Sometimes it’s the smaller towns that bring the greatest rewards, and Beaumont, Texas is that kind of town: A proud city filled with a cadre of creative people, a historic hamlet that celebrates its roots, a community that opens its arms to everyone.
Beaumont: Three homesteads steeped in history
Beaumont pioneers have their own voice, and you can find them inside several of the majestic homesteads: McFaddin-Ward House, the Chambers House, and the John Jay French family home. As the town grew, so did the community’s crown jewels, the Jefferson Theatre and St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica.
And then, a tribute to those that fought hard in keeping the buildings safe, the Fire Museum of Texas.
The crown jewel of Beaumont’s historic community, the McFaddin-Ward House boasts a stunning Beaux-Arts Colonial design. Built from 1905 to 1906, the estate fills an entire city block, and every minute detail of the three-story beauty shares a day in the life of the McFaddin-Ward family.
Each room had its own Western Electric Interphone that kept the family of five in touch at all times. The wedding veil design is repeated throughout the home’s exterior while the interior features original furniture and personal collections. Guided tours share family stories, and their favorite past times with vinyl records and card tables prominently displayed.
Take note of the hand-painted floral designs on the parlor walls. Pencil erasers were used to remove the film that often forms on wallpaper and canvas art.
The estate owns several personal collections highlighted in exhibits throughout the year, from ceramics to vintage purses and jewelry. All thanks to Mamie McFaddin-Ward and her insight to create a foundation to preserve her beloved house before she died in 1982.
Built in 1906 by a local lumberman, the house was sold to C. Homer and Edith Fuller Chambers in 1914. The couple raised two daughters, Ruth, 11 years old, and Florence, 16 months old. Both sisters never married and continued to live in the house after their parents passed away.
The Chambers House Museum is owned and managed by the Beaumont Heritage Society, appreciative that the sisters changed very little and rarely threw anything away. The home offers a glimpse into the lifestyle of an upper-middle-class family of that period.
Original furnishings and clothing share the captivating story of sisters Ruth and Florence Chambers focused on the years between 1920 and 1945: Everything from Christmas ornaments, cards, toys, bank statements, dress patterns and clothing, bring to light their daily routines and travel excursions.
The girls maintained a meager lifestyle and were savvy investors, mainly in stocks, growing their somewhat modest family inheritance into a sizable fortune. In the back of the estate is a guesthouse built by Homer Chambers who once owned the Chambers Hardware store. The Heritage Society fashioned the interior to resemble the early 20th-century store.
John Jay French House Museum
One of the oldest surviving houses in Beaumont, the John Jay French House Museum was built in 1845 and highlights a prosperous Texas pioneer family. Complete with furnishings and tools, it’s a dogtrot design with indigo painted ceilings to prevent insects and birds from nesting. Among other things, the mother and daughters took care of all the sewing needs at a time when every girl between the ages of 8 and 10 years old was required to be proficient in sewing.
Walk inside the authentic home and step back to the pioneer days, back to the everyday life of a middle-class family with no electricity or running water.
Archeological digs helped lay out the entire farm and homestead. Mr. French was an industrious entrepreneur buying 4,000 acres in Beaumont at a time when it was still under the rule of Mexico. Here you will find a pioneer settlement, a merchant and blacksmith shop, along with a tannery, privy (outhouse) and smokehouse.
Highlights of everyday life in Beaumont
The Jefferson Theatre brings to life a time of divine entertainment surrounded by palatial décor. Designed by Emile Weil and built in 1927, the theater was restored to its original splendor, and the neon sign welcomes all to its Old Spanish architecture.
Gilded moldings frame the stage overlooking generous seating cast in a deep maroon. The second floor presents a ceiling of rich woodwork while the majestic orchestra pit is home to the original Robert Morton Wonder Organ. It’s 778 pipes ring out in concerts and famed movies mimicking a full orchestra.
A trip to Beaumont would not be complete without a visit to the St Anthony Cathedral Basilica, a heavenly experience from floor to ceiling. The church went through a major renovation in 2006 conducted by Rohn & Associates Design, and today it is a replica of Rome’s revered 12th-century Basilica of San Clemente, one of Christianity’s oldest churches.
It’s easy to be swept away by the grandeur, but pay close attention to the sanctuary’s striking dome filled with a geometric mural of hand-painted vines, and below are the images of Christ, the Blessed Mother and Apostles. The apse holds a quadrant-shaped roof covering the altar. A gold hue consumes the sacred space with detailed artwork in shades of blue and red. The website offers more info on the architecture and liturgical art.
Fall back to the days when horse-pulled fire wagons raced to leaping flames. The Fire Museum of Texas boasts a generous space with multiple fire wagons/engines that span a century of progress. Housed in the historic 1927 Central Fire Station in downtown Beaumont, the public is welcome to view the history and evolution of fire fighting. Explore an authentic hand-drawn pumper, a 1909 Aerial ladder truck, and the 1931 Light Truck used for search and rescue. Explore a timeline of Texas disasters that changed the course of history and fire fighting.
Head south and trail the early days of Beaumont. A step back to everyday life from the 19th to early 20th century, from historic homes to jeweled theatres and exquisite cathedrals. Beaumont also hosts a full menu of foodie favorites and dreamy gardens, perfect fodder for those smartphone shots.
What’s appealing to the over-50 luxury traveler?
- Beaumont has little traffic with an excellent tourism office that can offer info on the town’s historical highlights.
- The historic museums are in close proximity to each other and all offer docent tours. Check their calendars as they offer many festive events on their grounds throughout the year, including a Pumpkin Walk at the John Jay French House and the Heritage Happy Hour at the Chambers House Museum.
- Don’t leave without breakfast at Rao’s Bakery, and lunch at Katherine & Company, both local favorites. The latter has a divine menu located in the historic Mildred Building, where you can enjoy a cadre of boutiques.
- After a day of exploring, dine at Amelia Farm and Market among the shaded branches of a pecan orchard.
- Be sure to ask for the local brands, Texas Coffee and Seaport Coffee, both from the 1921 Texas Coffee Company in Beaumont.
- Due to the historic build of the house museums, they don’t have ADA-compliant ramps or elevators.
- Although guests are welcome to tour the grounds, reservations are required for docent tours at the historic house museums and the cathedral. For more info, visit their websites.
- Spread out your tours over a two-three day stay for an optimum visit.
Disclosure: The Beaumont CVB hosted the author’s stay at the Holiday Inn & Suites Beaumont Plaza.
IF YOU GO
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