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Beaumont - Texas

The Neches River flows in a generally southeastern direction from its headwaters near Tyler, emptying into Sabine Lake and the Gulf of Mexico just 30 miles south of Beaumont. Just north of the Beaumont city limits is Pine Island Bayou, a long slow-moving stretch of water that empties into the Neches. Dating from the French and Spanish eras, this city of 111,000 people is located close to the Louisiana border, and a 90-minute drive east from Houston.

The city is blessed with 19 museums, and has a rich cultural life, aided by the presence of Lamar University. Unlike much of the Texas coastal plain, the Beaumont area is blessed with varied topography and ecosystems. In this region, the eastern hardwood forests, coastal wetlands, Texas prairie, and the southwestern desert all converge. Big Thicket National Preserve, immediately north of town, exhibits all of these characteristics.

Beaumont is where Texas' oil history began on January 10, 1901, when the Lucas Gusher blew in at the Spindletop salt dome, a few miles south of town. All of the big oil companies set up shop in Beaumont, and the state's petroleum industry was born. There are several monuments and markers related to the development of the oil business in the area. The port here is one of the busiest deepwater ports in the nation, with the Neches River ship channel providing a means for large ships to navigate the 30-mile distance from gulf waters. The Port of Beaumont, at 1255 Main Street, is open from 8 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 5 p.m.

Port Arthur, an industrial city is a half-hour drive south of Beaumont. This is a major petrochemical center, with several large plants owned by gasoline and chemical companies.

What to See & Do

Beaumont's City Hall is the site of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the place to pick up information on local attractions. The building is located at 801 Main Street, and you'll find the visitor office in Suite 100. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, call (409) 833-3638, extension 1620. You'll also find general information about the area in the Babe Zaharias Museum, at 1750 Interstate 10, Exit 854 (see below).

For a city which owes its existence to being in the state's first oil patch, Beaumont has several parks which offer a choice of recreational activities and places to picnic and stroll. At 801 Main Street, behind City Hall, Riverfront Park has picnic facilities, restrooms, and a concession stand. Magnolia Park, at 2855 Magnolia, offers families a swimming pool, tennis courts, a wading pool, volleyball, and several picnic units and a barbecue area. Tyrrell Park (5305 Tyrrell Park Rd.) features a creative play area, basketball, picnic areas, a walking and jogging trail, plus RV hookups and a community center.

The Garden Center is ten acres of gardens, at Fannett and Tyrell Park Road. There's a pond with ducks and geese, and winding trails to explore either by yourself or on a guided tour. Garden hours are 7:30 a.m. to dusk, daily, call (409) 842-3135

I've become fascinated with the restorative and purifying powers of marshlands, and Beaumont is one of the few American cities to construct a wetland as part of their water purifying system. Arcata, California is another. Beaumont's Cattail Marsh is located on Babe Zaharias Drive, at the entrance to Tyrrell Park. A one-hour tour of the wetland will lead you to the eight treatment cells with eight miles of levees on 900 acres. Many water plants have been planted in the marsh, including bulrushes, cattails, pickerelweed, arrowhead, yellow canna, blue flag iris, and smartweed. The water and plants attract a wide variety of wildlife, including many birds. From October through March, the marsh is open to the public from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., and from 6 a.m. to 9.p.m. the rest of the year.

Old Town is the pioneer settlement area, located along Laurel and 2nd streets (to 11th Street). Now a place to go shopping for antiques, art, gifts, jewelry, and to eat in small cafes, this is a well-preserved area with many original homes turned into shops and restaurants.

Alligator Island is the largest gator breeding farm in Texas, located on Highway 365 at I-10. The farm offers guided tours, including a visit with Big Al, the largest living alligator in captivity. It's open March through October, with appointments required, call (409) 794-1995.

Beaumont has two restored theaters, the Jefferson Theatre at 345 Fannin, and the Julie Rogers Theatre for the Performing Arts, at 765 Pearl. The Jefferson is a former vaudeville house now used for a variety of shows. The Julie Rogers is the former City Hall and Auditorium, beautifully refurbished and holding an audience of 1,700. It serves as a home for the Symphony of South Texas, the Civic Ballet and Beaumont Ballet Theater, as well as hosting other cultural activities.  

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