BAYTOWN, TEXAS. Baytown, a highly industrialized city of oil refining, rubber, chemical, and carbon black plants, is on Interstate Highway 10 and State Highway 146, thirty miles east of downtown Houston in southeastern Harris and western Chambers counties. Among its first settlers were Nathaniel Lynch, who in 1822 set up a ferry crossing at the junction of the San Jacinto River with Buffalo Bayou that is still in operation, and William Scottqv, one of Stephen F. Austin‘s Old Three Hundred, who received a land grant in 1824. His two leagues and one labor of land, over 9,000 acres, covered most of the area of present Baytown. Near his home on San Jacinto (Scott’s) Bay, a settlement grew to include a small store and a sawmill. It was called Bay Town.
Later area settlers included Ashbel Smith, who in 1847 purchased a plantation named Evergreen on Tabbs Bay. He lived there for forty-nine years. Also living in the area for a time were Mrs. Anson (Mary Smith McCrory) Jones, David G. Burnet, and Sam Houston.qqv At the outbreak of the Civil War Smith organized a local unit called the Bayland Guards for Confederate service. They later became part of the Second Texas Regiment and saw action at Shiloh and Vicksburg.
A shipyard established at the mouth of Goose Creek in the early 1850s by John and Thomas S. Chubb built one ship, the Bagdad, which was launched in 1864 and had to run a Yankee blockade at Galveston to escape. In 1867 Dr. Smith and several associates founded the Bayland Orphans’ Home for Children of Confederate soldiers (see BAYLAND ORPHANS’ HOME FOR BOYS) on the west side of Goose Creek. The orphanage moved into Houston in 1888.
The area, though, remained largely undeveloped and isolated into the twentieth century. A rough county road ran from Crosby to Cedar Bayou, a small community of stores, shipyards, and brickyards. The only other entry into the area was by boat. Then, in 1908, after two unsuccessful drilling attempts, an oil strike was made beside Tabbs Bay. In 1916 the Goose Creek oilfield became famous as the first offshore drilling operation in Texas (second in the nation) and the third-largest producing field, after the Humble and Sour Lake oilfields.qqv
The towns of Pelly and Goose Creek developed near the oilfield in 1917–18. In 1917 Ross S. Sterling and his associates decided to build a refinery near the Goose Creek field and founded the Humble Oil and Refining Company (Exxon Company, U.S.A.qv). They bought some 2,200 acres in the William Scott survey and called their site Baytown. Construction began in the fall of 1919.
Baytown grew up around the refinery. At first the community was only a collection of army tents, barracks, and small shacks; it became permanent in 1923 when Humble laid out streets, provided utilities, sold lots, and even furnished financing for employees’ homes. Humble also furnished housing for its supervisors and skilled employees in a special “company addition” and built a large community building for their recreational needs. A special management-labor Joint Conference was formed to handle work-related problems. Later, this group also discussed municipal problems and became, in effect, the city council for the community. These and other employee-relations programs were initiated to reduce labor problems like those that had occurred in the Texas-Louisiana oilfield strike of 1917. Leading up to that incident, management policies, inflation, and poor working conditions had brought about the organization of a union local in Goose Creek in December 1916. When the oil producers refused to discuss grievances with union representatives in October 1917, 2,000 Goose Creek workers joined approximately 10,000 oilfield workers in seventeen Texas and Louisiana oilfields in a walkout on November 1, 1917. With hired guards and army troops maintaining order, the producers negotiated directly with the Department of Labor in January 1918 and effected a settlement that rejected all significant union demands. This near total victory for the producers undermined union effectiveness for several years. In the late 1930s and early 1940s the Congress of Industrial Organizations made several attempts to represent Humble employees instead of the Joint Conference, and later the Baytown Employees Federation attempted to organize, but each time Humble employees voted for the company union by large margins.
Due to this pervasive paternalism of Humble, the community of Baytown never incorporated, and this enabled Pelly to annex the “contiguous and unincorporated” territory of Baytown in December 1945. But, when Pelly and Goose Creek voted to consolidate in early 1947, the citizens selected the name Baytown for their new combined city. On January 24, 1948, the city of Baytown was established.
Baytown grew in population from 20,958 in 1948 to 67,117 in 1990 and in area from 7½ square miles to more than thirty-two. Its boundaries stretch from near the San Jacinto River eastward into Chambers County and include several former communities such as Cedar Bayou and Wooster.
Exxon, still a major employer, runs one of more than ten major petrochemical plants now in the Baytown area. In 1970 United States Steel opened the Texas Works near Baytown, and during its peak years the plant employed more than 2,000 workers with an annual payroll of $35 million. Due to the nation’s economic downturn and the decline of American steel in the early 1980s, the plant closed in July 1986.
In 1992 Baytown had twenty-three public schools, Lee College (a two-year community college), sixty-seven churches, seven banks, two savings and loan associations, three credit unions, three modern hospitals, a daily newspaper, a radio station, cable television, and a large public library. One of the nation’s largest single-level shopping malls houses major retailers and employs nearly 2,000. The city is served by two railroads and an interstate highway. In September 1953 the Baytown-La Porte Tunnel, which crossed the Houston Ship Channel, opened for traffic. In the mid-1990s the innovative eight-lane, 450-foot, twin-tower, cable-stayed Fred Hartman Bridge replaced the forty-year-old tunnel. In 2000 Baytown had 66,430 residents and 2,565 businesses.
Anne Rebecca Daniels, Baytown during the Depression, 1929–1933 (M.A. thesis, Lamar University, 1981; Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1983). Margaret Swett Henson, History of Baytown (Baytown, Texas: Bay Area Heritage Society, 1986). Henrietta M. Larson and Kenneth Wiggins Porter, History of Humble Oil and Refining Company (New York: Harper, 1959). Walter Rundell, Jr., Early Texas Oil: A Photographic History, 1866–1936 (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1977). Buck A. Young, “A Remembered Utopia,” East Texas Historical Journal 20 (1982).
Buck A. Young