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Port Arthur: Toast of the Coast

“Great Cities Are Not Accidents!”
A mammoth mural inside the Museum of the Gulf Coast depicts the region’s history, from dinosaurs rising out of the shark-infested waters to the commotion caused by the oil-spewing gusher at Spindletop. Museum exhibits in the foreground tell the area’s natural and human history.

“Great Cities Are Not Accidents!” proclaimed an 1897 advertisement for the infant burg of Port Arthur, Texas, in the Kansas City Star. “It’s not chance about Port Arthur—When nature, enterprising men, capital, and commerce all get together, success is bound to come.”

In the case of the inland port city founded by and named for railroad builder and town promoter Arthur E. Stilwell, supernatural forces also played a role. Port Arthur, wrote Stilwell years later, “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.”

In the mid-1890s, Stilwell was building his Kansas City, Pittsburg, and Gulf Railroad (KCPG) from Kansas City to the Gulf of Mexico by way of Pittsburg, Kansas. He intended to end the line at Sabine Pass, a small community (south of Lake Sabine) perched on a thin body of water also called Sabine Pass, which separates Texas and Louisiana. But as he wrote in his 1921 book, Live and Grow Young, spirits he called "Brownies" advised him in a dream to "locate your 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."

Port Arthur is in the southeastern corner of Texas, about 20 miles south of Beaumont. To receive a complete visitor information packet, write to the Port Arthur Convention and Visitors Bureau, 3401 Cultural Center Dr., Port Arthur 77642; 409/985-7822 or 800/235-7822.

The area code is 409. All sites are wheelchair accessible unless otherwise noted.

Pompeiian Villa hours: Mon-Fri 10-2, or by appt. Admission: \$2. For information, write to the Port Arthur Historical Society at Pompeiian Villa, 1953 Lakeshore Dr., Port Arthur 77640; 983-5977.

White Haven hours: By appt. Admission: Free. Write to White Haven, 2545 Lakeshore Dr., Port Arthur 77640; 982-3068.

Rose Hill Manor hours: By appt. Admission: \$2. Write to Rose Hill Manor, 100 Woodworth, Port Arthur 77640; 985-7292.

Vuylsteke House hours: By appt. Admission: Free. Not wheelchair accessible. Write to the Vuylsteke Dutch Home, 1831 Lakeshore Dr., Port Arthur 77640; 983-4921.

The Museum of the Gulf Coast hours: Mon-Sat 9-5, Sun 1-5. Admission: \$3.50, \$3 age 65 and older, \$1.50 ages 6-18, 50¢ age 5 and younger. Tour groups of 30 or more, \$2 per person. Write to the Museum of the Gulf Coast, 700 Procter St., Port Arthur 77640; 982-7000. Many of the exhibits and programs at the Texas Artists Museum feature work by southeast Texas artists. Hours: Tue-Fri 10-5, Sat 10-2. Admission: By donation. Write to the Texas Artists Museum, 3601 Cultural Center Dr., Port Arthur 77642; 983-4881.

For information on Doug Clark's sculpture, write to Doug Clark, Art Foundry of the Gulf Coast, 719 Procter, Port Arthur 77640; 983-5232. Snooper's Paradise hours: Mon-Sat 9:30-5:30. Write to Snooper's Paradise, 5509 E. Parkway, Groves 77619; 962-8427.

The Queen of Peace Shrine and Gardens is at 801 9th Ave., 7 blocks south of Gulfway Dr. (Texas 87). Always open. Admission: Free. Call 983-7676.

Buu Mon Buddhist Temple hours: By appt. For information, write to the Buu Mon Buddhist Temple, 2701 Procter, Port Arthur 77640; 982-9319.

For information on the Port Arthur Main Street Program, write to Sandy Riley, 441 Austin Ave., Port Arthur 77640; 985-6800. Kizzy Konnection is at 448 Procter; 982-2874. Hours: Tue-Sat 1-5. The Junction is at 301 Procter; 982-4000. School-year hours: Fri 6 p.m.-midnight, Sat 2 p.m.-11 p.m. Summer hours: Mon-Sat 2-11. Port Arthur Trade Days, an antique and collectibles sale, takes place the 3rd weekend of each month in the 200-500 blocks of Procter.

Restaurants

Anna Mae's is at 501 Fifth St.; 982-6302. Jackson & Company is at 532 Fifth St.; 985-5100. Larry's French Market is at 3701 Pure Atlantic Hwy. (FM 366); 962-3381. Judice's French Market & Deli is at 3005 Seventh St.; 982-3522. The Foc'sle is at 416 Procter; 983-5050. Esther's Seafood and Oyster Bar is at the foot of the Rainbow Bridge, between Port Arthur and Orange; 962-6268. The Schooner is at 1507 Texas 69, in Nederland; 722-2323. Channel Inn is on Texas 87, at 5157 S. Gulfway in Sabine Pass; 971-2400. Pleasure Island Restaurant is at 600 Pleasure Pier Blvd.; 982-2911.

Festivals

The Janis Joplin Birthday Bash takes place on the Sat. closest to her Jan. 19 birthday (Jan. 16, 1999; Jan. 15, 2000). Southeast Texas Mardi Gras is on the 2nd weekend in Feb. (Feb. 11-14, 1999). Pleasure Island Music Festival takes place on the last full weekend in Apr. (Apr. 23-25, 1999). Juneteenth is always celebrated on and several days before June 19 (June 16-19, 1999). The Mexican Fiesta takes place the 2nd weekend of Sep. (Sep. 10-12, 1999), followed by Shrimpfest (Sep. 17-19, 1999). Dick Dowling Days takes place the 1st weekend after Sep. 8, date of the historic battle (Sep. 11, 1999). Oct. brings CavOILcade (Oct. 23, 1999).

Books

Look in your library for Arthur E. Stilwell, Promoter With a Hunch by Keith L. Bryant Jr. (Vanderbilt Univ. Press, 1971) and Bet a Million! The Story of John W. Gates by Lloyd Wendt and Herman Kogan (Arno Press, 1948). The Port Arthur Centennial History, a 2-volume set, costs \$65 per single volume, and \$120 for both volumes (plus \$5 per book for shipping). Send a check to Port Arthur Centennial History, Box 1897, Port Arthur 77641; 800/207-6004. VISA, Mastercard, and Discover card orders accepted.

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From the February 1999 issue.

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