Written by Lori Moffatt. Photographs by Courtesy Beaumont Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Known for its Louisiana-inspired food and relaxed (Louisiana-inspired?) pace, Southeast Texas—especially the so-called “Golden Triangle” of Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange—has a lot going for it when it comes to entertainment. In the November issue, we take you to Suga’s Deep South Cuisine & Jazz Bar in historic downtown Beaumont, and here are ten other things to do while you’re in town.
Born in 1911 in Port Arthur, Mildred “Babe” Zaharias Didrikson dominated women’s sports from the 1930s through the 1950s, winning 3 gold medals in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics. Especially skilled in track and field, basketball, and golf, Zaharias also excelled a diving, bowling, billiards, and roller-skating. “The formula for success is simple,” she once said. “Practice and concentration, then more practice and concentration.” Zaharias died of colon cancer in 1956 and is buried in Beaumont. The museum highlights her fascinating career and personal life with trophies, photographs, news clippings, and memorabilia.
When the Lucas gusher came in at the Spindletop salt dome in January 1901, W.H.P. McFaddin was already a wealthy man thanks to his business smarts in cattle ranching, farming, and commercial real estate. But the Spindletop discovery, which would usher in the petroleum age and transform the Texas economy, made McFaddin and his wife, Ida, one of the richest couples in the region. Their Beaux-Arts Colonial home, originally built for Colonel W.C. Averill and his wife Di, a sister of W.H.P., was built in 1906. But after the Colonel and Di lived in it for a few months, they decided to swap houses with the McFaddin family. Today’s visitors can take docent-led tours of the home’s three floors, which are decorated with period antiques.
Alligators are common in the swamps of southeast Texas, and Gator Country–a reptile-focused theme park that also showcases snakes, turtles, and other creatures—gives visitors an opportunity to get up-close-and-personal. You can feed baby gators and even have you photo taken with one. Gator Country also offers hour-long boat tours into the outlying swamps, where you’ll learn more about the ecological importance of the bayous and spot numerous species that make the area home.
Within Beaumont’s urban Tyrrell Park, you’ll find botanical gardens, a municipal golf course, and hiking trails, which draw both dawdlers and active visitors eager to work up an appetite for the region’s many fine restaurants and abundance of fried-shrimp platters. For birdwatching enthusiasts, Cattail Marsh, a 900-acre wetlands area, offers visitors the chance to see more than 350 species.
With a permanent collection of more than 1,000 artworks, AMSET has chosen its niche carefully: documenting modern and contemporary American art with a focus on southeast Texas. Works include paintings, prints, photographs, sculpture, and folk art, the latter of which is best illustrated by the semi-permanent exhibition Somethin’ Out of Nothin’: The works of Felix “Fox” Harris. A native of Trinity, Harris spent the latter years of his life in Beaumont making “totem” poles out of old machinery and metal scraps, many of which he modified using a ball-peen hammer and a butter knife. After Harris’ death in 1985, his nephew donated 120 totems to the museum. Two photo-murals of Harris’ home studio by Beaumont native Keith Carter help set the scene.
No, Thomas Alva Edison isn’t a native of Beaumont, but the city gives the inventor plenty of props with its fascinating Edison Museum, which is housed in its 1929 Travis Street Substation. More than 1,400 artifacts document Edison’s inventions and innovations, which include the lightbulb, the motion picture camera, and the phonograph. By the time he died in 1931, Edison had more than 1,000 U.S. patents to his name. Still, he insisted that “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
This 24,000-foot museum presents not only the history of steamboating in the region, but also illustrates how Beaumont and the rest of southeast Texas fared during the Civil War, World War I and II, and wars in Korea and Vietnam. Other displays feature wildlife of the area and art from the frontier era. Open by appointment.
Created for the re-release of Disney’s 101 Dalmations, the 24-foot-tall, spotted fire hydrant outside of Beaumont’s Fire Museum of Texas might be the most popular photo-op spot in Beaumont. But don’t stop there: The museum itself documents the history of firefighting in Texas from the days of bucket brigades to steam-powered fire trucks and finally, the high-tech firefighting equipment used today. Artifacts on display include a 1909 hand-cranked aerial ladder and a 1923 American LaFrance fire engine.
Before the Lucas gusher came in on the Spindletop salt dome near Beaumont in 1901, the Texas economy was strongly rooted in agriculture, cattle-ranching, and the lumber industry. That all changed with the dawn of the petroleum age. The museum commemorates the discovery of oil in southeast Texas with exhibits, photographs, news clippings, and even a life-size model of the original well, which spouts water every January in observation of the event that changed the fortune of the Lone Star State.
With interactive exhibits and displays (holographic storytellers? But of course!), this museum illustrates the importance of the petroleum industry to the economy of Beaumont and the world. Visitors learn about the geology of oil creation, then explore the topic of petroleum science from the challenges of extracting it from the ground to transporting it. You can even try your luck “piloting” a supertanker up the Neches River to dock at an oil refinery.