Arthur E. Stilwell in 1895 began looking at the Sabine Pass area to determine if a port could be built. The port would be connected to the Kansas City Railroad that was under construction. After an engineer’s report showed that an inland canal would be better, because of hurricanes, and the fact that most of the Sabine Pass land was owned by two New York Bankers, Stilwell settled on a piece of land near Taylors Bayou.
In 1896 Proctor Street was a dirt road defined by two plowed ditches. Housing was tents and mosquitoes made life miserable. Over the next few years the three story Sabine Hotel was built along with a 2000 ft. pleasure pier. Other entertainment included bars, bowling alley, shooting galleries and a landing for sailboats. A Natatorium where patrons could swim, indoors, in a pool filled with water from an artesian well also existed. Gambling and other adult entertainment venues were also available during those and following years.
There were all kinds of legal battles that slowed the building of the canal. These raged between Sabine Pass interests and the Port Arthur Channel and Dock Company. These came to a head on Saturday morning March 19, 1899. On that day George Craig, manager of the PA Channel and Dock Company, noticed a government launch approaching the Sabine Hotel landing. Suspecting that another injunction against the canal was about to be delivered, Mr. Craig told Robert Gillham, the representative for the PA Channel and Dock Company, to leave town. He did.
Then Mr. Charles Quinn, government engineer, landed Mr. Craig met him and took him to the hotel where he plied him with cigars and drink. After a few hours Mr. Quinn served the injunction on Mr. Craig which stated that all work on the canal must cease. Thinking his job was done, Mr. Quinn left town. Immediately Mr. Craig went to each dredge crew and promised them $200.00, in gold, if they finished the canal by dawn. They did.
When Mr. Quinn learned of this he returned to inquire why the injunction had not been followed. Mr. Craig replied, “Charlie, I have no connection with Port Arthur Channel and Dock Company. You delivered the injunction to the wrong person.”
On march 25 – 5000 people celebrated the completion of the channel. On August 13, 1899, the British freighter St. Oswald steamed through the canal marking the real beginning of the Port Arthur as a deep water port.
In 1899 the organization that would eventually become the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce held its first annual banquet.
For the next 110 years, with the oil industry, channel and the rail line being a prime attractant for industry, the chamber would be the driving force in economic development. We still work with the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation, Lamar State College, the Regional Economic Development initiative and the Southeast Texas Economic Development Corporation to ensure that Port Arthur is a pro-business city that welcomes industry and the businesses generated by that industry.
All of these economic partners could not be successful without the ship channel and the Port of Port Arthur. Now our Port need our help. On May 7, 2016 there will be a Proposition on the ballot to allow the Port of Port Arthur to increase their property tax rate by approximately one cent per one hundred dollars. This money will allow the port to add docks, rail and new facilities needed to meet the needs of their existing and new shipping clients. If approved the new tax rate will result in a property valued at $100,000.00 paying an increase of $10.00 per year in taxes.
On March 18th the Executive Committee of the Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce voted to strongly support the passage of this, much needed, bond issue scheduled for May 7, 2016. The Executive Committee’s vote was ratified by the full Board of Directors by e-mail on March 22, 2016. Our support hinges on the increase remaining at 1 cent per one hundred dollars of property tax value. We encourage all of our members and citizens of Port Arthur to support our biggest economic development tool by voting Yes on this proposition.