The Fire Museum in Beaumont, Texas.
January 3 – January 24, 2020
I had planned a lazy trip down the Gulf Coast beach hopping, soaking up the sun, and stalking wildlife with a camera and binoculars. But my museum eye started wandering slightly inland and we took a few breaks from the sand and surf to learn some new things and expand our minds.
A cluster of cities in southeast Texas including Beaumont, Nederland, and Port Authur first caught my attention. My map showed lots of museums, many of them free. Later, after getting further down the coast than we expected we ended up backtracking just to visit some museums in Houston. And as we left our final campsite on the water and headed west we made one more museum stop in Corpus Christi.
Fire Museum of Texas
The Fire Museum of Texas is housed in the historic 1927 Central Fire Station for the Beaumont Fire Department. It exhibits fire-fighting apparatus, equipment, uniforms, fire trucks, and photographs from the mid-1800s to the present day.
I think this was one of my favorite museums we visited in the Beaumont, TX area. Who doesn’t love big ol’ red fire engines?
The world’s largest working fire hydrant outside the Fire Museum.
This 4-cylinder 65 horsepower American LaFrance tractor truck was added to a 1909 American LaFrance two horse-hitch aerial ladder wagon in 1923. The original ladder wagon was pulled by horses who would jump to attention and trot into place in front of the wagon without being led when the alarm sounded. Harnesses would drop down from the ceiling and firemen would hook them up. The driver would ring a bell to keep the horses moving. The faster he rang the faster they went.
1923 fire truck.
Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum
Adults – $5
Seniors – 60+ $3
Children Ages – 6-12 $2
Children 5 & younger – Free
On January 10, 1901, the Lucas Gusher oil well came in on Spindletop Hill south of Beaumont, Texas. After learning about how this event affected the city and firefighting at the Fire Museum we decided we needed to learn more and headed to the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum. This museum consisted of 15 buildings re-creating the boomtown, Gladys City, that grew around the gusher.
You can explore inside most of these buildings. Exhibits include a barbershop, a saloon, post office, dry goods store, general store, hotel, print shop, photography shop, and drug store.
Haircuts and teeth pulling.
I love these old postcards showing what the oil fields looked like at the turn of the century. A bit different from today.
Oil drilling tools.
Art Museum of Southeast Texas
The Art Museum of Southeast Texas is a nice little museum promoting artists from the region.
Greg contemplates some modern art.
Who doesn’t love electricity? We were surprised that there was an Edison Museum. It was free so we had to check it out.
The museum is housed in the historic Travis Street Substation building. The station was built in 1929 by Gulf States Utilities Company and brought access to dependable power to industry, farms, and homes in southeast Texas. The museum is the only facility of its kind west of the Mississippi River.
Inside we learned about Edison’s inventions, including light bulbs, the phonograph, the motion picture projector, and concrete houses. Yeah – Edison built concrete houses. A few of these still stand in New Jersey – perhaps we will have to go.
La Maison Acadienne Museum
Just south of Beaumont we traveled to Nederland, TX to visit the La Maison Acadienne Museum. This museum pays tribute to the many French people who came from South Louisiana after Nederland was settled.
Replica of a traditional South Louisiana Arcadian house.
Inside we met a wonderful volunteer who gave us a tour of the rooms and explained how the Arcadians lived.
Dutch Windmill Museum
And then we walked right next door from the La Maison Acadienne to the Dutch Windmill Museum. This museum houses turn of the century (1900) artifacts brought from Holland by the original dutch settlers of Nederland, Texas. It also pays tribute to native son, W.F. (Buddy) Davis who although contracting polio as a child went on to win an Olympic Gold Medal in 1952, and to one time Nederland resident and country music star Tex Ritter.
The Dutch Windmill Museum. You can see La Maison Acadienne right behind it.
Tex Ritter display at the museum.
Port Authur, Texas
Museum of the Gulf Coast
Adults – $8
Senior Citizens (62+) – $6
College Students w/valid ID – $4
Children 4-18 – $3
Children 0-3 – FREE
Of course, by now we wanted to know even more about this part of Southeast Texas so we zipped on down to Port Authur to visit the Museum of the Gulf Coast. This was the biggest museum we visited encompassing two floors. The first floor tells the history of the region beginning with ancient geology and includes exhibits on Native Americans, the Civil War, the petroleum industry, and the maritime history of the region. The second floor is dedicated to the many famous musicians, artists, and athletes from the Gulf Coast region.
Display of an oil refinery’s architecture. Crude oil is heated to different boiling points, separating it into fuels, lubricants, and the more exotic petrochemicals we use on a daily basis.
Antique diving pump.
Janis Joplin’s car, a 1965 Porsche 356 Cabriolet.
A whole room was dedicated to the artist Robert Rauschenberg. Here I am refected in one of the series “Star Quarters, I-IV”, a silkscreen on mirrored Plexiglass.
Buffalo Soldiers National Museum
Adults – $10
Students/Seniors 62+ and Military W/ID – $5.00
Children 5 & younger – Free
Free on Thursdays!
I only had one museum on my radar for Houston until I picked up a brochure about Houston’s museum district. This district includes 19 museums in “4 walkable zones.” Many of these museums are free and several have one free day a week. Once I saw the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum listed in the brochure we decided we needed to go. If you have been following along since this past fall you know we are on a bit of Black History journey. I was also kind of amazed that despite all the time we have spent out west that we have learned very little about the iconic Buffalo Soldiers.
The museum is housed in the Houston Light Guard Armory, constructed in 1925.
Inside we watched a short film and saw many displays about African Americans in the armed forces from the revolutionary war to the present. In 1866 six all African American Army units established in 1866 through an act of congress. Native Americans nicknamed these men Buffalo Soldiers – some say because of their dark curly hair resembled a buffalo mane or because they fought fiercely like buffalo.
Mardi Gras Indian costume. Mardi Gras Indians honor the long history of aid and mutual respect between American Indians and African Americans.
Detail of the Buffalo Soldier Mardi Gras costume. All those beads!
Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden
On our walk to our next museum from the Buffalo Soldier Museum, we stumbled into the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden where we found works by Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Auguste Rodin, and others.
Two by Rodin, “The Walking Man” (foreground) and “Spirit of Eternal Repose” (background).
“Cloud Column,” by Anish Kapoor.
On the right is “Decanter”, by Frank Stella. In the background on the far left is a work by Joan Miro called “Bird (Oiseau).”
Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
After we left the sculpture garden we found a different kind of art at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston.
The building that houses the museum is a work of art in itself designed by award-winning architect Gunnar Birkerts.
Inside we found many video and film pieces like this piece shown on 4 giant screens by Garrett Bradey titled American Rhapsody.
Art Car Museum
Before I picked up the brochure about the Houston Museum District, the Art Car Museum was my only intended destination in the city. Located outside the 4 “zones” we got back in Ballena Blanca and drove to this one.
Printed on the back of this car is a little good eating advice, “Rest after every meal even if your parents are dead.”
Here we are looking from the rear at Swamp Mutha by Ann Harithas. The museum was also hosting its 14th Annual Open Call Exhibition: LANDSCAPE. This free, un-juried exhibition was open to the first 100 artists to register. Each of the art cars showcased in the museum during this exhibit was also included in the landscape theme.
Houston has an annual art car parade that attracts over 250 art cars from all over North America and an audience of 300,000 spectators.
In one room of the museum was a video loop with short clips of other art cars and their owners from around the country. We sat and watched for maybe 20 minutes and never got through the loop.
Corpus Christi, Texas
Texas Surf Museum
As west left the Gulf Coast we made one last museum stop at the Texas Surf Museum in Corpus Christi.
It seems a bit surprising to find a surf museum in the land that conjures up images of cowboys, oil rigs, and desert but apparently the Gulf Coast has a thriving surf community.
Entrance to the Surf Museum with Woodie station wagon sculpture.
Boards from famous surfers. In addition to surfboards and the history of surfing the museum also had an exhibit on loan from the California Surf Museum about surfing on China Beach during the Vietnam war.
Tools to make and shape your own board.
Outside the Surf Museum was the South Texas Music Walk of Fame. Starting with 6 stars in 2004, the walk currently has 93 names.
Corpus Christi Seawall
After the Surf Museum, we took a stroll down the Corpus Christi Seawall. Although it’s not a museum, we did learn a few things.
This seawall is a designated Texas Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Completed in 1941, the seawall has not only helped to protect the city from hurricanes but has served as an amphitheater to the sea.
Eight white octagonal-shaped miradors were added to the seawall in the 1990s.
View from a mirador.
In 2009, Voyage, a scale model of our solar system was added to the seawall. As you wall along you can visit the planets and see their relative size and distance from the sun.
The Mirador de la Flor is a monument along the seawall dedicated to Corpus Christi Tejano singer Selena Quintanilla who died in 1995 at the age of 23. There is also a Selena museum located in Corpus Christi.
At the end of our walk along the seawall, we looked across the entrance of the Tule Lake Channel to see the WWII aircraft carrier, the USS Lexington. Tours are offered of the boat but it was time for us to turn around and head off to a new adventure.
Do you like to go to museums? What the most interesting museum you’ve visited? Tell us about it in the comments. We’d love to read any comment you have about this post! If you have a WordPress account, you can press the “like” button below and let us know you enjoyed our museum tour down the Gulf Coast of Texas.