City is a living museum which features more than a score of clapboard, false-front buildings. There is a two-story hotel, drug store, post office, livery stable, print shop, surveyor's office, tin shop, photo studio, two-story saloon, blacksmith shop, doctor's office, and other boomtown enterprises, all connected by boardwalks. There are wooden oil derricks, along with the nearby Lucas Gusher Monument, a towering granite monument which originally stood at the Spindletop gusher site, about a mile south of today's Gladys City replica. 

Early Spanish explorers used seepage from oil springs near Sabine Pass as caulking for their sailing craft. A few scattered oil wells were drilled in Texas, starting with a producing well near Melrose in 1866. Thirty years later the growing town of Corsicana tried to expand its water supply by drilling wells. Instead of water the wells produced oil, and Corsicana developed the first oil field and oil refinery west of the Mississippi River. 

Meanwhile, promoter Patillo Higgins insisted that there was oil beneath the "Big Hill" (20 feet high!) about three miles south of Beaumont. A.F. Lucas, an expert on salt domes, hired Alfred and James Hamil - brothers who had drilled the Corsicana water/oil wells - to drill for oil at the Big Hill. Ten days into the 20th century, on January 10, 1901, the Lucas Gusher came in, and the Spindletop Field soon was producing 90,000 barrels of oil a day. Patillo Higgins already had platted a townsite nearby, naming it after a young lady in Beaumont, Gladys Bingham. Today the Gladys City replica, with its clapboard buildings and thousands of artifacts, powerfully evokes the atmosphere of an earlier time. Walking the boardwalks and strolling in and out of the buildings, it is easy to feel the ghosts of a century and more ago.

The Lucas Gusher Monument
 For more information: www.gladyscity.weebly.com

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