History

The Establishment of Port Arthur: By Design, by Spiritual Guidance, or by Happenstance?

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With a population of just over 53,000 (2010 U.S. Census), Port Arthur, Texas, in Jefferson County, is located just 91 miles east of Houston along the Gulf Coast. The town founder and promoter, Arthur E. Stilwell, marketed the area as a great city, proclaiming it to be so in various ad campaigns throughout American newspapers, claiming, “…When nature, enterprising men, capital, and commerce all get together, success is bound to come.” As it turns out, otherworldly forces may have had a hand in its development, also.

The Establishment of Port Arthur: By Design, By Spiritual Guidance, or By Happenstance?

Photo: Wikimedia

Years after its successful development Stilwell wrote of Port Arthur that it, “…may not be the only city ever located and built under direction of the spirit world, but it is undoubtedly the only one…so recognized and acknowledged.” During the construction of the Kansas City, Pittsburg, and Gulf Railroad (KCPG) in the mid-1890s, Stilwell was developing a route from Kansas City to the Gulf of Mexico via Pittsburg, Kansas. His original intention was to end the line at Sabine Pass, south of Lake Sabine. But his 1921 book, “Live and Grow Young,” indicated that he believed spirits which he called “Brownies” came to him in a dream and advised that he locate the “terminal on the north shore of Sabine Lake….And there occurred to me a picture of a city…here in this landlocked harbor, safe from the most devastating storms, [where] we could create a port.”

The Establishment of Port Arthur: By Design, By Spiritual Guidance, or By Happenstance?
Photo: Wikimedia

Be it spirits, divine intervention, or something Stilwell ate that produced this guidance, it proved to be fortuitous for Port Arthur. By the spring of 1898, the city was incorporated and had just over 860 residents but, although he may have started the location, it was the 1901 gusher at Spindletop, rich in oil, that truly established the port city and made history for the small burg. From 900 residents in 1900, the city exploded to well over 7,000 in 1910 and more than 50,000 in 1930. It’s undergone nominal growth spurts and reductions since and has seen the development and management of refineries and the oil industry as a whole in its lifetime. And the city and state have Arthur E. Stilwell, and the possibility of spirits to thank for this development in the southeastern corner of Texas. It’s a unique bit of Texas history that truly makes you ponder about Port Arthur.

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