WT Block Jr -- 'Didja Knows' About Nederland, Texas
By W. T. Block
"Didja know" that the very existence of both Nederland and Port Arthur was once very "iffy?" In 1894 a railroad right-of-way buyer named Jacques Nolthenius tried to buy land south of Lake Charles so that Kansas City Southern Railroad could build to its planned terminus at Cameron, Louisiana. Instead the cattlemen of Cameron Parish refused to sell any land to him because they did not want those "iron horses" scaring their cattle, forcing the railroad to build into Texas to a new city called Port Arhur. Nolthenius’ Dutch-language journal of his railroad experiences was published in Haarlem, Holland in 1902.
"Didja know" that during the 1920s-1930s, Nederland grocery merchants, McNeill and Co. and Gardners Grocery, often called at customers’ houses twice daily, to pick up grocery orders in the morning and deliver groceries in the afternoon? Nearly all merchants did a large credit business. The gasoline shortage of World War II ended delivery of groceries.
"Didja know" that during World Wars I and II, Nederland residents needed ration stamps in order to buy most everything, and no ration stamps meant no gasoline, no coffee, no sugar, no meat, no canned goods, etc? Merchants spent a lot of their time at night counting and preparing stamps for return to wholesale houses.
"Didja know" that in 1935 ground meat sold for 15 cents a pound. A "soup bone" actually had meat and marrow on it, and a butcher might give it away or charge a nickel for it. Between 1900-1925 many items in stores were in bulk. You bought lard by the pound, which was then put in a waxed container. A common sight was a gallon can, with a potato to plug the spout, of kerosene (often called "coal oil") oil to fill lamps. Sugar and coffee beans were sold in bulk, for most items were not individually packed as they are today. Early stores would grind your coffee but it might still need to be parched. If you bought a steak at 25 cents a pound, you watched as the butcher cut (sawed) it off and wrapped it in "butcher" paper.
"Didja know" that First United Methodist Church shared its pastor with the Port Neches until 1917, and even with Sabine Pass in 1907. Methodist ministers often had to swim Taylor’s Bayou on horseback, alongside of alligators 15 feet long, and in 1903 Rev. J. C. Key was drowned at Smith Bluff while swimming the Neches River on horseback en route to Terry mission in Orange County. In 1918 Pvt. J. L. Redd, son of the Methodist pastor, was killed in action in France.
"Didja know" that between 1898 and 1905 Nederland was virtually bilingual? In 1905 there were about 350 Hollanders in Nederland who spoke only (or mostly) Dutch and about 150 in Nederland, who were native-born and spoke only English
"Didja know" that St. Charles Catholic Church of Nederland was organized in 1923 by Father Fred Hardy, who organized and pastored four churches, St. Charles, St. Elizabeth in Port Neches, Immaculate Conception in Groves, and Little Flower of Jesus in Port Acres until 1939? In that year he became full-time pastor of St. Charles. Father Hardy spoke perfect Parisian French and Vienese German, having studied pipe organ and piano for several years in both cities. He played the vaudeville circuit in New York for years before he attended the seminary. He had almost an operatic voice and he could belt out anything from jazz to all the classics on the pipe organ.
"Didja know" that the railroad in back of the airport has been there since 1860. The Confederate Army moved troops over the Sabine and East Texas Railroad that ran from Beaumont to Sabine Pass. Ranchers also penned cattle at a point on the railroad near the airport known as the "Cowpens." Before 1895, the only other nearby geographical entities were Smith Bluff, where Sun Oil and Unocal docks are located, and Grigsby’s Bluff, now Port Neches. A dirt road ran from Beaumont to Smith Bluff and Grigsby’s Bluff as early s 1845.
"Didja know" that much of Nederland is located on a Mexican land grant issued to Jose Maria Mora of Nacogdoches in 1835? Being an enemy alien, Mora’s land grant became public school land after the Texas Revolution, and much of it was issued to settlers by the Board of Land Commissioners between 1839 and 1842. A 640-acre tract was issued at Sun Station to J. C. Kutcher in 1839. About 1875 all the land in Nederland was purchased by Beaumont Pasture Company, which owned the "Mashed-O" ranch. Kansas City Southern Railroad bought 42,000 acres of former Mashed-O land in 1895 and founded Nederland two years later.
"Didja know" that in March, 1910, nearly everyone in Nederland went to Port Arthur to see the big whale, pulled out on land, the body of which was fast decaying? They even taught a Sunday School class in the whale’s mouth, which my mother attended. It was reported that everyone there "had a stinking good time." In 10 days time, more than 200,000 people passed through Nederland on 150 trains, packed like sardines and on which there was standing room only.
"Didja know" that on February 14, 1895, it snowed 30 inches in one night on the area that was soon to become Nederland? The snow often drifted to depths sufficient to cover the barbed wire fence posts.
"Didja know" that on February 14, 1899, the temperature dropped to 4 degrees, and parts of Sabine Lake froze? Two schooners sank in Sabine Lake from ice floes puncturing their sides. Dutch immigrants who had brought their ice skates from Holland caught the train to Sabine Pass and skated on the Sabine estuary, which was frozen solid to the Louisiana side. Others shoveled into their wagons tons of benumbed sand and speckled trout and flounders, that had washed up on the beach.
"Didja know" that in 1903 there were 3 saloons, named Steiner’s, Freeman’s, and Peek’s, in the 1100 block of Boston? Nederland’s first murder was committed in one of them. In 1909 the Nederland precinct voted itself "dry,’ forcing the saloons to close. In 1933, when the Prohibition Act was repealed, the 1909 "dry" election was still in effect, and another election was necessary before Nederland could sell alcoholic beverages.
"Didja know" that between 1935-1938 there were three ‘honketonks" of questionable repute in/near Nederland, sufficient to cause many carloads of Beaumont and Port Arthur sailors to unload in Nederland every hour? One by one, the honketonks burned down in 1938 under circumstances suspicious of arson, but no one was ever charged with that offense.
"Didja know" that between 1937-1940 the Reo Theater in Nederland was often dubbed the "rat theater?" When the light first flashed on the screen, one could sometimes see the outlines of big rats crawling along a board, or sometimes a big rat might crawl across one’s feet.
"Didja know" that Nederland Pharmacy is the longest continuously-operated business in Nederland? A photograph of 1100 Boston Avenue in 1903 showed a building on the left, about 1115 Boston, on which was painted ‘Nederland Pharmacy," which was founded in 1902. Until the 1960s, the pharmacy occupied only that part of the Wagner Building, which the lunch counter and cafe now occupy. During the 1930s, the part facing Twin City had five telescoping doors, hinged together, and wheeled-displays of magazines and other wares were sometimes moved out on the sidewalk. During those years there was also a wide overhead canopy protecting the sidewalk. During the 1930s the pharmacy gave curb service; small fountain cokes were a nickle and hamburgers a dime.
"Didja know" that between January 18-21, 1935, there were three days of a sleet blizzard in Nederland. Between Port Acres and the beach, 25,000 heads of cattle froze to death, many of them while standing still beside a fence. Many unemployed persons had a brief ‘windfall,’ skinning the hides.
"Didja know" that during the 1840s-1850s, Nederland was public school land over which the 1,000 horses and 9,000 heads of cattle of the Christian Hillebrand ranch at Labelle grazed. The Joseph Hebert ranch near present-day Beauxart Gardens owned 2,500 cattle in 1860. After 1875, Beaumont Pasture Company and Mashed-O ranch (on Dupont Road) grazed up to 25,000 cattle across Nederland until they sold 42,000 acres of land to the railroad. Until 1909, Spindletop drillers who roomed at Orange Hotel, and the Mashed-O cowhands were the principal saloon patrons in Nederland.
"Didja know" that in 1903, the first sound before daylight on Boston Ave. was two meat markets which hacked up raw beef for the saloons? The barkeepers kept free raw ground meat and sliced rye bread on the counters, or the saloon patrons would not buy their beer or whiskey..
"Didja know" that for many years First Baptist Church, then on the northeast corner of 13th and Boston, was known as "Peveto Baptist Church," honoring Gille Peveto, who paid off the church’s earliest indebtedness in 1909? The building had formerly housed a stable and a saloon, and it had long drop-down shutters instead of windows.
"Didja know" that Nederland’s telephone office before World War II was located in a house in the 400 block of 12th Street? One literally had to "ring the operator," who sat at a large switchboard, and asked, "Number please!" You told her the number you wished to call. The operator then connected you, using a switchboad plug to the number you wished to call. In 1935 a monthly telephone or electric bill might be as little as $1.50.
"Didja know" that between 1912 and 1932, a two-car trolley passed through Nederland over rails where Entergy high lines (and some pipe lines) currently cross town? The trolley travelled every hour, one in each direction between Beaumont and Port Arthur. The trolley was vulgarly referred to as "the (expletive deleted)," and its depot was in the middle of what is now Boston Ave., between the Windmill Museum and the Chamber of Commerce office. The early depot accounted for the short street in front of the chamber office and the Heritage Pavillion.
"Didja know" that about 1950 Boston Avenue could not be completed to 17th Street in front of Central Middle School because of the Andrew Johnson home on 15th Street, which blocked the extension? The city had to buy the property and have the Johnson home torn home before Boston Ave. could be extended.
"Didja know" that before World War I, Nederland schools taught only to the 8th grade, and high school students had to ride the trolley to South Park or Port Arthur to complete high school? Between World Wars I and II, "high school" was grades 8 through 11, and the 12th grade was added about 1943.
"Didja know" that before World War II, Halloween in Nederland was ‘celebrated’ principally with a lot of vandalism and pranksterism by teenage boys, plus a few Halloween parties? "Trick or treating" was introduced after World War II, principally to end the vandalism and to entertain smaller children.
"Didja know" that around 1930, Nederland students could not go to school without a small pox vaccination, although small pox as a pestilence disease had been eradicated long before. Between 1900-1920, the worst children’s diseases in Nederland were measles, diphtheria, and tuberculosis. The last small pox epidemic in Beaumont was in 1883. Long before oil, "Camp" Spindletop was a tent city where Confederate soldiers with yellow fever were isolated and in 1883 where small pox victims were isolated. Many of the dead from both epidemics lie in unmarked graves on Spindletop Hill.
"Didja know" that, for an area in Midcounty solely without trees, there was once a sawmill at Smith Bluff (the Sun Oil and Unocal dock area) between 1865-1867, and another sawmill at Port Neches was in operation between 1856 and 1876, when it burned? As late as 1970, there were still houses in Port Neches built of lumber cut in those mills. Logs for both mills were floated down the Neches River.
"Didja know" that on January 10, 1901, Nederlanders suddenly smelled strong and acrid, sulphuric fumes in the air, as well as a loud high-pitched, hissing sound. Several persons rode north on horseback beside the railroad tracks, seeking the source of the sound and smells, before learning that the first oil gusher at Spindletop had just blown in.
"Didja know" that in 1910 the only ‘highway’ to Beaumont for Nederlanders was West Port Arthur Road? Land along the area where Twin City Highway now passes was private land, cross-fenced with barbed wire fences. One could travel to Beaumont by wagon, but had to stop and open and close several gates while en route. Beginning in 1910 a large wagon carried Catholic patrons to church in Beaumont, the wagon time on the dirt road amounting to 2 ½ hours each way, plus the time in church. As of 1908, residents witnessed the first auto passing through Nederland, and by 1910 as many as 5 or 6 cars might pass through Nederland on a Sunday afternoon. Dr. John Haizlip bought the first car in Nederland in 1910.
"Didja know" that during the 1920s there were two large bakeries in Nederland, Yentzens, in the old 2-story bank building at 12th and Boston, and Bartels, at Twin City and Chicago Avenue. About 1935 each bakery installed a bread-slicing machine and began sealing their bread in wax paper bags to maintain freshness. About 3:00 PM the pungent smell of the freshly-baked bread permeated the atmosphere around 1100 block of Boston, to the delight of students walking home from school. As of that year, day-old bread cost 5 cents a loaf.
"Didja know" there are perhaps a dozen homes left in Nederland that date back to 1910 or earlier. The ‘Freeman’ home at Twin City and Atlanta is one of them. Others are the old ‘Kaper,’ ‘Goodwin,’ and ‘Ingwerson’ homes on 15th Street and the old ‘Paulus" home at 14th and Detroit. The old ‘Sweeney’ home, now moved to 207 Boston, cost a $40 carpenter bill in 1906 and the lumber and supplies cost only $500.
"Didja know" that Nederland was once ‘cut to pieces’ by rice canal levees? Although pumping for rice ended in 1917, the abandoned canals rights-of-way continued until after World War II, and some of them were redug for our present fresh water canal system around Nederland. South 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th and 17th Street were once blocked in the 400 block by abandoned canals. Gage and Hardy Avenues are angled because of abandoned canals that once abutted them. Avenue H from the 1800 block to about the 3000 block once had an abandoned canal on the north side and no houses could be built in many places until the canals were filled in and levees were leveled.
"Didja know" that the Unocal plant road was once the site of the main rice canal flume, 100 feet wide, from the Neches River? The river end was elevated 15 feet. Before a refinery could be built there in 1922, the main canal had to be filled in, its levees were leveled to provide the base for the plant road. Before 1920, the main canal forked near present highway 366 into its north fork and south fork, and two wooden bridges over the two forks, 100 yards apart, became known as the ‘Double Bridges.’
"Didja know" that the most brutal murder in the vicinity of Nederland occurred at Smith Bluff, about 2 miles north of Nederland, on May 12, 1911. At dawn three shots rang out as Bill Cook shot William A. Van Horn and sunk his body with barbed wire tied to a log in Neches River. Cook later served 20 years in the penitentiary, but he would have been hanged, except the jury considered him insane.
"Didja know" that a rice mill existed in Nederland from about 1904 until 1910, when its machinery was finally sold and moved away? Its 4-story high elevator remained near the railroad on present-day Weingarten shopping center property until about 1937, and at one time housed a feed store.
"Didja know" that the Setzer Supply Company building, beside the railroad track at Boston Avenue, is one of the most historic buildings in Nederland? It was built in 1900 to warehouse sacks of rice before the rice mill was built. For twenty years prior to 1943 it housed Koelemay Grain Company. Even its floor is unique. It is built of 2-inch by 6-inch ‘centermatch’ or ‘battleship decking,’ which was manufactured by only one sawmill at Lake Charles for the U. S. Navy when our "Great White Fleet" of battleships was being built around 1900. How the ‘battleship decking’ lumber arrived in Nederland is unknown.
"Didja know" that 2-lane Highway 347 was built through Nederland in 1921? An extension was built on the east side of Nederland Avenue to Port Neches at that time. As late as 1935, the west side of Nederland Avenue was shelled solid only to about the 1800 block, and beyond to Trahans Dairy at about 30th St. was a 2-strip, 1 lane stretch of shell road with yellow ‘bitter weeds’ growing between the shelled strips. In 1938 the state constructed Highway 69 only 2-lane from Beaumont to Port Arthur. It also concreted Nederland Avenue 2-lane from Highway 69 to Highway 347 at that time.
"Didja know" that in 1936 Highway 365 between 69 and 347 was a dirt road that could not be traveled in wet weather? There were a few houses on it, but sometimes in extreme rainy times, residents had to park cars for blocks away from their homes. Who would have dreamed then that Highway 365 would soon become the center of business and 4-paved lanes that it is today?
"Didja know" that in 1936 there were 36 dairies within a two-mile limit of the Nederland post office. That count was made by Rayford Guzardo and W. T. Block a few years ago. Some dairies ended by the owners dying, retiring or moving away. Eventually land became so expensive that no one could afford to run cows on it. In 1935 the John Koelemay dairy at Canal and 27th Streets was one of the two largest dairies, milking about 80 cows daily and delivering bottled milk in both Port Arthur and Beaumont.
The Lohmann Brothers dairy, where Doornbos Park and Hillcrest School are now located, was an experimental dairy, milking about 100 highly-inbred and registered Guersey cows. The cows were kept in their stalls day and night with the lights on all night. They were milked 3 times daily, with all feed and milk weighed and recorded. Several of the cows gave 13 gallons of milk daily, and they had utters so large that they wore ‘cattle bassiers’ made of feed sacks. The Lohmann brothers, who also owned Home Laundry in Port Arthur, sold out to Walling Jersey Dairy in 1939, who soon sold off the Guersey herd. Walling died soon after and the dairy disentegrated quickly.
Didja know that Nederland was once the second largest city in the world, next to one in Sweden? In 1956, Beaumont reached out to grab everything north of Central Gardens. Port Arthur next grabbed Port Acres, the airport, Beauxart Gardens, etc. The Nederland City Council, quite angered, then annexed on the first reading Fannett, Hamshire, Nome, China, Sour Lake, Sabine Pass, and almost everything to Liberty, including out to 18-mile-light in the Gulf of Mexico, completely surrounding both Beaumont and Port Arthur, totalling 400 square miles. This was the council’s way of ‘playing games,’ to show Beaumont and Port Arthur how foolishly they were acting. Of course, the ordinance had to be read at 3 city council meeting, which was never intended in the first place. But it made Port Arthur deannex the airport and Beauxart Gardens. Nederland then voted a boundary from Dupont south to keep Port Arthur and Beaumont’s hands off Water District #10, which Nederland some day will annex.
There are probably 101 other "didja knows" that could and might be added to these when I can think of them.
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