Nederland As I Remember It, 1935-1960
By W. T. Block
Around 1935, my brother, L. Otis Block, and I often walked from the cemetery in Port Neches to 10th Street in Nederland, and often no more than two cars would pass us during the entire forty minutes or so that it took for us to walk the two and one-half miles between those points. The only two paved roads in Nederland in those days were Twin City Highway and Nederland Avenue (both of which were paved in 1921), east of the railroad tracks. Nederland Avenue to the west was shelled only to the "interurban" right-of-way (where Gulf States high lines cross), and beyond the 1500 block, Nederland Ave. consisted of two thin threads of shell going out to Saul Trahan's dairy (in about the 3000 block), with a sea of bitter weeds with yellow flowers growing between the threads. In 1938 the county bought the airport property and promptly paved Memorial Highway with two lanes of concrete. At the same moment, the state also paved Nederland Ave., also 2-lane, all the way to Twin City Highway.
In 1935 Boston Ave., known as Main St. until 1948, deadended at Ninth Street on the east and at 15th Street on the west. East of 9th Street, there was one house out in the prairie (where J. W. Sanderson lived at 716 Boston), with a dirt trail going to it. The 800 block of Atlanta was also a dirt road with two houses on it, deadending a short distance from Ninth. On the south, the old rice canal right-of-way ran across town from South Twin City to South 17th at the 400 block, and South 12th, 13th, 14th, 14 1/2, 15th, 16th and 17th all deadended at the rice canal fence. Boston and all other streets were shelled, with a dirt road here or there going to some house in the prairie. Boston deadended on the west in front of the old Andrew Johnson residence, which later had to be torn down to extend Boston to 17th. The street offset in front of Lawyer Donald Moye's building and the Chamber of Commerce was once an extension of Boston that ran between the Johnson and Spencer homes and deadended at the old "interurban" depot. As of 1935, the "interurban" double-trolley (known locally by a somewhat vulgar designation) had already been shut down for three years, and more or less had been replaced by the Greyhound buses on Twin City that arrived in Nederland at each thirty minutes after the hour until midnight.
The center of social life in town, especially for school kids, was the Nederland Pharmacy, the entire business in 1935 consisting of where the lunch counter area now is. Next door, on the north or even side of the 1100 block of Boston, was Dr. J. C. Hines' office, then the Theriot and Fortenberry barber shop, B. H. Hall, D. D. S., then the Nederland Cleaners, the first theatre building, soon to be torn down, the old wooden post office building, the Haizlip Grocery (which went broke about 1934), another barber shop, andthe J. H. McNeill Sr. Mercantile Co., in the same building still standing there, in 1988. About 1937, the McNeill Insurance Co. building was added in a lean-to structure adjacent to the Modern Barber Shop.
On the south side of Boston, beginning at Twin City, was Albert Rienstra's Texaco Station, built cater-cornered across the lot, which he later sold to Goodwin Griffin. The next store, in the new Roach Building, at first housed Mrs. Roach's beauty shop for a short time, and later Albert Rienstra's Auto Supply, but by 1940 T. W. Edwards Grocery was there. The narrow building which survived the recent fire was not built until 1945. The other half of the Roach Building housed Newberry's Barber Shop, with the old Dolf Club pool hall (known otherwise as the "Bucket of Blood") next door. Next up the block was the R. C. Mills Grocery, a vacant lot, Minaldi's Shoe Shop in a wooden building, another vacant lot, then Brookner's Dry Goods at 1151 (which C. M. Minchew purchased in 1948 and moved his Nederland Home Supply into), then Gardner's Grocery (located in the old two-story, former Paul Wagner Dry Goods building), and the old Martin Wagner home on the corner. Earlier in that century, the present-day McNeill building had been located on that corner, but around 1910, after the old Bradley Bell Grocery building burned down, the McNeill building was moved across the street, and after the move, what had formerly been the front door of that building became the back door thereafter. In back of the McNeill building, Hugh Hooks built a building about 1938 that housed H. A. Hooks Plumbing Company.
In the 1200 block, across from the side of the McNeill building, stood the old Oakley Hotel. About 1940, Dick Rienstra bought that corner, moved the hotel building about 100 feet to the west, where it soon became the Dale Hotel. Rienstra then built the Roger-Byron Dry Goods building, with the business belonging to Albert Rienstra, on the corner where the hotel had once stood. There were no other stores on that side of the block in 1935, only the old Quarles home, and at the end of the block on the corner stood the old Baptist "tabernacle," once known as the Peveto Baptist Church, which was a shiplap building with no windows, just some long wooden shutters that swung upward. That old building did not last long, being soon torn down and replaced by the two-story First Baptist Church, the concrete foundation of which is still visible on the bank parking lot. Brick buildings were almost non-existent on Boston in those days, with only the Wagner (drug store) and Haizlip buildings on the north side of Boston and only the Brookner and old bank (Yentzen Bakery) buildings on the south side.
On the south side of the 1200 block of Boston, there were only two buildings in 1935, the first being the old two-story Yentzen Bakery building, which between 1902-1905 had housed the old defunct First National Bank of Nederland. The other old building looked like an empty, former feed store building, usually unoccupied,. and next door to it was the Jack Fortenberry home.
In the 1300 block, there was only one house on the north side, the Geo. Yentzen home, which stood where the bank now stands, and before that, where the old Orange Hotel had once stood until it was torn down about 1915. Across the street, the Pat Tynan home at one time faced Boston, but was moved to the back of the lot to face 14th, year not recalled. This property on both sides of the street had once been designated in Nederland's 1897 survey as publicly-owned "Koning" Park, or King's Park, but about 1915 had passed into private ownership, the south side belonging to Dr. J. H. Haizlip and Pat Tynan, and the north side apparently belonging to George Yentzen, although Dick Rienstra purchased the entire north side of the block (including the Yentzen home which he moved to 1220 Helena), sometime in World War II days.
In 1935, there were three houses in the 1500 block, now principally occupied by the post office and city hall. The J. B. Cooke, Jr. home occupied the center of the south side of the block. On the north side, the W. N. Carrington home stood where the fire station now is. Carrington came to Nederland in 1935 with the intention of installing a water and sewer system which he would in turn sell out to the new City of Nederland whenever it incorporated (which it did in 1940). At the opposite end of the block. adjacent to 15th St., stood the C. X. Johnson home, a house built of black sandstone blocks.
Along the 300 block of No. Twin City, Oliver Cessac's Cafe, a two-story wooden building, was adjacent to the pharmacy, occupying space that is now a part of the drug store. The upstairs of the cafe had a somewhat shady history before 1938, the year that it (was?) burned down. However, it was soon rebuilt in the exact style that it formerly was. The upstairs during World War II still had a most shady history, becoming under Tommy Vinson the biggest gambling den in Midcounty, with the 'house' backed by some of the town's business men. Vinson not only supervised the gaming room, but he also owned a dive on No. Twin City near Central Gardens called the "Toboji" (named for his sons Tommy, Bobby, and Jimmy). In World War II days, Vinson's son Bobby was an All-American back at West Point, and was later shot down and MIA in Vietnam during the 1960's.
Next door to Cessac's Cafe (and now the Pharmacy parking lot) was Jack Furby's Garage, which he sold to C. L. Foust about 1945, and Foust in turn to Marvin Spittler a few years later, who soon moved to Nederland Ave. Then next door was Check Hensley's beer joint and cat house, a real dive (building still standing and the only one the "torch" did not burn), which later became Dewey Guilbeaux's Nederland Club, a pool hall. On the corner of Chicago and Twin City was Bartels' Bakery, and every day it was a wonderful aroma whenever one walked past it or Yentzen's Bakery at the very moment the freshly-baked bread was coming out of the oven. Both bakeries apparently went broke and closed up by 1940, which was just after the big bakeries, Taystee and Rainbow, were moving into Beaumont. And in order to kill off the smaller bakeries, they would drop the price of large loaves to ten cents a loaf until all of the small bakers went broke. And then, as one can well imagine, the price of bread went right back to 20 cents.
In the 400 block of 12th Street, just beyond Hooks Plumbing Co., Dewey Wallace ran the telephone company and business office in a house at 403 12th St. that has since been moved away. In 1935, one literally had to "ring the operator" to place a call, and the operator had to manually connect you with another number by removing a plug at the switchboard and plugging it into a socket somewhere. Most all phones were on "party lines." After World War II, Southwestern Bell built a small brick building (which had been added to many times) at 9th and Nederland Ave., and a dial system was installed. Before 1948, there were only four numbers in each Nederland telephone number.
Heading south on Twin City from the Nederland Pharmacy, into the 200 block in 1935, the first 'business' next to Rienstra's Service Station was the old "Lookout Cafe." which never closed its doors or turned its lights off, 24 hours of every day. There was a board fence between it and Rienstra's, where all of us paper boys met at 2:00 A. M. each morning to 'fold' our papers (the "Enterprise"). But the "goings on" in back of the Lookout, where the floodlights stayed on all night to illuminate the five or six small, one-room buildings, was just too interesting for 15-year-old paper boys who especially enjoyed 'peeking' through the cracks in the fence more than rolling their papers. So help me Hannah - the sailors and prostitutes romped about in that area at all hours of the night in the nude or in skimpy underwear! The Lookout probably didn't sell much food, no doubt, but the volume of beer and -- oh well, enough said! In 1938 and 1939, the Nederland "torch" - whoever he was and God bless him! -set the Lookout ablaze, just as he did Cessac's, the old Shamrock Inn in Central Gardens (which often boasted of having 20 women in residence there), and another dive at the corner of Detroit and Twin City, all of them burning out within months of each other. When I 'hopped' cars at Nederland Pharmacy in 1936, the women at the Shamrock would always wait until quarter to eleven at night to order anywhere from 12 to 15 malts that I had to deliver on a bike along that old narrow highway, with its deep ditches and narrow, 2-foot ledges between the ditches and the road bed, all the way to 4th Avenue in Central Gardens, two miles from the drug store. Invariably, I'd get back to the Pharmacy at midnight, and got no pay for the extra hour although sometimes I got a tip.
Asa Spencer was deputy sheriff in Nederland in those days, but had he done anything to close up the dives and gambling dens, he would have been looking for work the next day! And since I either hopped cars or threw papers at all hours of the night, I could easily see why the joints were tolerated. Ships docked at Beaumont, Smith's Bluff, Port Neches, and Port Arthur in those days, but the sailors came to Nederland to do their hell-raising. Between 1935 and 1938, there was a Beaumont or Port Arthur taxi loading or unloading sailors at the drug store every five minutes, day and night. E. C. Whatley, Buck Gardner, Selmon Gardner, and "Sluggie" Nagle all made their livings hauling sailors around, and they parked at the drug store in between trips. About two or three business men had the rest of the town convinced that they would all go broke without the sailors' patronage, and for some of them, that was probably true. And as a result, one had to kick the drunk sailors off the sidewalk and the post office steps before he could get his mail. Very possibly the Theriot-Fortenberry barber shop might have drawn half of its business from sailors, and of course, I could see that the drug store also did. Before returning to his ship, nearly every sailor (that is, if sober enough) stopped there to stock up on cartons of cigarettes, toiletries, and especially the girlie and pulp western magazines before returning to his ship. Oftentimes, though, the sailors who patronized the Lookout Cafe, especially if they were foreigners, were drugged and rolled of their wallets before some taxi carted them off to the docks somewhere. And if one of them complained, he missed his ship and was hauled off by the law as being "drunk and disorderly" and was locked up in the tank at the county jail. Bless you, Nederland's "torch," whoever you were! You cleaned up this town when no one else would!
I remember about 1955, some zealous local preacher, name not recalled, was passing a dry petition up and down Boston Ave. in an effort to restrict beer sales to Twin City Highway. He came by the post office and cornered me, and I laughed at him and asked, "Where were you in 1938?" By 1948, officers had also removed the slot machines out of the county, and even with a few package stores in town, Nederland was more like a big Sunday School class by 1955. I think there were only three churches in Nederland when I moved here in 1935, and you didn't hear a single word out of the preachers about vice in 1936-1938. After all, Boston Avenue merchants paid the preachers' salaries as well!
I'm reminded of a tale about another Nederland deputy sheriff that, if I don't tell it now while I'm thinking of it, I'll forget it sure. In 1906, the year that Grandma Sweeney, my mother, and the rest of the Sweeney family moved to Nederland (also the Haizlips), the 'law west of the Neches" in those days was Deputy Sheriff "Smoky" Hemmingway. If one heard a ting-a-ling, bell-like noises in Nederland in 1906, it most probably was "Smoky's" spurs clanging along the board sidewalks along Main Street, now Boston. There were three saloons, Peek's, Steiner's, and Freeman's, in the 1100 block of Boston until 1909, when all of them were closed up. I remember my uncles laughing about "Smoky's hardware." He wore two gun belts, each slung low with scabbards tied down at the knees, and inside of them were two pearl-handled, 45-calibar pistols that would have done justice to "Wild Bill" Hickok. "Smoky" made his rounds of the saloons several times daily, and even more on weekends and paydays when the rice field laborers, Spindletop roughnecks, and the "Lazy-0" cowpokes filled up the bars.
The "Lazy-0" ranch headquarters was at the McFaddin Canal Co. office on what is now Dupont Road, 4 miles north of Nederland. I've also been told that every saloon bartender's first job each morning was to go to the Singleton Meat Market nearby to buy about ten pounds of beef to be ground up into ground meat, mixed up with onions and garlic. It seems that the early Dutchmen, Germans, and Austrians in town, upon ordering a beer or drink, expected also to find a platter of free ground meat on the counter, a loaf of rye or pumpernickel bread, and a serving knife for spreading the raw meat on the bread. And if the saloon did not furnish the raw meat and bread, it didn't stay in business too long. At least, not nearly as long as the swarm of house flies that hovered over the meat platter.
But back to Smoky. It seems the deputy made his rounds one day and found a drunk and disorderly "Lazy-0" cowboy, waving his gun, cussing, and storming around inside of Steiner's Saloon. "Smoky" told the cowboy he would have to check his gun with him, but the cowpoke refused, and roaring mad, told the deputy he would meet him out front in the street and they "would shoot it out." But "Smoky" refused, telling him that he was on duty and very busy, and added, "If it's all the same to you, I'll meet you at high noon tomorrow out at the "Double Bridges," and we will shoot it out, provided you get on your horse now and head back to the ranch."
The cowboy nodded in agreement, got on his horse and rode north toward the ranch. Now in the early days, the "Double Bridges" were located about where the Unocal plant road intersects Highway 366. And in 1906, the two bridges crossed over the east and west rice canals, about 100 yards apart and near the "Y," where the canals joined the main river flume from the pumping plant on the river. By 1923, those canals were long abandoned, and in fact, the Unocal plant road was made by grading together and leveling the two levees of the old abandoned river flume.
By 11:00 o'clock the next morning, one could see many of the Dutchmen and all of the other "local yokels," riding their buggies, wagons, hacks, on horseback, side-saddle, or on foot or other conveyance, bound for the "Double Bridges," and each with a thirst for blood in his eyeballs. Just as one would go to the refinery today, they went out the present-day Helena Street extension, which was then a dirt road going to the pumping plant on the Staffen property. Many of the sightseers waited over an hour, and about a quarter to twelve, they spotted the McFaddin cowpoke, riding along the railroad right-of-way en route to the "Double Bridges." The crowd waited until about 12:45 P. M., but two-gun "Smoky" never showed up. Instead, he turned in his badge a few days later, unable to show his face in Nederland anymore, and shortly afterward he left the county for greener pastures.
But back to the Nederland business houses of 1935. Going south into the 200 block of Twin City, the next building beyond the old "Lookout Cafe" was the old Freeman home, which still stands on the corner of Atlanta. In the 100 block, J. C. Kelly ran a Pure Oil bulk distributing concern on the corner and on the same lot where earlier Johnny Ware had had the post office (the lot then belonged to my mother), and where Thompson Grocery would be built during the 1940's. Next, Charlie Chamberlain ran a small store next door to the old Biermortt home, which stood on the corner of Nederland Avenue.
Nederland Ave., going west from Twin City, was certainly not much of a thoroughfare for business houses in 1935, being only a shelled street. But then so was Main Street in those days. In back of the Biermortt home (where Exxon is today) stood Howard England's cabinet shop. On the corner of 12th Street was Giebelstein's hamburger emporium, which served mostly school children in 1935. When I was a paper carrier in 1936-1937, I recall stopping at Giebelstein's one evening about dark and ordering four hamburgers and two tall, strawberry Nehis, which cost altogether 30 cents, hamburgers and bottle drinks being 5c each in those days. Mrs. Giebelstein looked at me kind of peculiar, especially while I was eating, because I went through those hamburgers and drinks like a circle saw through plywood, in about 7 minutes flat. It was when I ordered four more hamburgers and two more Nehis that her eyeballs fell out and she almost fainted. Altogether, I ate eight hamburgers and drank four Nehis, those TALL ones, that finally filled my gut at a cost of 60 cents.
Also in 1937, at Nederland Ave. and Twin City, Babe Vanderweg built the cafe and drive-in that J. E. Pitre would operate as Pitre's Cafe for about the next fifteen years. Except that it sold beer and had about a dozen slot machines in it, Pitre's was one of the more respectable places in early-day Nederland. I and lots of other soldiers hang out there whenever we were home on leave during World War II (which for me was almost every weekend while I was stationed at Galveston). I helped build the Pitre building. The original building was stucco masonry, and I pulled a mortar hoe, mixing stucco cement, for $2.00 for a 10-hour day. But that was big pay - I had worked for 10 cents an hour on some occasions, particularly at the drug store. For months on end, I could not find work anywhere at any price.
On the east side, where the railroad tracks intersected Nederland Avenue, remnants of the old Nederland Rice Milling Company still stood behind the old Jake Doornbos home, but I think it was only the old, 4-story elevator that still stood, where Pete Doornbos operated a feed store for about one year around 1936. Across the street, in the building that later became Hammock's paint store, stood the old Gulf States Utilities Co. offices and ice house. In those days, a locomotive delivered a box car of ice to the back of that building daily. A railroad spur and siding ran across the 100 block of 11th St. to the back of the building, and every morning Mooch Ingwersen and a couple of other men had to unload that box car of ice that was made in Beaumont. In addition, Iiams Ice Co. had a plant on North Twin City, near the railroad underpass and Sun Oil gate, that made 20 tons of ice daily, all of which were sold in Nederland and Port Neches. And the Texas Co. (Texaco) ice plant in Port Neches made 20 tons of ice daily also, mostly for plant use. When I moved to Nederland, H. P. Youmans peddled ice door to door, packing 100-lb. blocks of the stuff on his back, from a small truck. Twenty years later, he owned Youmans Insurance and Real Estate, at first at 1220 Boston, and later at 3000 Nederland Ave., from which location he began developing the 300 lots in Youmans Addition in 1953.
I keep repeating "when I came to Nederland in 1935" as if I never saw Nederland before that year. Actually, I was in Nederland once or twice a week as far back as I can remember since my mother had six brothers and sisters living in Nederland. My father had three brothers and sisters living here, the M. G. Block, Con Wagner, and Henry Spurlock families, as well as several brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law from his first wife, among them Lawrence, Klaas, and John Koelemay, George Rienstra, and S. R. Carter. One thing I recall quite vividly from that period was when the old two-story, Martin Koelemay home at 2000 Helena burned down in 1928. Until 1948, Helena Street was Koelemay Road. In 1935, it too was shelled a part of the way beyond the "interurban" right-of-way, but soon deteriorated to two thin ribbons of shell with bitter weeds growing in between. When Koelemay Road reached 27th Street, it turned abruptly at the Emmett Smith home and continued north, still two threads of shell, until it deadended at the John Koelemay dairy at Canal Street.
There were two large dairies where Helena intersected what is now 27th. The house of one of them, at 2304 Helena, is still there. My grandmother Block's brother, Emory A. "Bud" Smith, built that house about 1900 and started a dairy there, but by 1920, the dairy had passed to his son. Emmett A. Smith. If one turned south at what is now 27th, he would end up in the cow lot of the John Henderson dairy, only one block from the intersection. But Koelemay Road, with its two strips of shell and the bitter weeds, only turned north at that point to deadend at the Koelemay Dairy. John Koelemay's dairy was the second largest in Nederland, and all the land where C. O. Wilson Middle School now is was once a part of its cow pasture. The dairy worked quite a few employees during the 1920's-1930's and kept three trucks delivering milk on its retail milk routes in Beaumont. I'm not sure how many gallons it bottled daily in quart bottles, but probably close to five hundred gallons. In addition, John Koelemay was quite a successful Satsuma orange grower. He had about 20 acres of large, bearing trees, each around 20 feet tall. During the winter, he had to keep smudge pots burning in the orchard during sub-freezing weather. And that is what eventually happened to the orchard. Temperatures got down to about 12 degrees one year around 1940, and he lost all of the trees. How they survived the blizzard of January, 1935, is beyond me because temperatures went to 9 degrees and stayed there for three days. But he saved the orchard that time, only to lose it later.
In 1935, Dick Rienstra was the manager of the Barnes Feed Company, which was a Port Arthur concern, located in what is now the south building of the Setzer Supply Co., alongside the railroad track, and the north building was the Koelemay Grain Co, operated by Lawrence Koelemay (my father's brother-in-law) until 1937, and by Martin Koelemay, his brother, until 1943, when it was sold to H. W. Setzer. The old north building is unique in Nederland history, for in 1900, it was built to store sacked rice in before it was shipped somewhere for milling. After Nederland Rice Milling Co. was built in 1904, there was no longer any need to store rough rice to await shipment out of town. Patrons who visit Setzer's today might take note of the 2" X 6" center match flooring in the building, a lumber item that has not been manufactured for the last fifty years.
Across from the side of the old Koelemay Grain Co., at the southeast corner of 11th and Boston, E. P. Delong operated an auto repair garage in 1935 in a two-story, wooden building. About 1938, Delong sold the business to George Netterville, who operated the garage until his death, sometime in the 1940's. Remnants of the old garage's concrete foundation are still visible on that corner. Across the street, on the northeast corner, was the building that Johnny Ware built about 1928 to house the post office and his grocery store in. In 1933, after Bill Haizlip became the Democrat postmaster under Pres. Roosevelt, the post office was moved to an old wooden building at 1144 Boston (where Dr. J. H. Haizlip's office was), which preceded the brick building built in 1940 and still standing. After Ware died in 1932, C. X. Johnson served as interim acting postmaster for about one year. Ware's widow, Mrs. John Ware, continued to run her store until her death during the early 1950's, after which the building was torn down. The last person to occupy the old post office side of the building was Dr. Felix Walters in 1954, before he moved his clinic to the L. Ingwersen building at 1135 Boston (and about 15 years later to 13th and Franklin).
There are two other businesses of pre-World War II Nederland that should be mentioned, although I am sure there will be others I will recognize before closing this chapter. About 1938, Tony Guzardo began the Guzardo Feed Store on Twin City in the same building it has occupied for fifty years. Guzardo also had a feed store in Port Acres, and after World War II, he turned his Nederland store over to his son, Rayford, devoting his full time thereafter to his Port Acres store until his retirement. About the same time, the Harbour Grocery was begun in a wooden building on the southwest corner of Sou. 12th and Nederland Ave., on the lot where Baker-Williford Pharmacy currently stands, but the Harbour Grocery was either sold or went out of business about 1945.
Generally, these were the Nederland businesses before World War II began. Occasionally, there was a second drug store in town. A man named McKee ran a store for a year or two, about 1937-1938, at about 1135 Boston and eventually went broke, unable to puncture the Nederland Pharmacy competition. About 1936, a man named Dodson opened a drug store in the Haizlip building at 1152 Boston, and he too went broke within a year. This was the same man who bought five acres of our old Block home property at the cemetery in Port Neches, which included the house I was born in, and in 1937 he tore down the house and piled up and burned a lot of the old furniture that was left in it. Among the things he burned, things that we couldn't bring to Nederland because we had no room for them, were old dining room and kitchen tables and chairs, both of the tables more than 100 years old; our old RCA Victrola and lots of records, an old peddle-pumped organ; Dora Koelemay Block's zither, which she had brought with her from Holland in 1898, as well as her old wooden steamer trunk which still bore the notation: "From Antwerp to Nederland, Texas." In 1898-1899, Dora Koelemay had accompanied many of the waltz and polka dances on her zither (auto-harp) at the old Orange Hotel, which the Koelemay family managed when they first came from Holland. I don't recall what else might have been burned, but we left an attic filled with a half-century's accumulation of antique furniture that we had no room for when we moved to Nederland in 1935.
The business community did not change much during the war, perhaps because there was no defense priority for building materials in the private sector. Before the war, two or three of the old cat houses that burned in 1938 were rebuilt, but vice did not return to Nederland so far as I know. After the old Lookout burned, a Mrs. Smith, Mrs. O. S. Johnson's mother, built a respectable night club in place of it, and during the 1950's, that building became Roebuck's Pool Hall. Inez Freeman Eastis and her husband, Gordon Eastis, built and operated a liquor store in the concrete block building next door to the old Freeman home at Twin City and Atlanta, but it went out of business after Eastis died in about 1955. The dive that burned in 1938 at the corner of Detroit and Twin City was rebuilt and served as a cafe during the war. Later, it became a lumber company office.
About the time the war started, Albert Rienstra sold out his service station to Goodwin Griffin. The old wooden building was soon torn down and replaced by a brick building, remaining a Texaco station. T. W. Edwards operated his store in the Roach building from 1940 until about 1947, when he sold out to Luther Richey of Warren, who promptly went broke within a year. About 1948, a White Auto Store opened at that location in the Roach building and stayed in business about ten years. Walter Resch and a partner, name not recalled, operated the White store, and both of them left Nederland after the store closed. About 1946, F. A. Roach sold the Nederland Pharmcy to Marvin and Ella Wagner. Mr. Wagner died the following year, but Mrs. Wagner, later Mrs. Killebrew, operated the business for about the next 25 years, before selling out to Kenneth Sheffield. During the early 1960's, she purchased the adjacent Cessac and Nederland Motor Company property, and later Mrs. Killebrew enlarged the pharmacy to its present size.
The name T. W. Edwards reminds me of another incident when World War II started. On the Sunday that the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor, my mother, recalling some of her own experiences in World War I and realizing we were already caught up in the next war, decided to order up a quantity of sugar and green coffee beans. So the next morning, my brother, Everett Staffen, and I were at Edwards store when it opened on Monday morning, and we ordered two 130-pound sacks of green coffee beans and two 100-pound sacks of sugar. My brother, realizing as well that America would be cut off from its supply of natural rubber, ordered four new tires for his new 1941 Ford pickup truck, the tires to be stored at home until needed. Two days later, we backed up to Edwards Store to pick up the sacks, and as we carried them out to the truck, a nearby bystander, well-known for probing into family affairs not his own, wanted to know what was in the sacks. We told him, "Cow feed." He rejoined, "But Edwards doesn't handle cow feed." "We know, but he'll order it for you if you want him to," my brother retorted, leaving the busybody with mouth hanging open. The coffee and sugar lasted my mother and sister throughout the war although it didn't do my brothers and I any good, all of us soon being gone off to help fight the war. The aroma of coffee beans roasting often permeated the air around Ninth Street during the war years, advising the neighbors that the Blocks still had some coffee on hand.
About 1939, Dick Rienstra bought the two-story, brick Yentzen Bakery building (which in 1902 had been the First National Bank building), where he founded D. X. Rienstra Feed and Supply Co. About 1946, three new store buildings were added next door between 1211 and 1219 Boston. Rienstra founded D. X. Rienstra Hardware Co. next door. Nederland State Bank organized in 1947 and occupied the middle building for several years. Woodville mercantile interests provided the capital and obtained the state charter, and promptly sent W. W. Cruse to Nederland as the new vice-president and chief operating officer, as well as J. W. Willson of Chester as the first cashier. C. M. Minchew founded the Nederland Home Supply in the third building.
Dick Rienstra soon afterward sold the hardware store to Earl Kitchen of Port Neches and signed a ten-year agreement not to re-enter the hardware business in Nederland. Then he tore down the old bakery building and built the present store building, at the southwest corner of 12th and Boston, in which he began the Rienstra Furniture Co. In 1946, M. B. Jeffcoat moved to Midcounty and started five and dime stores in Nederland, Port Neches, and Groves. His Nederland store was in a new brick building wedged in at 1147 Boston, between Minaldi's Shoe Shop and Brookner's Dry Goods. In 1947, A. C. McLemore moved to Nederland from Alvin, Texas, and he soon bought all three of the Jeffcoat stores. About 1956, when Dick Rienstra built a new store building at 1344 Boston, he moved the furniture store into it, where it still remains, and McLemore's moved into the old furniture building at 1204 Boston. McLemore died about 1962, and his three stores were eventually sold to another firm who promptly went broke in Nederland.
Back in the 1100 block of Boston there were other significant business changes. Minaldi Shoe Shop, which began before 1940, operated for twenty years in an old wooden building before removing it and building their present brick building. Next door, Delmar Mauldin operated a small watch repair business for about 20 years. After Fred Roach sold the pharmacy, he promptly opened Roach Insurance and Real Estate in the old barber shop building at 1119 Boston. The insurance firm remained in business until about 1960 and eventually was managed by J. B. "Red" Woods of Beaumont, who subsequently had a carpet shop on Nederland Avenue. In 1946, Roach also built an addition on the east side of the building, about 12 feet wide, in which Mr. and Mrs. A. H. Callihan founded the Callihan Insurance Agency in 1946. At that time Callihan owned and was developing Westside addition on Gary and Franklin Streets. He died in 1950, after which Mrs. Callihan liquidated her interests and moved away. Shortly afterward, Dr. Fred Roach, Jr., began his dental practice in that building and remained there perhaps five years before relocating at 412 Nederland Avenue. The Roach building burned about 1983, and the 12-foot addition that Dr. Roach and Callihan formerly occupied was all that survived the fire.
About 1945, Elmore Creswell opened an appliance store in the building that once had housed the old Dolf Club pool hall, and he also opened an appliance store in Port Neches. These stores remained in business between 20 and 25 years. Also about 1940, Ludolph Ingwersen of Port Arthur (Mooch's brother) bought the old R. C. Mills' Grocery building next door after Mills died, and he remodeled it, doubling its size into two store spaces. About 1946, Dr. Philip Weisbach (now a Beaumont ophthalmologist) occupied the old Mills site and stayed there about three years before he returned to medical school to specialize. Dr. Weisbach once remarked that he was taking in $5,000 a month at that location at $5 a visit, which was not bad in 1947, even for a doctor. He turned his practice over to a Dr. R. J. Seamons in 1949, who did not take care of it, leaving after three years for the V. A. hospital in Waco. In 1948, Minchew bought the old 2-story, brick Brookner building at 1151 Boston (after N. Brookner closed up and moved to Port Arthur), remodeled the building and moved his Nederland Home Supply appliance firm into it.
In 1940, Mrs. Mattie Gardner tore down the old 2-story, wooden building in which her grocery was housed and replaced it with a brick building. About 1950, she sold out to her nephew, J. C. Barnes, and she opened a dry cleaning plant in the old vacant Wagner home next door. This business operated until about 1962 when Mrs. Garner retired and moved to Honey Island. Barnes operated Gardner's Grocery until his death in 1979, after which the business was liquidated.
The 1940's would witness many changes across the street as well. Dr. J. C. Hines, who had been next door to Nederland Pharmacy for about twelve years, chose to retire about 1945 and he turned his practice over to Dr. Robert Moore. After a few years there, he and Dr. B. H. Hall, the dentist, moved to the new Hammock building, which covers the south side of the 1400 block of Nederland Avenue, and Maurice Harvill opened his Maurice the Florist business next door to the drug store. About 1955, Harvill moved to one side of the Ingwersen building, where he remained in business for about the next eight years.
Lowell Morgan kept his Nederland Cleaners in the old wooden building at 1124-1128 Boston location until World War II, after which he relocated on Nederland Avenue after he returned from military service. Mrs. F. W. Bridgeman of Beaumont then built the brick Bridgeman building, containing two store sites, on that spot in 1948. Mrs. Pearl Niewohner then opened her Niewohner's Dress Shop on one side, and in 1954, she sold out to Mrs. Polly Speriky, who then operated Speriky's Dress Shop for about twelve years before selling out to Mrs. Verble Grimes, who soon after closed up the women's apparel store.
Next door at 1128, Gaston Mayer of Port Arthur opened Mayer's Men's Wear in 1949, and he remained in that building perhaps two or three years before he closed up and moved back to Port Arthur. "Goodie" Griffin then opened Griffin's Men's Wear in the same building in 1953 and remained in business for perhaps five years before he too closed up. About 1948, the old, rat-infested Rio Theatre building, a wooden structure, was torn down, and the old theatre site at 1136 Boston has remained a vacant lot ever since. About 1940, J. H. McNeill, Jr. built the brick building at 1140 Boston, which was at first occupied by People's Gas Co. and later by its successor, Southern Union Gas Co., until about 1960. In 1955, whenever the post office was relocated at 1320 Boston, Whelply's Jewelry, which until then had been located at 1148 Boston, moved next door into the old post office location. About 1940, Bill Haizlip had started the Nederland Furniture Co. at 1152 Boston in the same building where, during the early 1930's, he and his brother, John Haizlip, had gone broke in the grocery business, and where Dodson had also gone broke in the pharmacy business. Boy, that old "Great Depression" took some toll of the early Nederland business houses, and everywhere else for that matter!
Jack Fortenberry and Lovelace Theriot finally split up the barbering partnership, with the former spending the remainder of his barbering career in the Modern Barber Shop, adjacent to Nederland Furniture Co. About 1936 James McNeill Jr. closed up a grocery store he had been operating in Port Neches. He then built a "lean-to" building onto Jack Fortenberry's barber shop and began an insurance agency. McNeill Insurance remained in that building until about 1955, at which time the agency moved into a new red brick building about half the size of the present building.
Around 1945, J. H. McNeill, Sr., already approaching 80 years old, was still active in his J. H. McNeill and Co. mercantile firm, but for years the active management of the company had been performed by J. Berthold Cooke, Jr. During World War I, Cooke had been McNeill's son-in-law, married to the only McNeill daughter, but she died of "Spanish flu" soon after her marriage. J. B. Cooke died around 1948, and his widow kept the store open a few more years, finally liquidating the business about 1954. McNeill Sr. had long before broke up housekeeping in his large home after the death of his wife, and about 1944 he leased the palatial residence to Weldon Davis for the new Davis Funeral Home. Davis operated the mortuary there for more than thirty years, eventually selling out to Clayton-Thompson shortly before his death about 1980.
About 1937, J. H. McNeill, Jr., built his home in the 300 block of 13th Street in which his widow still resides.
In the same year, although I had been living in Nederland for more than a year, I had still been riding my bicycle to attend school in Port Neches, that is, until January, 1937, when I transferred for my last semester to Nederland High School. Hence, although I have a Port Neches High School senior class ring, I have a diploma from Nederland High School. I had just had a wreck with a car while I was delivering papers on my bicycle, and although I was bruised only slightly, my bike was a total loss. That summer, I worked at the Smith Bluff Lumber Company, which until 1940, was located at 11th and Detroit, where Ritter Lumber Company now is. Off and on, I worked there altogether about three years, I suppose. One Monday morning, a locomotive switched a box car onto the Smith Bluff Lumber Co. siding, and Joe Block and I were each handed two sets of brick tongs apiece and told to unload it. Hence, we knew our week's work was cut out for us, as the box car would have to loaded with brick, 35,000 of them. All week long, for eight round trips a day, we would back a long, bobtail truck up to the box car; load it with about 800 bricks, carrying seven 5-pound bricks (35 lbs.) in each hand; drive over to the site where the foundation of the J. H. McNeill, Jr., home was underway; unload the bricks, and drive back to the box car for the next load. We were also told that the box car had to be empty by Friday afternoon, or demurrage of $60 had to be paid for it over the weekend. I guess, considering the number of brick in it, we must have averaged about 7,000 bricks a day.
Come Friday afternoon, Joe and I were so happy because only one load of about 800 bricks was left in the box car, equal to about an hour and one-half of work. Then suddenly a switch engine began sidetracking another box car alongside of the one we were working in. We ran to the lumber company office and inquired, "What's in that new box car we just received--lumber for the McNeill home?" "No," was the response, "The lumber for the house will be here next week. I didn't have the heart to tell you that this car has 35,000 brown face brick for the outside of the McNeill house, but you won't have to start on it until Monday morning." So Joe and I had another slave-killing job during the following week. I don't believe I have ever been so tired in my life as I was each night after I had been unloading bricks.
John Staffen, my half-brother's Everett's uncle, had started the Smith Bluff Lumber Co. during the 1920's at 11th and Detroit in the huge old building that belonged to Lawrence Koelemay. The latter had apparently done quite well in the feed business up until 1934 and was even a director of the First National Bank of Port Neches at that time. But his son, James Koelemay, convinced his father that they could get richer a lot faster if they became a dealer for Majestic radios. If any person, living today and only acquainted with light-weight, transistor sets, had never seen a Majestic High-boy radio of 1930, he would never believe it. The power transformer alone in that model weighed over 20 pounds, and the rectifier tubes, chokes, and condenser banks in the power supply of that model added another 35 pounds--not counting the weight of the radio and heavy cabinet. The radio per se in that model was not so heavy, perhaps 20 pounds, but it was large and bulky, with a bank of tuning condensers about 14" or 16" long and several large, glass vacuum tubes (the type with a sharp point on the top where the glass had been sealed by heat after the air had been pumped out) eight inches high, roughly the size of a 250 watt light bulb. The Majestic radios stood on four short legs, but weighed so much, a real monstrosity of about 130 pounds, that it usually took two men to load or unload one of them from a truck.
Anyway, Lawrence Koelemay borrowed about $15,000 for a franchise and to pay cash for his first shipment, a box car load of radios, and after he got them, James couldn't sell them. L. Koelemay had to put up the lumber company land and building as collateral for the loan, which the Port Neches bank promptly foreclosed on and took back. And he also had a lien on the feed store business. This forced Koelemay into bankruptcy, and the family left town one day, moved to Shreveport, where they opened a wholesale radio parts business soon afterward and prospered quite handsomely in that field. I don't know what eventually happened to the big shipment of Majestic radios which were stored in the feed store, but I presume they were auctioned off. Martin Koelemay, Lawrence's brother, took over the feed store and operated it until 1943, when H. W. Setzer bought out the business.
About 1940, a Houston wholesale building supply firm, George C. Vaughan and Sons, was eyeing Nederland as a base of supply for its customers in Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. They bought the lumber company building from the Port Neches bank in 1941, but gave the old lumber company building to Smith Bluff Lumber Co., provided the old building was removed from the site within 90 days. Staffen also owned the 18-acre tract of land where Highland Park School and Jones Marine business are located, so in October, 1941, as the old building was being torn down, John Staffen began building the new Smith Bluff Lumber Co. in the building later to be purchased by Jones Rambler Co. about 1956. And the lumber company reopened on that site in January, 1942, just as the war came on and lumber, nails, all metals and hardware, became unobtainable except with a defense priority. Staffen was able to keep the lumber company open for a part of the war years. He was able to buy about 200,000 board feet of green lumber from some small "peckerwood' sawmill in Louisiana. Then he air-dried the green lumber on his property and dressed it with an old tractor-driven sawmill planer that he had purchased somewhere.
As early as 1937, W. K. McCauley had started McCauley Lumbet Co. on 11th Street, north of Smith Bluff Lumber, and when he moved to Houston during World War II, his brother-in-law, B. A. Ritter, began operating the business as Ritter-McCauley Lumber Co. About 1970, after the old Vaughan building had lain vacant a couple years, Ritter Lumber Company took over that location, soon becoming Nederland's principal retail lumber firm, and gradually expanding into the home construction field as well.
Three other lumber businesses developed in Nederland after World War II. L. B. Nicholson built Nicholson Building Supply next door to Guzardo Feed on South Twin City. Nicholson died about 1965, and the business was sold. On Memorial Highway, across from the airport, two other lumber firms was established after World War II. S. E. Lewis organized Lewis Builders' Supply, which was managed by his son-in-law, Thornton Niklas, and Irby Basco began the Basco-McAlister Lumber Company a short distance to the north. For years, Basco produced his own lumber, as he owned a small sawmill across Pine Island Bayou at Lumberton.
George C. Vaughan and Sons built their first building in Nederland in 1942, just about the time the war started. The firm dealt principally in windows, doors, moldings, flooring, and similar materials, and the business was managed by W. F. Ricketts, with W. L. Kelly and Spencer Ritchie as the outside salesmen. George C. Vaughan continued to expand until after 1960, by which time the five buildings had been built and the firm exployed more than thirty employees and delivered merchandise in its three 18-wheeler trucks. No one dreamed that Vaughan was in Nederland other than permanently, when suddenly in 1968, Vaughan chose to shut down its Nederland operation and handle its delivery territories out of Houston. The old Vaughan buildings remained vacant several years, but were finally purchased about 1972 by Ritter Lumber Company.
After selling out his hardware business to Earl Kitchen at the end of World War II, Dick Rienstra purchased Albert Rienstra's old Roger-Byron Dry Goods business, and renamed it Rienstra Dry Goods Co. It was then located on the corner of 12th and Boston, next to the Dale Hotel in an asbestos-sided building, and Albert Rienstra built a brick building on 12th, across from H. A. Hooks Plumbing Co., and opened a hardware store in it about 1948. Apparently, Dick Rienstra did not like retailing dry goods, for he soon sold Rienstra's Dry Goods back to Albert Rienstra. About 1951, the two brothers tore down the old asbestos-sided building, and then replaced it with a brick building that housed Rienstra's Dry Goods firm for more than 25 years. About 1977, Albert Rienstra liquidated his inventory and retired. An office in the back of the Rienstra building, facing 12th, housed the law offices of Guy Carriker, Nederland's first permanent attorney-at-law, until his death in the late 1960's.
Several other new Nederland businesses owed their origins to the aftermath of World War II. In 1947, Alvin Barr, Farris Block, L. B. Nicholson and others put up about $8,000 and organized the Nederland Publishing Co., and Dick Rienstra built the building at 1220 Boston, next door to the Dale Hotel, to house the new firm in. On about three occasions, that building was added to until it finally reached the alley. The printing company began published a weekly newspaper, the "Midcounty Review," using a new invention or technique, called offset printing, which was a photographic process rather than hot type. In fact, if I recall correctly, the "Midcounty Review" was the first publication in the county put out by that process, that soon signaled the demise of the old hot-type Linotype machine and the powerful typesetters' unions. The company also published a Groves newspaper during its early years, with Farris Block as editor of both publications. About 1955, Block resigned, sold his stock to Alvin Barr, and moved to Houston. Although Block never endorsed any local candidate, he did endorse Lyndon Johnson in the senate race and Adlai Stevenson for president at a time when there was a strong conservative reaction taking place in Nederland. And when Block was accused by one of the stockholders of supporting certain local candidates, his response was to sell out and move away.
At that time, Barr acquired a controlling interest in Nederland Publishing Co. About 1960, he tore down the old Barr apartment buildings that stood in back of his home, and he built the new Nederland Publishing building at 14th and Atlanta. Gradually, Barr acquired all of the outstanding stock of the company. About 1964, he sold the "Midcounty Review" to what is now the "Midcounty Chronicle." Barr managed the firm until his death in Sept., 1981, after which his family sold out to a Beaumont company. After the bank acquired the land and equipment through foreclosure, David Willis purchased the Nederland Publishing and Office Supply and operates it to the present day (1988).
Simultaneous with the founding of the printing firm, three other brick buildings went up next door to it on Boston, at 1224-1232. The Home Laundry and Nederland's first washeteria occupied one of them. Youman's Insurance Co. began at 1232 Boston. In fact, the Nederland Chamber of Commerce started out in the old McNeill Insurance building, but later removed to the Youmans Insurance building when the latter firm moved to the 3000 block of Nederland Avenue. In 1953, H. P. Youmans bought the 90 acres of land that had formerly been the John Henderson dairy, and immediately, Youmans began building houses in the Youmans No. 1 Addition. Ultimately, he would build about 300 homes in the various Youmans additions, which kept his insurance firm more of a real estate firm than anything else. The company was liquidated about 1975, several years after Mr. Youmans' death.
Also in about 1947, J. B. Baker and Jimmy Williford arrived in Nederland from Galveston, and founded Baker-Williford Pharmacy in a new building built for them by L. Theriot at 1204 Nederland Ave. This was the first drug store that was successful in bucking the competition proffered by Nederland Pharmacy. In early days, this firm offered 5 cent coffee at their lunch counter, which was the price of "depression coffee" of 1935, and this alone attracted a great deal of new traffic into the new drug store. J. B. Baker moved back to Galveston after a few years (although he may have retained a silent interest), leaving Jimmy Williford as the sole proprietor. About 1956, the pharmacy purchased the lots across the street and moved a wooden building away from the property. This was the same building that had been occupied by Harbour's Grocery around 1938-1940. In 1945, James Threadgill began a store there and remained until he moved away in 1948. About 1950, Chester Bartels (who had operated a bakery in Nederland during the 1930's) began an electric company in it, and in 1953, added Nederland's first TV dealership. After a few years, he built some small business houses adjacent to the telephone building in 800 block of Nederland Ave., moved his business there, but died soon afterward. Also around 1953, Charles Stakes founded the Modern TV and Appliance Co. which has now been in business in the 400 block of Nederland Ave for about 35 years.
B. C. Miller built the Miller Electric Co. at 15th and Nederland Ave. before World War II, and for many years, handled appliances as well. He built his firm into the most successful industrial electric firm in town. Lowell O. Morgan reopened his Nederland Cleaners in a quonset building across Nederland Ave. from Miller Electric Company, and remained in business there until his death about 1968.
About 1951, a young man named Dan Ryder of Port Neches opened a Western Auto Store next door to Baker-Williford Pharmacy at 1212 Nederland Ave. I recall being in the Jaycees with Ryder about 1952. About 1954, he failed to come home one night, and his family found him later slumped in the chair at his desk, with a single gunshot wound in the head. Apparently, he had become distressed over finances. Western Auto remained there for many years, eventually moving to the 2500 block of Nederland Avenue, into the building vacated by Hughes Market Basket.
If the writer were asked which firm had proven to be the most phenomenal success in Nederland, it would have to be Ed Hughes and his Market Basket chain. He began merchandising on Nederland Ave. in 1954 on a moderate scale and with his former partner, Bruce Thompson, built Market Basket Stores into one of two area grocery chains. About 1978, Ed Hughes developed the Holland Square shopping center at 27th and Nederland Ave. and moved his Hughes Market Basket into a modern new building at that location. Earlier, he had built the Marion Cafeteria (where Eckard is now located) as the first business in that shopping center, but a host of new fast food places soon relieved it of most of its business. Hughes also owns business property begun by Joe Bean across 27th Street, as well as the Pompano Club in Port Neches. A few years ago, Hughes sold out his interests in the Market Basket Stores to his former partner, Thompson, retaining only his Nederland property.
An incident similar to Ryder's death occurred at Boone's Sheet Metal Co., which began in the 1000 block of Nederland Ave. about 1955. About 1966, Boone, a Groves resident, sold his building site to the Weingarten Realty Co. for a shopping center, and Boone built a new building at the corner of 8th and Nederland Ave. He too must have suffered subsequent financial woes, for soon afterward his family found him inside the building, likewise dead of a gunshot wound. Both the Ryder and Boone deaths were ruled suicidal.
Dr. Ed. Streetman's veterinary clinic has now been on Nederland Avenue for well over forty years. Speaking of Dr. Streetman reminds me of another aspect of Nederland's history -- the dairies and the dipping vats of 1936. In 1935, the State of Texas decreed that all livestock had to be dipped every week for a span of several weeks during the spring of 1936 (I forget exactly how long) in order to to eradicate fever ticks (the insects in the ears of cattle and other animals) and tick fever, which had stricken thousands of cattle in West Texas and Mexico. Strict quarantines were placed on animal movements that year - both interstate and intrastate. East of the railroad, two dipping vats were built, one on Babe Vanderweg property in the 800 block of Nederland Ave. (next to Jones Marine) and another vat on Kitchen Road (now Merriman in Port Neches, near the intersection of Highway 366). Other vats were built on the west side of Nederland, all of them under the jurisdiction of Vanderweg. Dipping was mandatory, with the prospect of undipped cattle being shot.
In 1936, there were about 25 or 30 dairies within a two-mile radius of Nederland, and some of them were almost up in town. Others, such as my mother, brothers, and I, were operating a dairy in a sense, because we milked five Jersey cows at 836 Detroit, bottled milk in quart bottles, and delivered it around town on bicycles. East of the railroad tracks, Dan Rienstra, Bill Rauwerda, Babe Vanderweg, H. W. Sweeney, Johnny Alvlalrez, and Nike Ruysenaars ran dairies. South of Nederland, Curtis Streetman, Gerret Terwey, Lohman Brothers, Joe Almond, and three or four Alvarez brothers (down near the S-Curve) operated dairies. West and north of Nederland were the dairies of John Streetman, John Henderson, Emmett Smith, Chris Rauwerda, John Koelemay, Saul Trahan, B. B. Epperson, Gerret Rauwerda, John Friez, L. Otis Block, and I'm sure there were a half-dozen others whose names I have forgotten, or in the Beauxart Gardens area, I never knew. In addition, lots of people living up town in Nederland kept a family milk cow in the back yard or staked on a vacant lot somewhere, not to mention horses, sheep, goats, or swine, all of which also had to be dipped. My brother and I used to lead our 6 or 7 heads of livestock to the Vanderweg vat by daylight--one animal tied in back of the other like a mule train--because we still had to deliver milk and go to school after we got home. The stupidity of the situation for my uncle (H. W. Sweeney dairy), though was that he was not permitted to dip his 70 heads of cattle in the Vanderweg vat, even though his cow pasture ran all the way from the present-day fresh water canal on the Port Neches boundary to the location of Highland Park School, only one block from the dipping vat. What is now the fresh water canal dividing Nederland and Port Neches was then an abandoned rice canal that crossed Block Road (Ave. H), Lambert Road (now Nall St. or Highway 365), and Kitchen Road, now Merriman St., a good two miles from the Sweeney Dairy. And every Saturday morning, we would saddle up and drive the seventy head of livestock to the Kitchen Road vat, which took all morning to dip the herd.
Just this month (July, 1988) I reminded Dr. Streetman of an incident at the old Vanderweg dipping vat that he had forgotten about. I had just taken our cattle to be dipped, one of which was a frisky, young red milk cow with her first calf. This cow had just been dipped and was running loose in the main cow pen there, flicking her ears and flanks to rid herself of the excess water. The dip solution stung cattle who had open sores or stings from insect bites, etc. Suddenly some one left the gate open, and that red cow broke into a lope with intent to escape through it if she could. But as luck would have it, Ed Streetman, who hadn't yet left for the School of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A and M, had a roping loop in a lasso so new that it was still stiff, and as that cow passed by him, about 30 feet distant, Ed swung that rope into the air. The loop settled down over that cow's horns as beautifully as in any western movie. The cow was moving so fast that she dragged Streetman about 20 feet, but he finally stopped her by digging in and plowing up the ground with his boot heels, and never once did he turn loose of her. After that, I had no further trouble leading the cow back to our barn.
Another event at home could only have happened in Nederland's dairying days. Like a few other boys in school who grew up in dairying families, my brother Otis left the cow pen and went straight to school, wearing the same overalls. One day, the music teacher, a Miss Sigler, caught Otis doing something, throwing spit balls, I suppose, and she chose to call him up to her desk and warm his britches. Now, Miss Sigler was a very small woman, and her paddle was as long as she was tall. She made Otis lean over her desk, with hands outstretched, and she drew that paddle back about six yards and walloped him good on the seat. Now one of the main ingredients of the cow feed we mixed at home was cotton seed meal, which was much finer ground than any wheat flour, and it had a way of getting into clothes worn in the dairy barn and especially into overall pockets. Now when that paddle struck those overall pockets, the cotton seed meal rose in such a cloud as to do justice to a Texas cyclone skimming along the ground. At first, Miss Sigler began to cough and hack, then she began to cry, and finally she just sat down, put her hands and face down on her desk, and began to "bawl." And Otis, tired of waiting for the rest of his paddling, finally went back to his seat.
There were a few more early Nederland business houses I want to mention before I forget about them completely. Around 1952, a man named Joe Bean from Jasper remodeled a building at 22nd St. and Nederland Avenue, and he founded a grocery called Nederland Minimax in it. Bean later chartered a corporation capitalized at $1,000,000; bought about 18 acres of land across from the present-day Hughes Market Basket, with the intention of building Nederland's first shopping center there. However, he only got three stores completed before he apparently ran into financial woes. He moved the Minimax store to the largest of them, after which he leased the other two stores to TGY and Sommers Drug Co. of Beaumont. Bean later sold Minimax to a Groves merchant who soon changed the name to Spiers Discount Center. Spiers operated the store for many years, perhaps as many as fifteen, but he finally closed it up, apparently unable to cope with the new Hughes Market Basket across the street. The TGY store stayed open ten years, but only because it had signed a long-term lease it couldn't break. The Somers Drug Store closed up after a few years.
Joe Spiers went broke in Nederland twice at locations where other people had profited handsomely. About 1934, a man named C. J. Alegre opened a store in a small wooden building across from the Doornbos office and the Langham school. During the depression and war years, Alegre, being a first-rate merchandiser, made a wash tub full of money in that location, although he did not have any other competition in the north end of Nederland. About 1948, he enlarged his business by building a new store building, also across from Langham (that in recent years has most often housed a dancing studio). About 1952, Alegre's health began to fail, and he sold out to Spiers, who promptly "went bust" on the same spot where Alegre had made a killing. I never did understand why Spiers came back to Nederland for a second helping of failure, especially since he had proven himself to be a quite capable and prosperous merchant in Groves.
I would certainly be historically remiss if I failed to mention more about the Lohman Brothers dairy, located at South 23rd St. and Avenue H, which in 1935 was the dairying showplace of Nederland. There was one company house on Avenue H (then known as Wagner Road), in which A. P. Soape, the plant manager, lived. In back of the house were the huge dairying barns, dry sheds, hay barns, and utility buildings. In 1935, there was not much of anything else in that area of Avenue H. Everything from the present-day Riley Funeral Home to 27th Street, and from Ave. H (Wagner Road was then a shelled road) to Highway 365 was vacant property, consisting only of Lohman Dairy and the Gerret Terwey dairy barns and cow pastures. As late as 1950, the entire acreage in front of Pat Riley's, between Sou. 13th and Sou. 16th Streets, was vacant and belonged to Dick Rienstra. On the west side of the Gulf States Utilities right-of-way, another 25 acres between present-day South 15th and South 18th Streets was Curtis Streetman's dairy and cow pasture. Along most of the north side of Avenue H, there was a fenced-in, abandoned rice canal from the 1900-1915 era, that eventually had to have its levees leveled and its canal filled in before the land could be sold as city lots. This same abandoned canal right-of-way ran all the way across Nederland, with South 17th, 16th 15th, 14 1/2, 14th, 13th and South 12th Streets deadended against the canal fence. It also crossed under Twin City Highway and the railroad tracks, and the deep ditch that currently is in front of the Highland Park School was once a part of that abandoned canal. The canal crossed Nederland Avenue, near 5th St., through a large concrete duct that had concrete guard rails on each side of the road. The reason that Gage Street is an angled street is because, when J. M. Staffen Addition was surveyed, the abandoned rice canal right-of-way was the west boundary of the addition, and Gage Street had to be surveyed up against that canal, which emptied into another abandoned canal running along Highway 366. Eventually, the levees near Gage Street also had to be leveled and the canal filled in before the land could be sold as city lots. But now, back to the history of Lohman's Dairy.
The Lohman Brothers cattle outlay was principally an experimental dairy that utilized a large herd of about 130 heads of registered Guernsey milk stock--as beautiful a herd of milk cows as man every applied eyeballs to. For years, the Lohman Brothers of Port Arthur (who also owned the Home Laundry and an experimental ranch at Winnie) had been experimenting with prolonged inbreeding, far beyond what any other dairyman would consider expedient, and in so doing, they developed a herd of about 70 cows, each of whom averaged from 11 to 13 gallons of milk daily. These cows had to be milked three times a day, and their utters grew so large that some of them had to wear "cattle brassieres" -- burlap sacks that held them up via leather straps over the backs of the cows. But despite their beauty as milk animals and their exceptional milk production, the inbreeding was adjudged a failure because the animals had much less natural defenses against disease, etc. The lights stayed on all night in the Lohman milk barns for milking and feeding. These cattle were never allowed out into a cow pasture or outside a building because even a light rain often made them sick with distemper type infections. They stayed in their stalls day and night much like the cattle on exhibit in October at the Beaumont Fair Ground, and they were fed, watered and milked in their stalls. Because of the experimentation, the dairy kept close record of the herds, milk was weighed and recorded, tested, feed was weighed and recorded, etc. The Lohmans had another herd that were not inbred, and these cattle stayed in the cow pasture except at milking time. And of course, the statistics of one herd were weighed against the statistics of the other. The dairy produced up to 500 gallons of milk daily, all of which was wholesaled to Townsends and Dailey's Dairies in Port Arthur, because the Lohmans were not interested in the retail end of dairying.
About 1940, the Lohmans tired of the dairy business, and they sold out to S. E. Walling Jersey Farm of Groves, who was a retail dairyman. The first thing that Walling did was get rid of the Guernsey herds, and put in a bottling system, for Walling was a milk wholesaler to stores but he had no retail routes to houses. Walling bottled in gallon bottles at first, and later in gallon and half-gallon paper cartons, but I can't seem to recall Walling milk ever being sold in quart bottles. Walling milk soon became the industry standard throughout Midcounty and in much of Beaumont and Port Arthur as well. About 1952, Walling built a complete new milk plant on Peek Road, then a shelled road, but soon to become Highway 365, and his was the first brick building, or for that matter, any business building along that road, now so heavily built up and traveled. But about the same time Mr. Walling died. His wife, Mrs. Selma Walling, continued to run the business for a few years, but soon sold out to her new plant manager, who had also been Mr. Walling's bookkeeper. Walling had always kept a small herd of Jersey dairy cattle, but these were mostly for looks only, as the dairy produced little milk of its own. Instead, the dairy sent a stainless steel, 12,000-gallon refrigerator truck through Hardin, Tyler, Jasper, and Orange Counties each night and bought up the milk production of numerous dairies. About 1965, the new owner, who still operated under Walling's name, sold out to the Carnation Company of Houston, who continued for a couple of years to market Walling milk under that trademark, but they finally shut down the ultra modern Walling plant and marketed only Carnation products from the Houston plant. About 1968, J. C. Barnes of Gardner's Grocery told me that Carnation's driver was coming to his store only once weekly, and he was getting a lot of complaints about soured Carnation products. About 1968, Barnes finally told Carnation to remove all of their products from his store, and today I don't think that Carnation markets anywhere east of Houston anymore.
About 1942, F. A. Roach leased the lunch counter and fountain in Nederland Pharmacy to Tom Lee, Sr., who had formerly been a bread truck driver, and his son, Skeeter Lee. The Lees also profited in that location as there was then no first class restaurant in Nederland where beer was not also sold, a practice which many church members objected to. When the Hammock building was completed in the 1400 block of Nederland Avenue about 1949, the Lees followed Drs. Moore and Hall to Nederland Ave. and founded the Tom and Skeeter Cafeteria. Tom Lee, Sr., died soon after, but Tom and Skeeter's remained a popular eating place throughout the 1950's and into the 1960's. However, the cafeteria closed up about 1966, having apparently lost most of its business to the new fast food places that were then opening along Nederland Avenue.
Pitre's Cafe is another example of a once profitable business that "went bust" as soon as it was sold. About 1952, J. E. Pitre sold out and retired, but within two years, the new owner hung himself to a tree on the outskirts of Port Neches, apparently suffering financial woes as well. Dick Rienstra was one of those who went looking for him on Sarah Jane Road after dark, and he flashed his flash light on two legs dangling from a tree limb in front of him. Mr. and Mrs. E. G. Deese then opened a drive-in grocery in the remodeled cafe building which they operated for about ten or twelve years. About 1970, the corner was sold to Mobil Oil Co., who then built the present-day Mobil station on that corner.
In 1935, there was a two-story, brick building on the northwest corner of Helena and Twin City (the foundation of which is still there), and the bottom floor was a combination service station and small grocery operated lby L. B. Cobb. About 1940, Kelly Whitley, also a former bread truck driver, bought the business and operated it during World War II. About 1945, he built a new brick, Pure Oil service station on the site of the former Bartels Bakery at Chicago and Twin City, and being an astute business man as well, he too profited quite modestly until his death about 1958. But his successors on that corner failed and eventually closed. In more modern times, that site has been turned into a plant nursery and florist.
I remember too the Halloweens of the 1930's, when teenage boys, I suppose, were expected to engage in as much devilment as possible, that is, short of the jail house. And a dozen paper boys gathering at 2:00 A. M. each morning were not immune from such devilment, at least for what few moments they could spare away from their paper routes. But I will say, at least in 1936-1937, they were not guilty of many of the things the Boston business men accused them of. I suppose I will never forget the Halloween of 1936. There were already a bunch of boys stacking burlap bags filled with junk in front of the doors of the pharmacy, but we did not have any time available to get involved in that. The entire, narrow 400 block of Twin City belonged to the Kansas City Railroad in those days, and contained two yellow "section houses," where the railroad section foreman and his assistant (who was black) lived. And always, turning over the section foremen's "privies," or outhouses, as well as carting off the wooden bridges over the deep ditches along Twin City carried top priority among the young local yokels, as well as the paper boys, and also
the outhouses in back of the Boston Street stores. By 3:00 A. M., though, we had to get back to our papers in order to throw our routes and be back by 6:00 A. M. My route, all of it east of the railroad, ran down Nederland Ave. to Port Neches, and then turned up "Pure Oil Road," now Highway 366, where in 1936 there were about ten company houses located on Pure Oil property that I also had to throw papers at. It took a good hour and a half to throw all of my 150 papers because houses were really scattered out in those days. And in 1936, except for houses along Nederland Avenue, the land east of 9th Street was bare prairie, covered with briar bushes, bitter weeds, coffee beans and cockleburs in those days. In the meantime, we knew that, all night long on Halloween, the other boys would continue stacking sacks of tin cans and junk, recovered from a city dump somewhere, in front of all three doors of the pharmacy, even over the 8-foot wide wooden canopy or awning which covered the sidewalk, and we wanted to get back by daylight to the results of their "handiwork."
We were all waiting at Rienstra's Service Station at daylight when "Doc" Gunter, the pharmacist, drove up in his model A coupe. For an hour, Gunter was cursing a blue streak of obscenities equal to the repertoire of a sailor. He went around to the front of the drug store, where two entrances were then opposite the depot, but those entrances were all blocked too. As I recall, there were at least three or four discarded car bodies on the side walk as well, and I have no idea how they got them there. I know though that the paper boys got blamed for all of that, although we did know who some of the perpetrators were. Mr. Roach had to rent two local trucks and even a wrecker to haul the stuff away. It was about 10:00 A. M. before they could even open the side door of the pharmacy, and long into the afternoon before all of that mess was cleaned up. In 1936, the present plate glass windows facing Twin City were not there. In their place were about five or six wooden doors, all hinged together so that they would 'telescope' back to the sidewall. In those days, the drug store used to roll racks of movie, girlie, and pulp magazines out on the sidewalk, where the sailors could see them and buy them.
My brother, Everett Staffen, once told me about another Halloween about 1930 when I still lived in Port Neches, but he was living on the second floor of the old Smith Bluff Lumber Company office. There was once an old rice wagon that stayed parked at the depot and was used by some local business for unloading box cars, probably sacks of feed. And one Halloween, some of the "drug store cowboys" decided to put the rice wagon on top of the depot. In those days, the section foreman kept piles of old bridge timbers, crossties, spare iron rails, etc., stacked on the north side of the depot. Before 1950, Twin City was a narrow, 2-lane road, and there was a lot more vacant space and a deep ditch near the depot then. Well, it seems that about midnight, ten or more of the 'cowboys' started building a beveled or inclined 'bridge' up to the roof of the depot, using mostly crossties and bridge timbers. Then they lined up the wheels of the huge wagon so they would roll up the incline to the roof of the depot. After the rice wagon was on the roof, they as neatly disassembled the inclined bridge and restacked the ties and timbers back in their proper places. The next day, the entire town was perplexed as to how they ever managed to get the big wagon on the depot building, and to this day, so far as I know, no participant has ever admitted his guilt or described how it was done. Apparently, they used a long rope, perhaps a pulley on a telephone pole, and an automobile to provide motive power, but that is only my speculation. Anyway, figuring out how to put the wagon on top of the building was to be a lot easier than getting it down, because the rice wagon stayed on top of the depot for four months. Eventually, the railroad had to send a crane mounted upon a railway flat car to Nederland in order to lift the rice wagon back to the ground. The rice wagon soon disappeared, for nobody wanted a repetition of that feat.
Would you believe that there were once about ten "gandy-dancers" working in Nederland? What is a "gandy-dancer," you ask? Well, gandy-dancers were railroad right-of-way maintenance personnel, the people the section foreman bossed, and their job was to replace the worn-out rails, crossties, and bridge timbers, and to swing the 14-pound mauls or sledge hammers that drove the railroad spikes into the crossties -- real slave labor by any stretch of the imagination. In earlier days, there was a sidetrack on each side of the main line. The west sidetrack was so long that passenger or freight trains could be switched onto it, and remnants of that sidetrack can still be seen at the Helena Street crossing, where the rails were simply cut off at both ends when removed, but left in place in the street bed.
About 100 yards north of where the old depot was, there were also two small sheds or buildings beside the railroad, and one had two sets of rails running into it. This building housed two small work wagons with rail wheels, built much like hand cars. One had a small gasoline engine which powered it. The gandy-dancers rode on this machine, which also towed the second wagon, which carried the spare rails, ties, timbers, tools, water barrel, etc. Each morning about 7:00 A. M., the gandy-dancers would usually load up, mount up, and head north or south to work on the trackage somewhere. In recent years, I believe all the old wooden crossties have been replaced with concrete ties, but a concrete crosstie was unknown, at least in Nederland, 50 years ago. A couple of times that I can recall, a work train of perhaps 75 or 100 gandy-dancers would sidetrack in Nederland and stay here for up to a month if major construction or repair work had to be completed. I always felt sorry for those railroad workers, especially during the heat of summer, because everything they did was hard, back-break labor, since I never saw any evidence of labor-saving power equipment to make their jobs easier. Several of the gandy-dancers were black men.
M. W. Oakley was a man I wish I could write more about, but I just didn't know that much about him. The old Oakley Hotel stood on the corner lot at 1204 Boston when I first came to Nederland. Later it became the Dale Hotel. So far as I can discern, I believe it was the same building that Alanson Burson built as a boarding house on that lot about 1902. Oakley was usually referred to as "Judge" Oakley, and I never did know whether the title was honorary or whether he had been a justice of the peace. He also sold insurance and was a notary public. By 1935, he was already rather old, perhaps 68 or 70, and although I don't know where he came from, I think he must have sold out to Dick Rienstra about 1939 or 1940 and moved to Austin. I suppose he also died there.
I never knew any of the Oakley children, one or some of whom lived in Austin. However, Bill Haizlip used to tell me about one of the sons, who must have been a kingpin racketeer in Port Arthur in Prohibition days. Those were the days when Rusty and Grace Woodyard controlled all the rackets, "moonshine," and vice in Port Arthur -- when no less than 100 bootleggers at Sabine Pass and Johnson's Bayou, La., sold all of their "moonshine" to Woodyard. (My father was in on a raid that captured one of Woodyard's moonshine cookers in 1930, a 900-gallon still at Johnson's Bayou, believed to be the largest ever seen in the South). I think, though, that R. Oakley probably had charge of the numbers rackets in Port Arthur. Bill told me he once went to see Oakley about 1928 for some reason. His office was upstairs over a store at about 300 Proctor Street, and Bill said he knocked on a door at ground level, from whence a private stairway went up to Oakley's office. Bill said some "goon" called through the door for him to identify himself and his need. When Oakley found out who he was, the guard came back down, unbolted the door, and let him in. Bill said Oakley had a coat on, but he could see the butt of a pearl-handled revolver sticking out from a shouldler holster. Four or five other men were in the room, some of them counting money, and all of them were heavily-armed. Oakley left Port Arthur later and went to New Orleans, and Bill said he lost track of him after that.
Mr. and Mrs. R. A. Rackley moved to Nederland from Port Neches about 1940, and opened a pressing or dry cleaning shop on Boston. About 1950, Rackley built a brick building at 1251 Boston that eventually housed two other businesses. "Red" Green opened a jewelry store in the middle building about 1960 and stayed in business several years until his health failed and he eventually died. A credit agency was in the other building for many years. Mr. Rackley died during the middle 1950's, but Mrs. Rackley continued in the dry cleaning trade for perhaps 18 or 20 more years. About 1972, she liquidated her pressing business and sold the building to Greg Fleming.
About 1952, Dick Rienstra built a small building on 12th Street, in back of where his furniture store was then located at 1203 Boston. The small building was partitioned and spawned two businesses which were well-known for 15 years or more. Elizabeth Thompson founded her Thompson's Florist business and built it into a flourishing enterprise. In 1973 she sold out to Greg Fleming who moved the business to his building on Boston and 13th. M. L. C. Lucke founded his insurance agency in the other half of the building shared with Thompson, and he was also involved in developing real estate. During the 1970s, Lucke sold his accounts to McNeill Insurance, after which he retired.
About 1952, Mrs. J. W. Caldwell, Sr. opened Caldwell's Sewing store in a new building next door to the Rackley building. As far back as 1920, Mr. Caldwell had been the local sales agent and repairman for Singer sewing machines. Mrs. Caldwell ran a fabric and sewing supply firm for about 25 years. Mr. Caldwell continued as a repairman until his death around 1960, and his son, J. W. Caldwell, Jr., continued in his place until his death about 1976. After her son's death, Mrs. Caldwell, Sr. gradually liquidated her sewing business about 1980.
Another business in the 1200 block of Boston was the Montgomery Ward catalog store which opened about 1960 and stayed in business at that location until about 1975. A few years later, a catalog store was opened about 1968 in the new Weingarten shopping center, and it remained there until 1983, when the new Sears store was opened in Central Mall.
In general, the 1950's were pretty good times economically, with very few families, except a few black families in Clayton Addition, in such dire need that Christmas baskets were prepared and delivered locally. Nevertheless, during the early 1950's, after McNeill Insurance moved from Boston to their new home on 12th, the Chamber of Commerce set up shop in the old McNeill Insurance building, adjacent to Jack Fortenberry's Modern Barber Shop. One of the Chamber's first projects was to back a project to prepare about 30 Christmas baskets that year to contain mostly foodstuffs, but also a few small and used toys. Certain stores and civic organizations began collecting canned goods, other groceries, toys, as well as funds, and another civic group prepared the empty "baskets" to be filled, which were actually cardboard boxes wrapped with pretty Christmas paper and ribbon bows. And each day around the middle of December, Jack Fortenberry and Albert Rienstra would stop at the door for a moment during their mid-morning jaunt down to the pharmacy for a cup of coffee. And as the ladies in the chamber office sorted and prepared the baskets, both Jack and Albert would hint around that their own "respective households were likewise in dire need," and they would appreciate it very much if old Santa would stop by on Christmas eve with a basket for them.
As told to me, it seems the ladies in the Chamber office decided to "fix both of their clocks," as well as end their teasing for all time. As work on the baskets reached high gear around the 20th of December, the ladies had a few hundred pounds of donated potatoes, yams, onions, apples, and oranges to be sorted into five-pound bags. And always there were a few rotten and decaying potatoes, apples, oranges, etc., left over and unfit for human consumption. And after all 30 baskets were completed, there were also many other 'leftovers,' string, empty burlap sacks, cardboard, toys too broken to give away for Christmas, besides the rotten produce. At that time, all the discarded material were stuffed into two prettily, gift-wrapped boxes, replete with bows, a Christmas stocking, etc., and both were placed on the Nederland fire truck for delivery along with the 30 Christmas baskets. And at the end of the run, the fire truck, with sirens screeching and its lights flashing, pulled into the driveways of Fortenberry and Rienstra, and left each of them a basket to make each household a little merrier on Christmas day. So far as I know, neither Jack nor Albert ever hinted around for a second basket.
I am not really sure which year Weldon Davis arrived in Nederland, either 1944 or 1945, because he had already opened Weldon Davis Funeral Home in the old J. H. McNeill, Sr., residence when I got back from the war in Europe. In those days, there was a radio show, a sitcom, called "Fibber McGee and Mollie," and on that show there was a comic named "Digger O'Dell," who always referred to himself as "your friendly undertaker." Within weeks, Davis was conferred with the nickname of "Digger" Davis, and he thoroughly tried to live up to the part of the radio actor, the "friendly undertaker." Utilizing another line from the radio show, he often greeted his friends on the sidewalk with how "disgustingly healthy" they looked today. I was on my way with a deposit for the bank from the old post office site at 1144 Boston when, one day in 1952, I saw Davis and a well-known business man on the sidewalk ahead of me. In a typical greeting, the business man asked Weldon if he "had done any digging" that week, and Davis replied, " Yeah, but luckily not for you, 'cause you're still looking disgustingly healthy today."
About that time, Davis held out the palms of his hands sideways in front of him, about 18 inches apart, as though he were taking a measurement, and his eyes wandered over the business man from head to toe, and the latter, growing quite inquisitive, finally asked, "Watcha doing, Digger?"
"Just eyeballing your measurements for one of my bronze tuxedos. In case I don't have one your size in stock, I'll need to order one," Davis retorted. "I know you look healthy as a horse, but after all, we're all just one heartbeat away from it, and one just never knows!"
The merchant being addressed grinned silently and sheepishly, but I don't think he found the humor as "humorous" as Weldon Davis did.
Mrs. Davis fought about a 5-year losing bout with cancer and underwent surgery often, finally succumbing in 1978. The Davis family too had prospered quite handsomely and were looking forward to retirement when Mrs. Davis got sick. They had built a funeral home in Port Neches as well, from whence they had always drawn much of their business. For years, Davis had had no competitor, and even long after Nederland Funeral Home arrived on the scene, they found it difficult to break the business stranglehold that Davis held (although that was before Pat Riley arrived). After his wife's death, Davis had no yearning to continue, being already about 70 years old, and he finally sold out to Clayton-Thompson. In December, 1979, I went by the funeral home to pay him for taking my wife to a hospital in Houston a few days earlier, and he told me then, "Block, I hope you never know what it's like to lose a mate of 50 years, and that's why I'm tired of living and I'd just as soon die!" Those were the last words I ever heard him say, and within a year, he got his wish. So far as I know, Davis' daughter did quite well for herself in Hollywood, and for two or three years back in the 1970's, she played a leading role on the old TV 'whodunit,' "Vegas."
There were a lot of other merchants in Nederland in those days, and I know that, unintentionally, I am bound to overlook some of them. The site of the Gulf (Chevron) station at Franklin and Twin City has been a Gulf location for more than sixty years. Henry O. Morrison started a Gulf station there around 1928 in an old wooden building with 10-gallon glass tanks (with the gallons marked 1 to 10) that had to be filled up with a hand pump that had to be pumped sideways. Then the tank emptied by gravity, and Gulf gas was 14 cents a gallon in 1936. East Texas gasoline could be bought at some stations for 10 cents. About 1945, Gulf Refining Co. bought the property and put in their own station there, and Morrison built a new Gulf station where Port Neches Avenue intersects Highway 366.
After Dr. B. H. Hall moved to Nederland Avenue about 1949, Mrs. Elgie Reich started a dress shop in Hall's old building at 1120 Boston. Her husband, H. J. Reich, had been one of Nederland's early electricians, and about 1945, he built Reich Electric Co. at Avenue H and Twin City. He died only a few years later, I think in 1948. Mrs. Reich converted his old shop into her residence to live in and opened her dress shop. I often wondered how she made a go of it in a building so tiny, one that had so little room to display merchandise, but she stayed on in business there for several years.
Cropo Leblanc's Barber Shop is one business that been in operation as a barber shop for 60 or 70 years at the same location, with so far as I know, only three owners. Cropo has now owned it about 30 years, and he cut hair there for many years before that. When Theriot cut hair there in the 1930's, hair cuts were only 50 cents each, but then a day's wages were not a whole lot more than that. Now hair cuts are $7.00, and if styled, much higher. In 1953, there was some new guy in Nederland, name not recalled, who had been trying to sell chain letters along Boston Avenue at $5.00 each, and he certainly had not had many takers, if any at all. He rented a box at the post office, and within a few days, he started getting 10 to 15 letters a day, and increasing in a week or so to 30 or 35 letters a day. A day or so later, John McInnis told me the chain letter peddler had come into the barber shop with 28 letters in his hand, and he sat down on the chair beside McInnis. Then the peddler proceeded to slice each letter open with his knife, take a $5.00 bill out of each envelope, and he stacked the bills one on top the other across his knee. At first, the barbers' and the customers' eyelids opened fairly wide as the first five or so $5.00 bills came out of the envelopes, but by the time the twentieth $5.00 bill was stacked on his knee, every eyeball in the place was hanging a foot or so out of its socket and the greed in everyone's heart permeated the barber shop. McInnis told me, before he left there, the peddler had sold 36 chain letters at $5.00 a piece, several buying as many as five, and the peddler ran out of letters.
That same week, L. W. English, the Beaumont postal inspector, showed up in Nederland with complaints about chain letters being mailed by four or five men who were clerks in the Pure Oil Co. refinery office. He told them he did not want to jail anyone, but that they would get only one warning, and the second offense or complaint would get them an arrest, a chance to make bond, and a jury trial. The word got around fast that same day, and thereafter the bunch in the barber shop were afraid to mail their letters. A day or two later, the chain letter peddler turned in an out-of-state forwarding address and skipped town the same day.
I liked Inspector English and had the occasion to work with him a lot, particularly during the initial establishment of city delivery mail service in 1953, which I will discuss in the next chapter. Also, I found him most difficult to figure out at times. I recall that twice he came to the Nederland post office, and wanted me to ride around with him, purportedly to help him find addresses and streets although all intersections and houses bore names and members to identify them. I'd help him find one house, and then he would tell me he had to go by some store, once at Minimax and once at Spier's Discount. On each occasion, the store had fryers on sale with a limit of three. English would give me $3.00, and I would go in and buy three fryers. And then he would follow me in and buy three more. When he opened the trunk of his car, I saw three chests of ice, and we spent the rest of the day filling up his ice chests with fryers, then checking on some street address he probably did not even need, then back to the same store for six more chickens. I remember a checkout clerk, aware that I had passed the cash register about 6 times that afternoon, asking me, "Block, what are you gonna do with all them fryers? Freeze 'em?" I was too embarrassed to say anything, but I thought to myself, "Save my job, if I can!" Once the inspector told me that his wife was doing the same thing in the Beaumont stores until they got the family freezer full. Oh, the life of a Nederland postal employee!
After the old Lookout Inn burned down, the two Freeman sisters, Inez Eastis and a Mrs. Smith, built two buildings there, one of which is still standing. Mrs. Smith built a building at 223 Twin City that, at first, was a cafe during World War II, and during the 1950's, became Roebuck's Pool Hall. At 219 Twin City, Mrs. Eastis built a concrete block building where she and her husband began Eastis package Store around 1945. Gordon Eastis had been a merchant seaman in the Pacific during the war, and he lost both of his legs below the knee, severed in a train wreck in Australia. Mr. Eastis ran the store, serving customers while rolling around in a wheel chair. He died about 1956, after which the building was converted to an ice cream parlor, which eventually became Drake's Drive-In on Nederland Avenue.
Until about 1960, Nederland had only one lawyer that I can think of, Guy Carriker. By 1956, there were five physicians, Drs. F. A. Walters and Chester St. Romaine in the Ingwersen building at 1135 Boston (later at 13th and Franklin); Drs. R. E. Moore and O. J. Richardson at 14th and Nederland Ave., both now retired; and Dr. C. R. Goodwin at 115 12th St. Four of these doctors ended up serving about 30 years of their professional careers in Nederland, where two of them still practice. Dr. Goodwin stayed in Nederland about ten years, but eventually became a physician in the V. A. hospital in Waco, where Dr. Seamons also went. The writer can recall only four dentists in Nederland in 1956, Drs. B. H. Hall and Guy Haltom at 1400 Nederland Ave. and Drs. Fred Roach and McDonald at 412 Nederland Ave. J. H. Haizlip was one of the first Nederland physicians, between 1906 and 1938. He bought the first car in Nederland in 1910, and he died following an accident when a car pinned him between the car and the post office wall, where his office was. Dr. R. J. Tribble of Warren was a Nederland physician for about ten years, until his death in 1932. Tribble's successor was Dr. J. C. Hines, who retired about 1945. Hines left Nederland, but came back five years later and bought a house on Gary in 1950, married at about age 55 after years of bachelorhood, and started a family of two children.
Certainly, one of Nederland's most successful business concerns in terms of net worth is probably the town's least conspicuous establishment, the office of the C. Doornbos Trust Co. Throughout his lifetime, Cornelius Doornbos was a prolific accumulator, but especially during the depression years when land was cheap. Yet, in March, 1941, I heard Mr. Doornbos tell Mike Herrin, an old cattle trader, in the Smith Bluff Lumber Co. office that all with him had not been peaches and cream and that in 1934 he (Doornbos) had "charged off $54,000 in one transaction in one day in Port Arthur." Like the McNeill house, I helped deliver lumber to dozens of houses that Cornelius Doornbos built on Gary, Jackson, and Kent Streets during the depression years. Before World War II, the Doornbos members pretty much worked as a family unit to produce wealth in many fields, utilizing their 1,500 heads of cattle at Sabine Pass on the two large tracts of land they owned there; baling hay, growing rice on shares on the thousands of acres of land Doornbos owned in Chambers County, financing real estate, and acquiring some very large tracts of land in Louisiana and Montana. While I know absolutely nothing about the business affairs of the trust company, I am aware that it operates principally as a large investment firm, drawing much of its income from stock dividends, land-leasing, and oil and gas royalties. Hence, I presume that much of the value of the trust company still lies underground.
I have rambled on at great length about my recollections of Nederland over a long span of years. Much of what I have written is probably not worth remembering, but I have put it down in writing anyway, particularly those paragraphs about the business houses of yesteryear for one simple reason only -- because I wager that no one else ever takes the time to record it nearly as completely as I have. I have lived through some difficult times in Nederland, particularly the depression and war years, but then so have many others perhaps less fortunate than myself. Often it was considered no mean feat by some just to keep body and soul united in one breathing container, and so far, that is until 1994, I have managed to do just that.