As I sit here at the museum and listen to the constant assault of road noise coming from Interstate-10 I am reminded that just a short 67 years ago I would have been enveloped by the soothing sounds of nature. There was no road connecting east and west Chambers County at Wallisville, if you wanted to travel to Houston, you would drive to Liberty and travel via Hwy-90 (then called the Beaumont-Houston Highway) to Houston or take a rope ferry across to Old River and then by road to Houston.
The first work towards the designation of a highway from Port Arthur to Houston started in the year 1931 with the argument being made that the road would traverse a part of the fastest growing area of Texas and link the major oil refineries of the coastal area. It would also be a vital military highway in time of war. Although the delegations received reasonable assurance the road would be built, the project was deferred until funds were available and plans were further stalled due to WW II.
The original proposed route for the Port Arthur-Houston Highway, also referred to as the shortline, was from Port Arthur to Winnie, to Stowell, to Anahuac, then was to cross just north of Anahuac at the established Turtle Bayou crossing, over to Lawrence Island and across to Hugo Point, continuing from there to Goose Creek. The alternate route was to extend farther north of Anahuac to Wallisville and then cross over to Cove. The road would then extend south hugging the Trinity River all the way to Goose Creek. However, not everyone was in favor of this route.
Kendon Clark in his book Diamond in the Rough, a History of Cove, Texas, states, “…petitions under the date of February 1, were forthcoming in opposition to the plan. Those opposed to the building of a road along the proposed location stated that the road was in “low marshy land all the way,” that it would be “subject to complete destruction by hurricanes,” and that its upkeep would be too expensive. These citizens preferred a road be built farther up the river between Cove and Wallisville.”
The folks living in the county seat of Anahuac were okay with either of the original proposed routes, but you can imagine their outrage when plans changed, and the new route would bypass their hometown area completely.
NOV 1958, ANAHUAC, TEXAS, Photo Courtesy of the Texas Highway Dept.
The new proposed and approved route, that we are familiar with today, travels from Port Arthur to four miles north of central Winnie, then to Hankamer and on to Wallisville crossing over to Cove. The originally planned route to Goose Creek was also scrapped for a more direct route to downtown Houston.
Oh, what a difference a road can make. Can you visualize what Anahuac would look like today if the original proposed route had been completed?
In June of 1941, the Texas Highway Department in Austin submitted an application to the War Department’s United States Engineer Office in Galveston for approval for a bridge to be constructed over the Trinity River about a mile west of Wallisville. The bridge would be 2,242 total feet in length with clearance being provided for navigation. The bridge had a completed height of 73 feet to accommodate river travel on the Trinity, for at that time the dream of making the Trinity a barge canal was still very much alive.
Although the application for the construction of the Trinity River Bridge at Wallisville was approved in 1941 completion was not realized until 1955.
We learn from a March 1948 interview between Chester Rogers, of the Houston Chronicle, and Mrs. Olga C. Joseph of Cove, TX. of a previous road across the river. She states, “The highway across the bottoms and the ferry as well, were wiped out by the 1915 storm. The same storm caused a big flood on the Trinity and the flood waters cut a new channel on the east side of the river bottoms. It is odd, but right now there is a dredge working back of my house, building a new road embankment across the river bottoms to support the four-lane Houston-Port Arthur Highway."
That dredge would have been the Vicksburg, which was replaced in June by the mammoth Dredge Port Arthur, whose job was to dredge out a fill and grade for the new Houston-Port Arthur Road.
A sad side note ~ the oyster reef that ran from Rollover Pass to the Vingt-et-un Islands and gave Smith Point a natural protection from storms, was removed and the large live oysters were used as the bedrock for I-10.
The dedication ceremony of the long-awaited $3,121,000 Trinity River Bridge, which connected the western and eastern areas of Chambers County, took place at Mayes Island, 66 years ago, on July 9, 1955, with 2500 in attendance. Many dignitaries officiated at the dedication including Chambers County locals: Judge Floyd Williams, Chambers County Judge; J. B. Wooldridge, Chambers County District and County Clerk; and Judge Guy Cade Jackson, Jr., pioneer booster for the shortline bridge project.
Anahuac, Texas, which would have been a bustling metropolis today had the original proposed highway been built, remains a quiet country town nestled six short miles south of the busy interstate highway. A town steeped in rich Texas history and the charm of southern country values. They still greet their neighbors and bake a cake for the newcomers. They rejoice with you when you are blessed, cry with you in your times of sorrow, and meet your needs when you fall on hard times. Some may see the bypassing of Anahuac as the town’s loss, but was it really??