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And Now You Know: Lutcher Stark promotes new road, plans new town

Mike Louviere
And Now You Know

The first successful oil well was drilled in Orange County in 1913. That was the beginning of over 100 years of oil production in the county. The first major oil field was located in what is today, Orangefield. The first boom in the Orange Oil Field ended in 1927. The search for oil continued and in 1929 the second field was discovered in the marsh south and west of the Orange field.

The first man to drill in the field was Pat O’Burns. When O’Burns decided to give the field a name, he chose “Bessie Heights”, named after his niece, Bessie.

The first successful well was the Khun No. 1 drilled in 1929 to a depth of 3175 feet and producing 1,000 barrels of pipeline oil per day. Drilling on the Khun well had started in late March. Texaco, Gulf and Shell ran tests and discovered oil on the flanks of the dome. They thought that oil could be found as deep as 75,000 feet. Texaco made plans to start drilling three wells at once.

The field was unusual in that it was almost wholly located in a marsh. The only way to get equipment, supplies, and men to the area was by barge down a canal cut off of the Neches River. There was no road.

In May 1929, H.J. Lutcher Stark made an address to the Orange Rotary Club about the benefits of a hard surface road to the oil field and the benefits it would bring to the businesses of Orange. He urged the Orange County Commissioners to move with all haste to find funding for a hard surface road to the field.

Five months earlier in another address to the Rotary Club he had stated that another two or three fields could be discovered in and around Orange County in a short time. He went on to say that he thought that at least six new wells would be drilled in the county in the next three months.

“I don’t want to hear this new field called the Port Neches field or any other misleading name. The field is in Orange County at Bessie Heights and should be referred to as the Bessie Heights Field,” said Stark.

Stark pointed out that at the present time the only way to reach the field was by means of the canal off of the Neches River. The businessmen of Port Neches could reach the field by ferry through the canal, but if Orange County would build a road to the field, then others would have a difficult time getting a permit to operate a ferry through the canal, which is built through private property.

He said it would be futile to build and try to maintain an unsurfaced road since the land is so low and “marshy.”

Stark stated the commissioners court appeared to be unanimously in favor of building the road, provided funding could be found. He said only 6600 feet of right of way, 60 feet wide would be needed for the road and that he and his father would donate any of their land needed for the right of way.

It was his belief that the Southern Pacific Railroad planned to extend the switch line that now terminated at Orangefield to the new field, a distance of about five miles.

Engineers of the Stark interests had begun to lay out plans for a new town to be named Bessie Heights and located next to the new oil field. The town would be laid out with 300-foot blocks and wide streets. The site was said to be well drained and an application had already been made to the postal department for a post office with the same name as the town. The present canal would be extended to reach the townsite so that equipment and supplies could be brought into the town until the new road was constructed.

Seven applications for businesses in the new town had been made before the official announcement of the new town had been made. The official announcement of the new town was made the day after Stark’s address to the Rotary Club.

There were plans to remove a number of portable homes from their location in the area northwest of Orange. They would be relocated to the new town. The relocation would have to be done by barge, according to Dave Nelson who would be in charge of the project for the Stark interests.

The Orange County Commissioners took quick action and voted to issue warrants to pay for the construction of the hard surface road to Bessie Heights. The commissioners agreed with Stark and Orange businessmen, that without the road, business at Bessie Heights would likely go to Port Neches or Beaumont.

In his address to the Rotarians, Stark had stated that if Orange did not take advantage of the opportunity to build up new trade territory, then the businessmen of Orange did not deserve any sympathy if the opportunity was lost to them.

Evidently all concerned with the issue agreed with Stark, the road was built.

“And now you know.”