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Texas | Columns | "Wandering"

From Boom Town
to Baytown

by Wanda Orton
Wanda Orton
1916 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of Baytown.

"False!" you say, noting that Goose Creek, Pelly and Baytown consolidated in 1947 and chartered in 1948 under the name of Baytown.

True enough, 1947-48 represents the most significant time frame in our municipal history, and in the next two years, 70th anniversaries are in order -- Feb. 15, 1947, for consolidation, Jan. 24, 1948, for the charter election.

So what's with the 100th anniversary?

Go back to a hot summer day a century ago in the Goose Creek oil field, where contractor Charlie Mitchell is drilling on John Gaillard's land.

Boom! Run for cover. It's a blowout from 2,017 feet below. By day's end on Aug. 23, 1916, count 10,000 barrels. The same rate continued until finally slowing to 8,000 barrels a day.

Given its past failure to launch, the sudden success of Gaillard No. 1 amazed all onlookers. The small, shallow well had been drilled many times with nary a drop to show for all of the work. To most observers, further drilling appeared to waste time and money.

And then, the big gusher. Persistence paid off.

Subsequently, overall production in the field increased as companies and wildcatters began paying attention to Goose Creek. Thousands of workers with their families crowded into the Tabbs Bay area, creating a community composed of tents, tarpaper shacks and mud streets. Gulf Oil Co. built shotgun houses in the Evergreen area, and Busch's Landing on Goose Creek Stream became a commercial center with docks and a warehouse.

This wasn't a sleepy little fishing village any more. It was Boom Town U.S.A.

Gaillard No. 1 reminds me of "The Little Engine That Could," a children's story in which a little engine kept chugging ("I think I can, I think I can") until it finally pulled a train over a mountain. Driller Charlie Mitchell kept drilling ("I think there's oil") until he finally struck black gold.

Though he drilled at Goose Creek long before Edna Ferber wrote "Giant," I can imagine Mitchell resembling a jubilant Jett Rink, drenched, and dripping in oil.

More gushers would emerge in the Goose Creek oil field, most notably the well on the Sweet 16 lease of Simms-Sinclair Co. On Aug. 4, 1917, Sweet 16 started producing 35,000 barrels a day (wow!) from 3,050 feet down.

A gas explosion in late 1916 had led families to move from the oil field (Old Town) to a safer place - either Middle Town, where the city of Pelly would be established, or New Town, the future city of Goose Creek. As construction of the Baytown Refinery of Humble Oil & Refining Co. began, another community called Baytown took shape in the vicinity of Black Duck Bay and Scott Bay.

It all started with Gaillard No.1. Until the big blowout in 1916, drillers had been hitting one dry hole after another all over the Goose Creek field and were ready to give up.

Thank goodness, Charlie Mitchell never gave up.


Wanda Orton Baytown Sun Columnist
"Wandering" July 1, 2016 columns

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