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Early History of Port Arthur, Tx

Early History of Port Arthur

In 1896, it is doubtful if there were more than one dozen houses located in the territory between Sabine Lake and Beaumont. All of these were ranch houses, most of them containing one or two rooms. Between what is now the little city of Nederland and the Sabine Lake, there were one house and one tree. These were located in the territory now known as the city of Port Arthur. The tree stood immediately in front of the present Gates' home, and the one-room ranch house was only a few feet away. Both the ranch house and the tree are now gone.

In 1896 the town site of Port Arthur was surveyed. The Townsite Company, which was a subsidiary organization to the Kansas City Southern-Railroad Company, was organized for the purpose of constructing a port within the fresh water territory as a terminal for the Kansas City Southern Railroad. These promoters of the railroad planned to connect Taylor's Bayou with Sabine Pass by constructing a channel through the Lake.

The Kountze Bros. objected to the development for the reason that they owned land at Sabine and desired that the railroad be extended tko that place. They secured court injunctions, which prevented the digging of the canal through the Lake, making it necessary for the Townsite Company to purchase the land along the edge of the Lake through which the canal was eventually dug. The first steamship to ascend the canal was the British steamer St. Oswald, which dropped anchor near what is now known as the Rice Elevator Docks. This was in the year 1898. The business section of the city of Port Arthur at that time consisted of a box car for a depot; three business houses on Procter Street, one of which was a saloon; the old Sabine Hotel; and a negro shanty, in which the laundry of the community was done. North of Shreveport Avenue was "out in the swamp." The development of the city of Port Arthur since that date is known history

Early School History

Prior to and including 1897, a one-room residence on the corner of Houston Avenue and Fifth Street was used as a schoolhouse. Approximately a dozen students were in attendance, the parents paying the tuition fee. In every sense of the word, this was strictly a private school. In 1897 it became apparent to the progressive citizens that, due to the rapidly increasing population, a public free school should be established. By public subscription and by contributed labor, a one-room building was constructed within one day on Procter Street in what is now the six hundred block. During the second school year, or 1898, the second room was added to this building, while during the year the third was added. Homemade benches were used in the first two rooms, while factory-built desks were provided for the third room. At the close of the third term, or in 1899, there were 160 white children and one colored child in what was known at that time as the old Common School District No. 14, which territory is known at the present time as the city limits of Port Arthur. On August 24, 1899, an election was held for the purpose of incorporating the Port Arthur Independent School- District. The vote was -eighty-one for and two against the act of incorporation. On September 6, 1899, the election of the first Board of Trustees of the Port Arthur Independent School District was held. On January 6, 1900, an election for a tax levy of twenty cents on the hundred dollar valuation of property was held, the vote being unanimous. On March 1, 1900, an election was held to determine whether or not a bond issue of $15,000.00 should be floated for the purpose of constructing a school building. There is no record showing how the votes stood, but the money was spent for the erection of the Webster Building, which is still in use. On August 1, 1900, the scholastic census for the District was 224 white and colored children. On July 30, 1904, a bond issue, totaling $80,000,00, was favorably passed upon by the voters of the District. This bond issue was used to erect the central building of the present High School plant. These developments represent the growth under the Act of Incorporating the Port Arthur Independent School District dated August 24, 1899.

New Organization

The charter issued by the Legislature in 1899 was replaced by House Bill No. 684, which was passed by the Thirtieth Legislature during the spring of 1907 and approved by the Governor on April 15, 1907. House Bill No. 470, passed by the first called session of the Thirty-fourth Legislature and approved by the Governor on June 5, l9l5 enlarged the territory of the Port Arthur Independent School District and made certain adjustments concerning outstanding bond issues. All the rights and privileges enjoyed at the present time by the Port Arthur Independent School District are provided for in these two House Bills. House Bill No. 684 provided for seven trustees,. each to serve two years. The authority for the Board of Trustees of the Port Arthur Independent School District appointing the tax assessor and collector and a Board of Equalization is also provided. This act confers and imposes upon the Port Arthur Independent School District and its Board of Trustees all the rights, privileges and duties as are conferred and imposed on the towns and villages incorporated under the general laws of the State of Texas for free school purposes only. The above named House Bills are hereto attached. On January 17, 1917, the Board of Trustees adopted a set of rules for the government of the Board of Trustees of the Port Arthur Independent School District, in which was outlined-the duties of the administrative officers provided for in House Bills No. 684 and 470. Under the rights and privileges provided for in the Charter, the Board created the necessary committee and outlined the duties in its Rules for the Government of the Board of Trustees. The order of business to be followed at the meetings of the Board was also included.


At the present time the Port Arthur public school system is housed in the following buildings, listed in order of construction:

  • Webster, located corner Seventh and Shreveport in the 800 block;
  • High School, located on Lake Shore Drive and Stilwell Boulevard;
  • DeQueen, located on DeQueen Boulevard and Seventh Street in the 2500 block;
  • Franklin, located on Tenth and Mobile in the 1000 block;
  • Lincoln Building for colored children, located on Lincoln Avenue and Tenth Street;
  • Lamar, located in the Port Arthur Heights Addition;
  • Griffing Park Building now under construction;
  • Port Acres, located one-half mile southwest of El Vista station.

Webster Building: In 1900 a $15,000.00 bond issue was voted for the erection of this building. The basement and the first floor at the present time are used for storehouse purposes and for the offices of the tax collector, the secretary and the superintendent of schools. The third floor is used for schoolroom purposes, housing some kindergarten and first grade sections.

DEQUEEN: The present DeQueen plant has two very substantial buildings. The first building was erected out of two bond issues, one voted May 1, 1912 for $35,O00.00 and the other on January 29, 1914 for $12,000.00. The original building offered facilities for academic work only and housed approximately 400 children. From the bond issue of $675,000.00 mentioned above, $180,000.00 were spent during 1923-24 in providing the second unit. The new building contains an auditorium, with a seating capacity of 506 and an adequate stage with dressing rooms; industrial arts rooms; one gymnasium, sixty by eighty feet; two showers and two dressing rooms; library; a music room; and several classrooms. The present capacity of the DeQueen plant, which is operated on the platoon plan, is approximately 1,400 children. The site of this building contains one city block. With the permission of the city, the adjoining park is used as a playground. The work in this building consists of kindergarten and the first seven grades.

High School: The central unit of the present High School plant was erected out of an $80,000.00. From the date of occupancy, September, 1906, to January 1, 1924, this building housed all of the High School activities; such as academic, Industrial Arts and Home Economics. On July 1, 1922, $675,000.00 was voted for the purpose of erecting, repairing and enlarging the school buildings of the District. Of this bond issue, $450,000.00 was used during the years of 1923 and 1924 for the purpose of adding additional units to the High School Building, and repairing the old High School Building. The north unit of the present High School plant is used to house the Industrial Arts, Natural Science and Mathematics Departments. This unit was erected and equipped at a cost of $195,000.00. The Industrial Arts Department includes courses in iron-working; auto mechanics, elementary and advanced wood-working, including carpentry, furniture designing, etc.; mechanical drawing, printing; and arts and crafts. The Natural Science Department includes physics, chemistry, physiology, home nursing and biology. The Mathematics Department includes the usual subjects in mathematics; such as advanced courses in arithmetic, shop mathematics, algebra, plane and solid geometry and trigonometry. The south unit of the present High School plant houses the Physical Education activities. This building contains the physical director's office; two gymnasiums, each measuring sixty by eighty feet, with the usual gymnasium equipment; one pool; one shower room and one dressing room with individual booths for girls, while like facilities are provided for the boys; two offices for instructors, a nurse\'s office and hospital room reasonably well equipped; dental hygienist's office, though not equipped for use at this time; a physiology laboratory not yet equipped; and several classrooms for academic work. This unit of the High School plant was constructed at a cost of $192,000.00 The present High School plant has a working capacity of 1,800 children. The site contains four acres.

LINCOLN SCHOOL: Up to 1908 no provision had been made to care for the colored scholastic population of the District. Out of the local maintenance fund in June l9~8 the School Board bought four city lots and erected thereon a two-room building, to which, during the following four years, four additional rooms were added. This house served the colored children of the city until the year of 1920. On June 24, 1919, the voters passed favorably upon a bond issue totaling $200,000.00, of which $167,000.00 was used in the erection of the present Lincoln Building. This building contains sixteen classrooms, with the necessary cloakrooms, a hospital room, a book room and a principal's office. It is modern in every respect, having steam heat, sanitary toilets, drinking fountains, etc. So rapid has been the growth of the colored scholastic population that two two-story frame buildings have been provided to house the Industrial Arts and the Home Economics Departments.

GRIFFING: At the present time the Griffing Park Building is under construction. This unit when completed will contain a kindergarten and five academic classrooms, with a housing capacity of two hundred forty children. The present unit is the first of a number of units that will be added as the scholastic development takes place. It is believed that the work of the first five grades will be offered when the building is occupied, which will be during the present semester. There are ten acres in the Griffing Park site, located about the center of the old Griffing Nursery. The cost of the construction of this building was borne by the $675,000.00 bond issue heretofore described.

FRANKLIN: This building was provided for in the bond issue for $450,000.00, voted on January 8, 1916, and was erected during the years of 1916-17. Its cubic cost was seventeen cents. The site, which contains four city blocks approximating twelve acres, was bought from the Townsite Company at a cost of $4,800.00. The cost of the ground, the building, the filler around the building and the equipment was $430,000.00. The building contains an auditorium with a seating capacity of 700. The stage in the auditorium is sixty-four feet wide and thirty-two feet deep. Three stage settings and a moving picture. screen are provided. The shops of the Industrial Arts Department contain six rooms. The Home Economics Department has a cooking laboratory, a model dining room, a living room, a bedroom with adjoining bath, and a room for domestic arts. A cafeteria is operated in connection with this Department, which contains the cooking laboratories with the necessary equipment. In the Physical Education quarters may be found a swimming -pool, thirty by sixty feet, and the necessary showers and dressing rooms for girls and boys; two gymnasiums, sixty by eighty feet, with dressing rooms for girls and boys; the nurse s quarters; and the instructors' offices. Two open-air playground courts are provided on the third floor over the gymnasiums and corridors for- use during inclement weather. Each of these courts is eighty by one hundred twenty feet. In the rear of the building, approximately seven acres of playground space are provided for Physical Education activities. Special Departments, such as, Music, Literature and Nature Study, are provided for within the building. Two adequately built conservatories are used by the Nature Study Department. A very splendid natural history collection containing several hundred birds, fishes and reptiles is a part of the equipment provided for this Department. This building will house 2,560 students without congestion, which would involve sixty-four sections with forty students to the section. By extending the day and reducing the length of the recitation periods, from seventy-two to seventy-four sections with forty students to the section can be accordingly dated. The work in this building is confined to the kindergarten and first seven grades.

PORT ACRES: This building is now under construction and will consist of a two-room, frame building to house the work of the first four grades. The construction of this building has become necessary, due to the rapid development of this addition.

LAMAR: The original Lamar Building contains six rooms and cost approximately $33,000.00. The money became available out of a $200,000.00 bond issue voted on June 24, 1919 for the purpose of constructing the Lincoln School Building. During the 1923-24 session it became necessary to add-a two-room, frame building as a part of the Lamar plant. There are at the present time eight classrooms with accommodations for three hundred twenty students. The kindergarten and the first three grades are housed in this plant.

Change in Educational Administration

From its inception, Port Arthur as a city has had two very pronounced characteristics. One of these is its very rapid growth; the other is apparently a demand on the part of all citizens to build well but economically. In the application of this last characteristic to the school system, during the years prior to 1914, the patrons of the schools became convinced that in all respects the policies of the school system should be modernized. After a study of schools of the United States, the then president and vice-president of the School Board were instructed to inspect the school system of Gary, Indiana. A copy of this Committee's report is hereto attached. Acting upon the motion made and carried as recorded in connection with the Committee\'s report, the process of changing the operation of the schools from what is ordinarily known as the traditional plan to the platoon or Gary Plan was begun during the year of 1915, and has been a gradual development since that time. Through the operation of this plan the attainment of the seven objectives as shown on the attached blueprint is made possible. Since health is taken as the first objective, a large Physical Education faculty is employed, most of whom are experts in solving health problems of juvenile life. All children are repeatedly examined, weighed and measured in an endeavor to apply preventive as well as remedial measures during the formative years of their physical growth. Other agencies in both the preventive and remedial activities- are established to attain the necessary results. Some of these are special gymnasium classes to arrest physical defects when the defect is only beginning, free lunches, the taking of naps in the hospital rooms at the buildings, free or practically free operations contributed by the surgeons of the city, and such other treatments as can be given by the three nurses that have been employed. The second objective is high efficiency in the academic or fundamental subjects. During the year of 1922, the colleges of the State made a study of the grades of freshmen who entered as graduates of the high schools of the State. These graduates were from Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and other cities comparable in size. Galveston ranked first in this study1 with Port Arthur ranking second. Two different years in the academic work at A. and N. College, the Port Arthur graduates attained the highest standard from any school in the State. Since Port Arthur is largely a town of tradespeople and the local industries employ annually large groups of skilled tradesmen, the Port Arthur school system has inaugurated and is rapidly bringing to a high level of efficiency the third objective, vocational education. The offerings to the grammar grade and high school boys at the present time in the Industrial Arts Department include blacksmithing, woodworking, carpentry, auto mechanics, ironworking, machine shop practice, painting, varnishing, arts and crafts, mechanical drawing and printing. The principal objective of the Industrial Arts Department is to demonstrate to the boy that he has or does not have mechanical ability. When such ability is discovered, this Department attempts to develop it in such a way that the boy can accept a job and satisfactorily carry the responsibility thereof in any of the local industries. Not being content with limiting its efforts to the scholastic-aged child, the District through the Smith-Hughes Act is this year offering certain courses free to the mature tradesmen and tradeswomen of the community. During the year of 1924-25 these courses will cost $9,325.00, the Federal and the State Governments appropriating $6,306.00 and $3,019.00 being drawn from the local funds. Descriptive discussions of the other four objectives would occupy too much space. Wisely all of us ask, "What is the cost?" This question is answered by the following tabulation prepared on the per capita cost of the cities given. This information was released by the State Auditor and is therefore not tinged with local prejudice. It is also mentioned that none of the schools included in this study except Dallas are operated on the platoon plan, consequently none of the schools except Dallas offer to their students courses in physical education, nature study, auditorium, homemaking, home nursing and free kindergarten work, all of which are offered to the children in Port Arthur.