A few things come to mind when I look back on growing up in Port Arthur in the 70s and early 80s. For example, I remember walking to school across Pioneer Park and past the fireman’s training facility. The latter is particularly noteworthy because my father was a firefighter. I recall him telling me of the time he climbed the big blue water tower next door to the training facility. He made it halfway up before the ladder curved backward. I’m sure he felt as if he were climbing monkey bars 100 feet up. He descended back to the ground—I have no doubt that was the last time he ventured upward. And I don’t blame him. His lack of appreciation for heights runs in the family.
Pioneer Park was a nice place to visit, but I always enjoyed our trips to Rose Hill Park, which is located on Woodworth Boulevard and Proctor/Procter Street (I still don’t know how to spell Proctor since the spelling is different depending on which avenue you’re on). I remember climbing “the Rocket,” which was three tiers of awesome. When I was eight, it was the ultimate rocket ship in which to blast into space.
I always thought it a treat to walk through Alston’s Nursery on Ninth Avenue (earlier residents may remember this as Eagleson’s Nursery) while my dad was picking out Better Boy tomatoes to plant in our clay- and shell-filled soil-garden. All jokes aside, they did grow! Having said that however, it must have been due to the rabbit poo. (For a time we also had a rabbit.)
Thinking back, I can remember that we spent many days on Ninth Avenue, especially Saturdays. Saturday was grocery shopping day and that meant Howard’s! For many residents, Howard’s was the all-stop shop. It even had a great eatery called J.P.O.T.S. (or Just Part of the Store). I think most will remember Howard’s for its covered parking lot. How many grocery stores have you been to that have a covered parking lot? Thank you, Howard Hatfield!
Living on 20th Street (how many people know where 20th Street is without looking at a map?) meant coexisting with the ever-present trains, but we spent much of our time going up and down the tracks. Whether it was picking blackberries, walking to the train bridge, or sliding down the large pile of limestone on a plastic baby pool that someone had left at the old Sears warehouse, these are good memories indeed.
Probably one of my fondest memories of this creosote-smelling railway line was the adjoining bike trail located at the back of St. Mary’s Hospital. One could spend hours riding up and down this ditch, which had a large pipe and a cement wall that looked out of place, but we didn’t care—we were doing good to not run over a snake or two. Years later I would discover that this was part of where the Interurban ran between 1913 and 1932. I’m still uncertain if the cement wall and its railing were part of the Interurban, or possibly a leftover from an old KCS track. Time and more digging will tell.
Speaking of the Interurban, in the same way as we would roam the tracks on foot, so we would ride our bikes under the high lines. Most people will know the huge electrical poles that start at the big blue water tower located at St. Mary’s Hospital and run behind (what was then) Weingarten’s on 25th North, cross Ninth Avenue, and eventually end near Gladys City, Spindletop, in Beaumont. This was the route the Interurban took so many years ago. Not too many people know this.
I just mentioned Weingarten’s. One of our most frequent stops was at a store called T.G. & Y., located in the Weingarten-owned Village Shopping Center. In fact, it was a daily stop for us—that is, unless we weren’t at Ace Hobby Shop a block away, looking at model kits of all sorts, or at the Tropical Fish Store a few streets down.
As for going to a movie theater, I vaguely remember going to the Don Drive-In once or twice. I do not recall what we saw, but I still remember the place every time I pass its location. Mostly, we frequented the Village (on 16th Street and Gulfway Drive), the Port (Ninth Avenue), or the Park Plaza (36th Street).
Many of you will have similar memories of your SETX town. These memories are a part of us all and should be shared. Please feel free to comment here or on our Facebook page. We always look forward to your input.