Most people who have grown up in the mid and south Jefferson County have heard at least one version of the legend of Sarah Jane and the lowly road that it’s attached to. I remember riding the darkened road myself many times in the 1980s. I even fished from the bridge during a dark and foggy night. So, what did I see? (He paused to entice the reader before modestly stating that the author saw nothing of substance.) We will however delve into that a bit later.
So who was Sarah Jane, and what are the legends surrounding this ghost road? In one version, on a moonlit night, you may see her ghostly apparition searching the marsh and thicket for her baby who drowned in the murky waters of the Neches River.
Other versions include Sarah Jane as a lady pirate (or Lafitte’s girlfriend). In a further account, she was attacked by a group of bandits, so she placed her child in some weeds near the bridge. When it was safe, she returned for the child—but it was gone. It somehow got into the canal and disappeared.
The story I know is as follows: Sarah Jane was crossing the bridge of the canal when she accidently dropped her baby in the water. Try as she did, she could not save her child, and it drowned. Distraught about losing her child, Sarah Jane hung herself from a huge oak tree further up the road from the bridge.
There are many renditions of this story, but whichever version I read, I inevitably uncover a big problem with the historical accuracy. I am not saying that something isn’t afoot along the Neches—I just don’t think it was with Sarah Jane. Union soldiers were never in Grigsby’s Bluff (Port Neches), which another version implies. In this report, Sarah Jane hears there are Union soldiers making their way toward her cabin, so she puts her baby in a wicker basket under a wooden bridge before fleeing the area. Later, when she returns, the basket and the baby are gone. (Please note that this area, in the past, present, and future has been, is, and will be known to have alligators frequenting its waterways. To put anything remotely fleshy in a waterway is therefore not advisable.)
In an article by Carl Cunningham Jr. in the Mid County Chronicle dated October 28, 1998, the author asserts in an interview with W. T. Block (whose family owned a lot of the land in this area) that a reporter from the Port Arthur News made the connection to his mother’s name (Sarah Jane Block) and the dark spooky road, and so the legend began.
As I said, I spent many a night on both the road and the bridge but never saw anything of substance—except for one night. Three friends and I had decided to drive down Sarah Jane Road to see what we could see, or at least scare the hell out of the couple making out on the parked motorcycle we encountered while driving with the headlights off. (Thank you, Bryan, for warning them of our impending appearance with your rendition and re-enactment of the laugh from the movie “Gremlins.”)
Just before our encounter with the Harley lovebirds, I looked into the trees and noticed a faint ball of light shooting across the tree line. I immediately asked another friend Hector if he’d seen it.
“Uh yeah,” he had said nervously.
Replaying the scene in my mind, I do not think the light in question was of a paranormal nature. But I cannot figure out what it actually was. Possibly a type of swamp gas that most hauntings are blamed on. It could have been, but we did not investigate further. I will also add that there was no alcohol involved on this day on my part or any of the others.
In the following weeks, a few friends (including Hector) also took a ride to the bridge. This time, my friend Hector decided to be belligerent toward whatever could be lurking in the darkness. At about this same moment, the fog began to roll in swiftly. Disheartened and a touch spooked by the sudden appearance of the fog, Hector returned to the safety of the car, and they quickly retreated. As they drove away, the storyteller told me that the fog seemed to keep up with them. (Note: The storyteller had not partaken of any alcohol, but I can neither confirm nor deny Hector’s involvement with the beverage that night. I will say however that this was the last time Hector was aggressive toward a ghostly legend.)
For me, the question of whether or not Sarah Jane haunts the lowly road between Groves and Port Neches is still unanswered, but with this area’s history, there are other possible players in the saga. North of the road, there were six Indian burial mounds, all standing 20 ft high, 60 ft wide, and 100 yards long. (Note: All the mounds were destroyed by the year 1900 for various reasons.) Indians have a rich history in this area and their set of own legends to boot.
(See Legend of Kisselpoo.)
Therefore, in closing, if one ever finds oneself traveling down the dark and winding Sarah Jane Road, I would refrain from yelling out profanities because you never know who or what might be listening.