Lying 270 mi/435 km east of San Antonio, Beaumont (pronounced BO-mont) is a rusty old industrial town that's of little interest except for its role as a major petrochemical center and port—if you find such things interesting. If you're in town, visit the Texas Energy Museum, which documents the development of the modern petroleum industry after the Spindletop Gusher marked the discovery of the state's "black gold" (or "Texas tea") in 1901 (http://www.texasenergymuseum.org). Gladys City Boomtown, a re-creation of the clapboard town that sprang up around Spindletop, can be toured on the campus of Lamar University. http://www.spindletop.org.
If seeing oil refineries or studying their history isn't your idea of a vacation, tour a few of the city's beautiful historic buildings instead. The elegant McFaddin-Ward House is a beaux-arts mansion with a carriage house and servants quarters (http://www.mcfaddin-ward.org). The John Jay French Historic House, which includes a tannery, a cemetery, a blacksmith shop and a smokehouse, is typical of mid-1800s rural Texas houses (http://www.jjfrench.com). The Tyrrell Historical Library, in the Romanesque-Gothic building that used to be the First Baptist Church, has a collection of documents on the history of Texas.
Proximity to the border gives some of the area's small towns a definite Louisiana feel. Stop at a crab boil or go to a restaurant that serves the local specialty, barbecued shrimp. If you're in Beaumont in April, don't miss the Neches River Festival and its accompanying regatta and night parade. The city's annual arts festival, Kaleidoscope, takes place in May (http://www.kaleidoscopefestival.com). Check with the city or state tourism board—or the Internet—to see if Beaumont and the surrounding cities have recovered from Hurricane Rita by the time you arrive. Although these cities did not get the publicity that New Orleans did after Katrina, they were hit terribly hard and much was destroyed.
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