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Beaumont, Texas – A Brief History

About 3 miles south of Beaumont on a salt dome named Spindletop Hill, a spectacular event changed the economy and history of Texas in the blink of an eye when drillers tapped one of the world’s largest oil fields. It was January 1901.

“It was one of the greatest wells ever seen,” said Troy Gray, director of the Spindletop Gladys City Museum. “They weren’t expecting a gusher, but maybe several barrels a day seeping out of the ground, but when they struck oil at 1,139 feet, it went on for nine days, blowing an oil stream 150 to 200 feet high, straight into the air and gushing roughly 100,000 barrels a day. They didn’t have the capping technology that exists today, so it was chaos for a while until they could figure it all out. Oil was everywhere.”

In a matter of days, the petroleum industry was born: Fortunes were made — and some lost — as land changed hands and the population surged.

“Almost overnight, Beaumont’s population went from 9,000 to 50,000,” Gray said. “The oil brought bankers, land speculators, wildcatters, workmen and throngs of onlookers.”

Today the oil-drenched history of Beaumont is celebrated and preserved at the museum, which recreates Gladys City, the turn-of-the century town that grew up around Spindletop Hill. It’s a showcase of the boomtown and culture that existed after the geyser’s discovery.

“We have about 15 different buildings that house artifacts and exhibits of the time period,” Gray said. “There’s a doctor’s office, a barber shop and general store with living quarters upstairs. One of the cool things we have is a working blacksmith. He forges iron and makes knives on site. We invite guests and visitors to get involved with the enrichment classes we offer that include blacksmithing, and wood and leather working and lots of other crafts. It’s a hands-on experience that puts people in touch with the times. The classes are a day long, and we enroll 16 year-olds on up to senior citizens.”

People travel from around the world to learn about Spindletop.

“We see visitors from Colombia, England, Italy, Canada and many other countries. What we have here captures the imagination,” Gray said. “It’s what started the oil business, and ultimately changed the world. It’s recorded in history books; students learn about it in school.”

A special thrill for visitors is the viewing of a replica derrick that spews a plume of sparkling water into the sky, simulating the original oil stream in a reenactment as water surges skyward for two minutes.

The oil geyser is formally known as the Lucas Gusher, and named after Anthony Lucas, one of the team members who discovered it. Commemorating his discovery of oil at Spindletop Hill, the Lucas Gusher Monument, a 58-foot pink granite obelisk, was erected and dedicated in 1941. The monument and entire Spindletop field have been designated a National Historic Landmark.

Owned by Lamar University, the museum is open year-round, but closed on Mondays and major holidays. Call (409) 880-1750 or visit www.lamar.edu/spindletop-gladys-city to plan your trip.