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SABINE PASS:
The Town, Battlefield and Cemetery

Jefferson County, Texas Gulf Coast
Highway 87
30 miles SE of Beaumont
13 miles from Port Arthur

Sabine Pass Area Hotels:
Beaumont Hotels

Sabine Pass Texas shrimpboat and tanker on ship channel

An outbound shrimpboat passes an incoming tanker on the Sabine River estuary which connects Sabine Lake with the Gulf of Mexico.
TE Photo March 2007

Sabine Pass, Texas Topics of Interest

  • Sabine Pass, The Town
  • Sabine Pass Historical Marker
  • Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site
  • Sabine Pass Cemetery
  • Bert Karrer-Lions Park
  • Getting There
  • Sabine Pass Chronicles

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  • Getting There

    To get to Sabine Pass, you would head south from Beaumont on Highways 89/96/ 287. After passing numerous prisons and the site of Spindletop on your right, you'll pass the Nederland exits and come to the intersection with highway 87. Take a right and drive until it intersects with highway 82. To the south you'll see the easy-to-spot MLK Bridge. Turn right here on highway 82 and this will take you into Sabine Pass. Turning left would take you to downtown Port Arthur. Long before you come to Sabine Pass, you'll start noticing torn and twisted debris with an occasional stranded boat on the horizon. As you enter Sabine Pass, you can see that a lot of debris has been removed - based on the numerous bare foundations and empty posts that once held signs.

    Bert Karrer-Lions Park
    At the main intersection, a small park is to your left (look for the old lighthouse lantern and watchroom) and the cemetery is about a quarter of a mile to the right - on the south side of the road.
    Sabine Bank Lighthouse lantern Sabine Pass Texas

    The Sabine Bank Lighthouse lantern in Bert Karrer-Lions Park. The still-functioning lens is on display in a Port Arthur Museum. TE photo, March 2007

    Sabine Bank Lighthouse Marker, Sabine Texas
    Sabine Bank Lighthouse Marker
    Click on image to enlarge text.
    TE photo, 2007
    On the way to the cemetery (also on the south side of the road) you will see the granite marker erected by the Texas Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy to commemorate Dick Dowling's lopsided defeat of the invading Union gunships in 1863.
    Dick Dowling Marker, Sabine Pass Cemetery, Texas
    Dick Dowling Marker near Sabine Pass Cemetery after a downpour
    TE photo, March 2007
    The Sabine Pass Cemetery

    The Sabine Pass Cemetery is just to the west of the town's main intersection while the battleground is several miles south.

    The cemetery, which is still in use, has a deep and wide vacant spot in the middle. Although there are no tombstones, Mr. Block informed us that an estimated 100-150 people are buried in several mass graves here - hastily dug during a Yellow Fever epidemic.

    The area abounds in wildlife and during our visit Ken Rudine, who is an avid birder, identified a large flock of white and black Egyptian Ibis that were wading in large puddles looking for food.
    Sabin Pass Cemetery Historical Marker, Texas
    TE photo
    Sabine Pass Cemetery
    According to the historical marker, the cemetery contains the remains of both Confederate and (at least two) Union soldiers as well as veterans of the War of 1812, the War for Texas Independence and the reason for our visit, the final resting place of Kate Dorman, the "heroine of Sabine Pass."

    Among the Yellow Fever victims and fallen soldiers, there also the remains of a young man who died in 1901 as a result of of shooting into a pit of unexploded ordnance left in an abandoned gun emplacement. His remains were covered and a cenotaph placed in Port Arthur's Evergreen Cemetery.

    While the cemetery isn't fenced in black iron or rich with funereal statuary, it's a memorable cemetery to visit for its typical coastal flora and fauna - and for its somber timelessness.

    Sabine Pass Cemetery - more images
    Sabine Pass Battleground State Park view of Intercoastal waterway
    Another view of the Sabine River Estuary at Battlefield Park
    TE photo, July 2003
    Shrimpboat, Sabine Pass Texas
    Rita was Here. Barnacles had time to form on this once partially submerged shrimpboat. (On the way to Sabine Pass Battlefield)
    TE photo, March 2007
    Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site

    To get to the battleground park, return to the intersection and go right on 3322. This road follows the Sabine River estuary and is plied by ships entering Port Arthur, the gas terminals and refineries or the Neches River which passes alongside downtown Beaumont. Damage from Rita is evident in many forms - including the barnacles on this shrimpboat (above).

    The battleground boat ramp and parking lot is open although most of the visitor's area (including Dick Dowling's statue) is currently surrounded by ugly flexible orange construction fencing. The status of the once-numerous historical markers is not known. The thing least affected by the storm is the grouping of WWII era ammunition bunkers.

    The road south from the Battlefield is a potholed unpaved road that eventually reaches the site of Sabine City, a ghost town that once had a railroad connection. The decommissioned Sabine Pass Lighthouse (on the Louisiana side) is visible access the marshes and the faded paint and weathered cement give it a watercolor effect. A painting of the lighthouse in better days is hanging in the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur.

    See Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site
    The old lighthouse on the Louisiana side of the channel is visible from just south of the SPBSHS. TE Photo March 2007
    If you're planning a visit to Sabine Pass, you might consider waiting awhile. Highway 87 between Sabine Pass and High Island has been shown on TxDoT maps as "temporarily" closed since 1989. Mr. Block corrected our guess that the damaging storm was Carla. Specifiaclly it was damaged in August of 1989 by a "very small" storm named Chantille, repaved shortly after and then damaged heavily by Hurricane Jerry in October of that same year.

    Our visit had the best guide imaginable and a bird expert to boot. Even in the current state, it's a drive worth taking for a picnic or ship or lighthouse-spotting.

    See what you can and try to squeeze in a visit to the first-class museum in downtown Port Arthur.

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    Editor's Note: On a beautiful Spring day after a heavy downpour, TE photographic contributor Ken Rudine and TE editor decided to visit author, historian and columnist W.T. "Cannonball" Block at his home in Nederland. Mr. Block was kind enough to guide us to the Sabine Pass Cemetery (which we had missed during our Pre-Hurricane Rita visit in 2003) so that we might get a photo of the marker erected to Kate Dorman. Mr. Block had been instrumental in having the official marker installed - as well as manually punching out aluminum plaques for many of the unmarked graves in the cemetery. The cemetery, which had been unkept for years, had a new THC marker erected recently and now receives a yearly cleaning by county workers and volunteers.

    Sabine Pass, The Town
    One of the Eight Corners of Texas

    Population: 1,500 in 1984 – now included in the Port Arthur census.
    History in a Pecan Shell

    The town dates from 1836. The town’s future as a major port once seemed very promising.

    The post office was granted in 1846 and the town was incorporated just before the Civil War. Fort Sabine and Fort Griffin were constructed nearby to prevent Union incursions into East Texas.

    Yellow fever in 1862 caused an exodus of locals, but prevented the Union Army from occupying the town. The battle of Sabine Pass in 1863 was one of the most lopsided victories of the entire war. It made a hero of Houston saloonkeeper Richard Dowling and his victory left him with a bronze statue at the battleground and a marble statue (and a street named after him) in Houston.

    Dowling’s niece, who was held in high regard by Texas society – was buried in the State Cemetery in Austin, although her father rests in Houston's St. Vincent's Cemetery.

    The 1880 population was 460 people - making Sabine Pass Jefferson County’s second city.

    The Sabine and East Texas Railroad that appeared in 1881 replaced a prewar line that had been abandoned.

    The towns limitless future was dimmed when a hurricane in 1886 destroyed the town and killed 86 residents. Storms struck again in 1900 and 1915.

    In the late 1800s, The Kountze brothers, who owned vast acreage in Jefferson County, refused to negotiate with developer Arthur Stilwell. Stilwell decided to pour his money and energy into Port Arthur instead. As Beaumont, Orange and Port Arthur grew - Sabine Pass traded its promising potential for guaranteed tranquility.

    The 1900 population was a mere 363 people.

    Port Arthur eventually annexed the town in 1978, although the town maintains an entirely separate identity.
    Historical Marker - Sabine Pass Lions Park, Sabine Pass

    City of Sabine and Sabine Pass

    The first known settlers in this area were John McGaffey and Thomas Courts, who arrived in 1832. Sam Houston assisted Manuel de los Santos Coy in acquiring a land grant here in 1833. Two years later Houston and two partners purchased Coy's property holdings. On January 19, 1839, Gen. sam Houston signed the charter that established the city of Sabine. Houston was active in promoting the sale of 2,060 town lots. The city soon flourished. Houston and his partners lost title to the town when the General Land Office determined that John McGaffey held original claim to the lands.

    The city of Sabine developed into a major port. In 1860 the State Legislature, in approving a new charter for the city, changed the name to Sabine Pass. It was the scene of a major Civil War engagement in 1863, with Confederate forces preventing a Union attempt to capture the port and gain major inroads into Texas. The Federal Harbor Act of 1882 led to construction of jetties here and development of inland ports along the Neches and Sabine rivers. By the early 20th century Sabine Pass began to decline due to hurricane damage which prevented railway maintenance.
    1886 Hurricane at Sabine Pass Texas Marker
    TE photo, March 2007
    1886 Hurricane at Sabine Pass
    Sabine Pass Texas antebellum house

    An ante-bellum house, said to be the Pass' oldest home, undergoes repair. It has weathered worse storms than Rita. TE Photo 3-2007

    Sam Houston statue





    Sam Houston makes up part of a larger sculpture in the city park.
    TE Photo, 7-2003
    Sabine Pass History
  • The Sabine Cemetery
  • 1886 Hurricane at Sabine Pass
  • Catherine Magill Dorman: Confederate Heroine of Sabine Pass by W.T. Block, Jr.
    Around Labor Day of each year, as Sabine Pass prepares to celebrate its Confederate holiday, Jefferson County citizens hear much about the 47 Irish defenders of the seaport city. Scrappy Kate Dorman is by no means as well-known as Lt. Dick Dowling, but to those Federal troops who had occasion to meet her, she left an indelible imprint on their memories... more
  • Remembering Sabine Pass by Stan Weeber, Ph.D.
    Even if people forget that Hurricane Rita made landfall near Sabine Pass, Texas in September of 2005 – and they probably will – history still provides much to remember about this small town that is the southeastern most place in the state of Texas.... more
  • Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site
  • Port Arthur Tourists Information
    The Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce
    4749 Twin City Hwy, Suite 300
    Port Arthur, TX 77642
    (409) 963-1107

    The Port Arthur Convention & Visitor's Bureau
    3401 Cultural Center Drive Port Arthur, TX 77642
    1-800-235-7822
    Website - http://www.portarthurtexas.com/
    Jefferson County Texas 1940's map
    1940s Jefferson County map showing Sabine Pass
    (Below "N" in "J-E-F-F-E-R-S-O-N")
    Courtesy Texas General Land Office
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    Sabine Pass, Texas
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    Port Arthur
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