Today, over 300,000 people call Southeast Texas home. Located on Interstate 10 just 90 miles east of Houston and 25 miles west of Louisiana, the tri-county region has a history that makes it a destination all its own.
Centuries before the community gained notoriety as the epicenter of the American oil boom, famous conquistador Hernando De Soto and his men scavenged for sun-hardened natural deposits of crude oil on the shores of Sabine Lake to caulk their boats during their 1543 quest to expand Spanish territory. Since then, the region's history has demonstrated a unique entrepreneurial spirit and a cast of exceptional and colorful characters, not to mention the continued quest for oil and gas exploration and processing.
Intriguingly, there may be more than just black gold beneath the bayous and beaches of Southeast Texas. According to local lore, legendary pirate Jean Lafitte buried large portions of his fortune along the Sabine and Neches Rivers in the early 19th century. When his crew disbanded in 1820, many left their Galveston Island homes and traveled inland to settle the lands in Hardin, Jefferson and Orange counties.
It is no coincidence that the region's inception coincided with the commencement of local commerce. In 1835, businessmen Henry Millard, Joseph Pulsifer and Thomas Huling established an area mercantile when the area was still an unorganized settlement. Not long after, the plan for a city was laid out along the bluffs above the Neches River and given the name Beaumont - the maiden name of Millard's beloved late wife.
Beaumont quickly developed into a small town economically based on rice and ranching, as well as the logging taking place in the vast Piney Woods to the north. This area has since come to be known as Hardin County.
The oil age was born in Beaumont on January 10, 1901 when wildcatter and eventual oil magnate Anthony F. Lucas struck the world's first great oil well on Spindletop salt dome south of town. Crude sprayed from the "Lucas Gusher" more than 160 feet into the air and Beaumont gained wealth and fame overnight. Soon Beaumont's population rocketed from 9,000 to 50,000, and by 1902, there were nearly 300 wells on Spindletop Hill and 600 individual oil companies. The little city on the Neches had assumed its identity as a bona fide boomtown.
Currently, the cities of Southeast Texas are home to one of the world's largest refining and petrochemical centers, but it has also become a source for sophisticated medical instruments, precision industrial equipment, wood pellet manufacturing and advanced manufacturing.
The history of Southeast Texas is the story of the American Dream. It has cultivated a vibrant blend of Creole, Cajun and Texas cultures, never losing the southern hospitality and entrepreneurial spirit of its early days. We commemorate and memorialize the people and progress that have made our area rich with history.