A HISTORY OF THE WILLIAM SANFORD GIBSON FAMILY
By W. T. Block
(The writer is grateful to J. C. Kelly, Jr., for genealogical information supplied to the author.)
The family of William Sanford Gibson and wife Nancy Welker Gibson was one of the earliest native-born families to arrive in Nederland, only a short time after the Cooke and Spencer families settled here. W. S. Gibson was the son of Noah Woster Gibson (b. August 8, 1836-d. May 24, 1909) and Atlanta L. Ripley (b. June 30, 1838-d. July 25, 1917), both of whom were natives of Gallipolis, Gallia County, Ohio, on the north bank of the Ohio River. By the middle 1850s, each of them had emigrated to Iowa, for on September 18, 1856, Noah Gibson and Atlanta Ripley were married in Cedar County (Tipton), Iowa. They became the parents of nine sons and one daughter.
William Sanford Gibson was born in Floyd County (Charles City), Iowa, on January 20, 1859, and on November 8, 1885, he married Nancy Jane Welker (b. August 2, 1860-d. January 2, 1946), an Iowa native, at Stuart, Guthrie County, Iowa. For the first fourteen years of their married life, the couple lived variously at Stuart and Creston, Union County, Iowa, and perhaps elsewhere, while Mr. Gibson worked variously as a farmer and whenever possible, as a boiler or steam engineer. During those years in Iowa, the Gibsons became the parents of four children, two daughters, Verna May and Floy, and two sons, William Earl and Ross Gibson. The latter died in infancy in 1893.
Between 1893 and 1897, the Kansas City Southern Railroad was laying its main line trackage to Port Arthur, Texas. Passenger service between Beaumont and Port Arthur began in 1895, but "through" service was delayed until 1897, awaiting completion of the Neches and Sabine River bridges. At that time, the railroad ran countless excursion trains from the Mid-central states to Port Arthur and Nederland in its endless effort to attract settlers and rice farm buyers for its excess property -- 50,000 acres in Jefferson County between Dupont Road and Sabine Lake, and 3,000 town lots. A number of those trains originated in Iowa, and especially in the Dutch colony of Orange City, Iowa, as the railroad even solicited Dutch settlers already living in America. It is probable that W. S. Gibson came to Nederland for the first time on one of those railroad excursion trains.
In the spring of 1900, W. S. Gibson was recorded in the Nederland census (residence 239) as a farm laborer and boarder in the household of William and Novella McFarland at Smith's Bluff. Since the McFarlands, who were rice farmers, were also natives of Iowa, perhaps they knew Gibson at an earlier date and induced him to come to Nederland on a trial basis. During that interlude, his wife and children remained in Creston, Iowa.
After a few weeks or months, W. S. Gibson returned to Creston, Iowa, but he must have liked Texas because in 1901, he moved his wife and three children to Nederland. In 1901 Gibson worked a year as a rice farmer for the John C. Beaumont family of Groves. Also in 1901, Mr. Gibson began selling real estate in and around Nederland, and in so doing, he acquired a city block of land in the 1200-1300 blocks of Nederland Avenue, where he also built his home opposite Thirteenth Street. As of this writing (Nov., 1991), that 90-year-old house is currently being dismantled (roof already gone), and the remainder is on house-moving girders, bound for some unknown destination.
In January, 1898, the Port Arthur Rice and Irrigation Company, a subsidiary of Kansas City Southern, began constructing 25 miles of rice irrigation canals around Nederland, which in turn were connected to the river flume of the large pumping plant at Smith's Bluff. The two 24-inch outflow pumps there could supply 60,000 gallons of fresh water per minute, and were powered by a battery of four oilers and two 100-horsepower Chandler and Taylor steam engines, each with a 16-foot diameter fly wheel. From 1898 until 1903, C. E. Land was the plant's chief engineer, but in 1903, the railroad transferred John Chase of Arkansas as chief engineer until the canal company went bankrupt in 1915. In the 1900 census (C. E. Land residence No. 211), Edward Rockhill was the pumping plant's stationary steam engineer, but he quit in 1902 to found the First National Bank of Nederland and become its cashier and chief executive officer. Gibson's exact years at the pumping plant are uncertain, but it certainly appears that he replaced Rockhill there in 1902 and remained until 1908 or 1909.
In 1902, J. N. Pew of Sun Oil Company in Philadelphia sent John W. Barr (Alvin Barr's father) to Nederland, where he bought several hundred acres of high land and marsh at Sun Station and built several underground storage tanks, a pump station, and a dock. Before 1926, though, Sun Oil pumped all of its crude oil by pipe line to the Sun Oil tank farm in Sabine Pass, where it was loaded on Sun Oil tankers. The 1910 Nederland census, which is an excellent source of information on the W. S. Gibson family (res. 126-128), indicated that Gibson was already employed as "engineer, oil pumping station," which translates as Sun Oil Company at Sun Station. Again, dates are uncertain, but he must have worked for Sun Oil Company from about 1909 until 1922 or 1923. He then went to work for East Texas Electric Company, which company owned a power plant in Beaumont, the Beaumont street car system, as well as the Beaumont-Port Arthur "Interurban" Railway, which passed through Nederland. East Texas was the predecessor of Gulf States Utilities Company, and Gibson remained with East Texas until his death at Nederland on January 30, 1927. Nancy Welker Gibson survived her husband by 19 years, dying at Beaumont on January 2, 1946.
The W. S. Gibson family were charter members of First United Methodist Church of Nederland. On the rolls of 1901, Verna Gibson (later Kelly) was recorded as belonging to Methodist Episcopal Church, South, of Port Neches (see author's book, W. T. Block, SAPPHIRE CITY OF THE NECHES, p. 111). A Nederland church deed of 1910 shows W. S. Gibson as one of the church's trustees, and he probably served on the Board of Stewards for many years. An article about the Nederland church observed that: "....There were ten charter members....It is known that most of them were from the J. B. Cooke and Will Gibson families....In 1947 there were four surviving charter members....Mrs. J. C. Kelly (Verna Gibson) and Mrs. F. E. Keeney (Floy Gibson)...." (See Vol. III, p. 5, of "The Chronicles of The Early Families of Nederland, Texas").
The "Memoirs of Mrs. Alice Gentry" (see also Vol. III, pp. 23-24 of "The Chronicles etc.") devote a paragraph to Verna Gibson and the W. S. Gibson family. Mrs. Gentry noted that about 1907 or 1908 Verna Gibson founded and ran Nederland's first kindergarden for English-speaking children only, in the dining room of the old abandoned Orange Hotel. Alice Thompson (later Mrs. Gentry) sometimes replaced Verna Gibson as her substitute teacher whenever the latter was ill or couldn't attend. Also, according to the Gentry memoirs, the Gibson home became an "extension" of the Methodist church sanctuary whenever church space became scarce, with Sunday School classes and Epworth League meetings being held in the Gibson home.
Mrs. Gentry also recalled that around 1930, a niece of Mrs. Gibson named Miss Della Welker taught junior high school English in Nederland for many years and roomed in the Gibson home. She noted that Miss Welker commanded the respect and admiration of all who knew her and compared her impact on the Nederland schools with that of her English teacher colleague, Mrs. Cora B. Linson, who taught senior English in Nederland for perhaps twenty years or more.
Verna May Gibson (b. November 16, 1886-d. December 4, 1962), the oldest Gibson sibling, was recorded in the 1910 Nederland census as being employed as a clerk in a dry goods store. On November 16, 1913, she married John Claude Kelly, also an early Nederland resident, and during the early years of their marriage, they resided at Smith's Bluff on the Neches River, where they watched the building of Pure Oil's (Unocal) refinery around 1922. Even before Pure Oil arrived, J. C. Kelly worked for Colonel Albert Humphreys, both at his Mexia oil field, and at Humphreys Oil Company at Smith's Bluff, Pure Oil Company's predecessor. In 1928, the family organized J. C. Kelly Oil Company as a distributor of Pure Oil products, and Kelly built a bulk plant at Twin City and Atlanta in Nederland. In 1935, the Kellys left Nederland, moving first to Tyler, Texas, and then to Beaumont. They were the parents of three sons, Sanford; J. C., Jr.; and Joseph Edward Kelly, and one daughter, Verna May Abel.
Floy Gibson (b. August 14, 1888-d. September 26, 1966) married Floyd E. Keeney of Nederland on April 3, 1908. They resided in Nederland for many years afterward and were residing in the 1000 block of Nederland Avenue during the 1920s. In the 1918 city directory, Floyd Keeney was listed as a railroad car inspector. They were the parents of two sons, Ronald G. and Floyd E. Keeney, and one daughter, Darlene Cudd Jackson.
Son Ross Gibson died in infancy in 1893. Son William Earl Gibson, the youngest son (b. July 10, 1899), came to Nederland at age two and attended the Nederland schools. He too is listed in the 1918 directory, and on September 15, 1921, he married Mamie Crawford of Mississippi. Beginning around 1930 he worked as a bookkeeper for J. C. Kelly. Around 1935, he was employed by Pure Oil Company and later was transferred first to Port Allen, Louisiana, and later to Tampa, Florida. He retired and died there without issue.
Will and Nancy Gibson were special credits to their church and to their adopted city, the infant community of Nederland, where they endured the streets of mud and dust, dawn to dusk labor, and many other aspects of the primitiveness of life in their day and age. They are still fondly recalled and sorely missed by their surviving grandchildren and a fleeting remnant of Nederland's oldtimers whose lives they touched.