Newgulf triggers memories of my childhood growing up in Danciger, an oil-company town located rural Angelton County. As an oil patch brat, I often accompanied my dad as he visited gas production facilities in the area. Two vivid memories of New Gulf are the odor of sulfur that announced the plant’s proximity and the huge smokestacks that were visible for miles. If I was paying attention, I would spot the smokestacks long before the odor assaulted us. There is no particular architectural significance to the sulfur plant or to the smokestacks. However the smokestacks were iconic landmarks. I was delighted to see them still standing. The company housing built by Texas Gulf Sulfur is similar to the housing built by Southern Production Co. for employees and families at the plant in Danciger.
Newgulf (New Gulf) is on top of the Boling Dome, reputed to be the largest known inland deposit of sulfur in the world, in the extreme eastern corner of Wharton County between the San Bernard River and Caney Creek in the Seth Ingram league. The company-owned town was established in 1928 for the employees of the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company (now Texasgulf). While the town was under construction, a contest-open to employees only-was held to name it. The winning entry was submitted by Marie Ertz, who worked at the Houston office. Texas Gulf Sulphur’s first company town was named Gulf. About 400 houses-with one, two, or three bedrooms-were constructed and were leased to employees. The business section of Newgulf consisted of a single four-lane avenue lined with stores. At the town’s zenith it had as many as fifteen businesses, including a cafe, two dry-goods stores, two grocery stores, two pharmacies, a barbershop, a tailor and cleaning shop, a movie theater, and three garages. Texas Gulf Sulphur also built a hospital, a library, a school, a post office, and a clubhouse with a nine-hole golf course. In time the company constructed four churches – Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian – a Girl Scout and a Boy Scout clubhouse, and a guest lodge with two guest houses. The population of Newgulf peaked in 1940 at 1,586. Self-contained and semi-isolated, residents developed into a very close-knit community. Teamwork at the plant brought about camaraderie among Newgulf residents.
When Newgulf was founded, there were no paved roads in this part of the county, and the nearest town was Wharton, more than fifteen miles away. Because of the oil and sulfur discoveries, during this same period the community of Boling emerged three miles to the west. An independent school district was formed in 1928, and with cooperation from Texas Gulf Sulphur, three schools were built. Newgulf and Iago each had an elementary school, and Boling had the high school, which served all three communities. In 1959 the district established three separate campuses using these structures. All elementary students are bussed to Newgulf, and junior high students, to Iago; the high school remains in Boling. Newgulf began to decline in the late 1950s and early 1960s. By 1956 the sulfur industry was producing more sulfur than it sold, foreign sulfur prices had dipped, and Texas Gulf Sulphur had begun constructing several new plants elsewhere; this, combined with the 1957 United States recession, led to layoffs of Newgulf employees. The company began selling empty houses in 1961. New mining techniques and machinery further reduced the need for onsite employees. In 1980 and 1990 the town reported 963 residents. By 1990 only 100 houses remained at Newgulf, and the businesses and their buildings were gone, as better roads allowed Newgulf residents to shop in nearby Boling and Wharton instead. At that time the only remaining amenities in Newgulf were the clubhouse and its golf course, by then operated by the Newgulf Athletic Club members. In 1993 the Newgulf post office closed, and the remaining residents and the Texas Gulf Sulphur offices were served by a rural route from Boling. Though in 1995 a skeleton crew remained at the sulphur mine site, the town was only a shadow of its former self. The golf course was still in operation, however, as was the Newgulf elementary school, which had been absorbed into the Boling Independent School District.
REFERENCES: Merle R. Hudgins, “NEWGULF, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hln18). Published by the Texas State Historical Association; TexasEscapes.com.