When you think of Texas, you think of oil. But Beaumont is more than that. It also has amazing biodiversity and history. Perhaps surprisingly for a city with an oil background, nature preservation is at the vanguard of local practice and has resulted in some wonderful places to visit.
Dining here combines a Texan love of beef with seafood. After all it, is located right on the Neches River and close to the Louisiana border. You will dine well here.
1. Art Museum of Southeast Texas
The museum’s artwork collection ranges from 19th-century masterpieces to modern marvels. There are over 300 pieces of folk art on display.
One permanent collection is the works of Felix Fox Harris whose totem-like sculptures were created from discarded objects. Harris began his art career after his retirement when he says God told him to “make somethin’ from nothing.” He interpreted that to mean his own life as well as his art.
Another interesting piece at the museum is the first selfie ever made. The First Selfie, a pigment print on metallic warm paper by Prince Varughese Thomas, is a reproduction of Robert Cornelius’ self-portrait from 1839. It’s a photograph of Thomas holding a reproduction of the original image.
You can have lunch in the museum café, Two Magnolias.
2. St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica
St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica is a Renaissance Revival style church that combines art, religion, and a lot of Texas oil money. The 113-year-old church rivals the grand European cathedrals and is considered one of the most beautiful churches in the southwestern United States.
Its roots go back to 1853 when the Catholic Church sent priests on horseback to hold mass in Beaumont. In 1879, Bishop Jean-Marie Odin, C.M., first bishop of the Diocese of Galveston and Father Vital Quinon built the first Catholic church in Beaumont. In 1901, Catholics planned a new and larger church to take the place of the Beaumont church. Construction on St Anthony’s began in 1903 and this was completed in 1907.
Its stained-glass windows, magnificent arches, artwork, mosaic floor tiles, and huge dome are worth a visit regardless of your religious beliefs. The partially open red umbrella in the nave represents a connection with the papacy.
You can make an appointment for a guided tour or do a walk-through during weekdays.
3. Cattail Marsh Wetlands
Recycling and nature combined to create the Cattail Marsh Wetlands. Located in Tyrell Park, this wetland was built in 1993 by the Beaumont Public Utilities Department at the end of Beaumont’s wastewater treatment system. Looking at it today you would never guess. Wildlife experts and environmentalists are amazed at the positive impact Cattail Marsh has made on the area’s wildlife.
The marsh is 900 acres of scenic wetlands with an education center. You can stroll out on the boardwalk and take a few photos of wading birds like egrets, ducks, purple gallinules, and songbirds. It’s also dog friendly. About 250 species of birds either live or migrate through the wetlands. You’re on two migratory flyways here, the Central and Mississippi Flyways.
You can hike, bike, or horseback ride on the eight miles of gravel levee roads. The education center offers workshops and classes related to birding and appreciating nature and the great outdoors.
Tyrrell Park Botanical Gardens and the Warren Loose Conservatory are also located in Tyrell Park.
4. Gator Country Adventure Park
Want to get up close and personal with alligators? Visit Gator Country Adventure Park. It’s 15 acres filled with reptiles, mostly rescued alligators but some other wildlife. If you’ve seen Gator 911 on TV, this is home base. Gary Saurage, founder of Gator Country, captures nuisance alligators and brings them to the park to live a happy life.
At the park you get to meet some of the reptiles. Big Tex holds the world record for largest alligator caught alive. He is 13 feet 8.5 inches and was caught in the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge. He had become a nuisance alligator because people were feeding him. Feeding an alligator is illegal and dangerous. It’s also expensive if a game warden catches you feeding a wild alligator: the fine is $1,500 per foot length. In Big Tex’s case it would have cost you $21,000.
Big Al, at 13 feet 4 inches and over 80 years old, was the largest until Big Tex came along. Another big guy is Brutus. Brutus has to be kept in a separate place since he lost his right eye and a part of his right jaw in fighting incidents with other alligators. Looking at his size, I can’t imagine anyone picking on him.
There are also snakes. I was allowed to hold Mango, a beautiful python.
5. McFaddin-Ward House
This is the most magnificent house museum in Beaumont. It’s filled with the McFaddin and Ward families’ original furnishings including art, china, and silver. The furniture and other artifacts range from the early 1900s into the first half of the 20th century. The home showcases the life of the very wealthy family. It’s a Beaux Arts Colonial Revival style three-story home with a beautiful columned porch that occupies an entire block.
The family lived in the early 20th century house for 75 years. W.P.H. and his wife, Ida Caldwell McFaddin, bought it in 1907. W.P.H. was already wealthy before a lucky oil strike on land he owned. When their daughter, Mamie, married Carroll Ward in 1919, they moved into the home; they remained there their entire lives. At her death, Mamie McFaddin-Ward created and donated the home to the Mamie McFaddin Ward Heritage Foundation to preserve the house as a museum.
The impressive collection of antiques was all donated by the family. The high-ceiling, painted wallpaper rooms are filled with gold framed mirrors, tiffany lamps, handmade rugs, crystal chandeliers, and stained-glass windows. And that’s just a start of the collection you will find here. The family would have had six or seven workers to keep everything polished and shiny.
My favorite room is the conservatory and breakfast room with its columns, exposed timber ceiling beams, and beautiful stained-glass windows.
The home also has 40,000 square feet of spacious lawns and gardens. The 120-year-old oaks are spectacular.
After touring the home, walk across the street and visit the two-story carriage house and servants’ quarters. They had a gymnasium in the building, and there are hayloft and horse stalls as well. When the McFaddins first moved in the building was used for horse and buggies and later converted to a garage for cars. You’ll see both an end-spring buggy like the one W.P.H. would have used and antique cars including Mamie McFaddin-Ward’s 1969 Cadillac Fleetwood.
6. John Jay French House
The John Jay French House takes you back to Beaumont’s early days around 1845 to 1865. John Jay French, a tanner and merchant, moved here from New York. He purchased 400 acres that became known as Frenchtown. Here you’ll see the lifestyle of a prosperous pioneer family. This is one of the oldest homes and one of the first two-story houses built using milled lumber rather than logs in Beaumont.
Many of the furnishings either belonged to the French family or are original to the period. One very old item is a music box made in the 1700s, gifted to John Jay on his 12th birthday.
The house is a simple Greek Revival with a dogtrot to create a breezeway in summer. The ceilings are painted blue, an old tradition that supposedly kept ghosts away and prevented bugs from making nests. The kitchen where his wife, Sally, would have spent a lot of time is furnished with a woodstove, a flat iron, a crimping iron, and an early version of a steam iron, and so much more.
French operated a trading business out of the home. His office is recreated as it would have been during his life. There are many decorations like the 1876 sewing machine, a lady’s sidesaddle, the family bible, hair art, a quilting frame, a spinning wheel, and more.
The grounds also include a blacksmith shop, privy, tannery, and smokehouse. The family cemetery is located on site.
7. Chambers House Museum
Chambers House shows an upper-middle-class lifestyle in the early 20th century. It was built in 1906 and bought by the Chambers family in 1914. The home remained in the Chambers family until May 2004.
C. Homer and Edith Fuller Chambers bought the house in 1914 and moved in with their two young daughters, Ruth, 11, and Florence, 16 months. Homer was a hardware store owner but he also was an oil speculator. He had a huge rig on land belonging to his wife’s family. Florence died at age 92 and stipulated in her will that she wanted the house preserved as a museum. The home contains nearly all of the original family furniture and fittings, most dating to a 1924 remodel.
The house was in very poor condition during Florence’s later years; today the sisters would have been considered hoarders today. They kept almost everything and seldom changed anything in the house. A visit to the house is a step back in time. Their old Victrola still plays, their fuse box has the old round screw-in fuses, there’s an ice box and a treasure trove of antique furniture.
8. Texas Energy Museum
This museum helps tells the story of Beaumont’s love affair with oil. The museum details the history of the oil industry from its beginnings to present day. It all about Spindletop and the geology and technology of the area.
One exhibit is an interactive model of a refinery that shows how each part of the refining process works. Another exhibit has a very realistic animated character tell how he came to be first a roughneck and then a wildcatter in the oil fields. At the museum you can also virtually pilot an oil tanker.
Spindletop shaped the destiny of Beaumont and made it what it is today. A replica of Spindletop, a full-sized oil derrick, sits at the entrance to the Gladys City Museum. You can watch scheduled eruptions of what was known as the Lucas Gusher as it fires a stream about 200 feet into the sky. Before anyone worries about pollution, the staged eruption is water. Oil would be too expensive and awfully messy.
However, while you watch it erupt you can imagine the drillers’ excitement as they watched oil shoot hundreds of feet into the air for nine days. It gushed about 800,000 barrels of oil before it was controlled. The Lucas Gusher at Spindletop made the United States the world’s largest oil producer overnight.
10. Gladys City Museum
The Gladys City Museum shows how a small lumber town of 9,000 people grew to over 40,000 overnight. The buildings and homes are an accurate representation of those that that would have been in the area in 1901. The layout is like a typical main street of a small town with a dry goods store, general store, drugstore, barber shop, print shop, post office, and saloon.
There were also some businesses you usually wouldn’t find in a small town. Beaumont Oil Exchange and Board of Trade was started because of the hundreds of leases oil companies formed and traded daily; this board was necessary to prevent fraud. Nelson and White Engineers was another unusual one also related to the oil industry. Oil company developers needed engineers. Southern Carriage Works opened up shop because the rush of people created a greater need for horses and carriages. Cars were novelties for the wealthy.
One exhibit is a 1930 Model A that belonged to Patillo Higgins, the first man to believe there was oil in Beaumont. No one believed him when he said there was oil here. He lacked money to do the extensive drilling needed to get deep enough to reach the oil, so he brought in Anthony Lucas. Lucas also lacked enough capital and they later brought in two other partners. Higgins was cut out. After the strike, he sued and later founded Higgins Oil and continued to discover oil. His car on display was outfitted to drive with one arm because Higgins had lost an arm as a teen in gun fight with a deputy.
11. Dining in Beaumont
Visit Katharine and Company in the historic Mildred Building for a hearty lunch. It’s a local favorite. It’s only open for lunch except for the first Thursday of the month when they do dinner and a monthly Sunday brunch.
J. Wilson’s restaurant has lots of good sharable appetizers, soups, salads, and classic dishes. For your appetizer try their Man Candy, a slow smoked pork belly tossed in habanero jelly.
Floyd’s Cajun Seafood and Steakhouse has delicious seafood and a wonderful Cajun atmosphere. Need I say more?
Rao’s Bakery is the perfect place for some freshly baked breakfast sweet treats.
Beaumont is located on Texas’ coastal plain about 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico and 85 miles east of Houston. When visiting pay attention to the weather. Beaumont has two seasons, a wet season from April to October and a dry season from November to March. It can get pretty hot in summer and cold in winter.
The downtown area has many historic buildings and has been named a National Historic District. It’s a great place for dining and entertainment. The Julie Rogers Theater was originally Beaumont’s city hall and civic auditorium. Today it is a theater for live performances. The Jefferson Theatre, built circa 1927, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is a historic theater for presents live performances, concerts, and classic films.
If you are in Beaumont the first Thursday of the month, celebrate First Thursdays on Calder in downtown Beaumont from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. There is live music, shopping, an art walk, and dining discounts. The shops stay open late and Katherine and Company serve dinner.
Jack Brooks Regional Airport (BPT) is located nine miles south of Beaumont’s central business district. It offers regional flights nonstop to Dallas and Fort Worth airports. The city has a citywide bus system called BMT.
Last Updated on July 6, 2020