Newgulf: From Sulfur Boomtown to Texas Ghost Town

[Texas Gulf Sulphur Company], ca. 1939, by Richie, Robert Yarnall, DeGolyer Library, SMU.

[Texas Gulf Sulphur Company] ca. 1939, by Richie, Robert Yarnall, DeGolyer Library, SMU.

Now online are 49 photographic prints of Texas Gulf Sulphur Company interests (ca. 1939) in the company town of Newgulf, Texas. The images of the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company (later known as Texasgulf Inc.) are part of a TexTreasures 2014 grant project intended to digitize 1,000 prints and negatives taken by Robert Yarnall Richie (1908-1984) that depict non-oil-related Texas companies (ca. 1937-1969). These items are part of the DeGolyer Library’s Robert Yarnall Richie Photograph Collection, which consists of industrial and corporate photographs taken by Richie throughout his career.

DeGolyer Library digital collections are part of CUL Digital Collections, which contain thousands of digitized photographs, manuscripts, imprints, and works of art held by Southern Methodist University’s Central University Libraries special collections.

[Texas Gulf Sulphur Company], ca. 1939, by Richie, Robert Yarnall, Degolyer Library, SMU.

[Texas Gulf Sulphur Company] ca. 1939, by Richie, Robert Yarnall, Degolyer Library, SMU.

The Wharton County town of Newgulf, Texas, was established in 1928 by the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company. This company town was named “Newgulf” via a contest conducted for employees during its construction in which Marie Ertz, who worked at the Houston office, devised the winning name in deference to the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company’s original company town called Gulf (Newgulf, TX, TSHA).

Newgulf was founded atop the Boling Dome, an underground rock structure with an area of about 5,500 acres on the western bank of the San Bernard River primarily in Wharton County. Its contents include petroleum, sulfur, and a significant salt dome. Sulfur production at the Boling Dome began in March 1929 through the use of the Frasch method by which steam is pumped into the ground to melt sulfur, then the resulting liquid sulfur is pumped out in order to remove it (Boling Dome, TSHA).

Texas Gulf Sulphur Company, which became known as Texasgulf, Incorporated beginning in 1973, has produced more sulfur from the Boling Dome than any other sulfur mine in the world, with a total production of 80.5 million long tons of sulfur successfully extracted from the earth as of 1990 (Boling Dome, TSHA).

[Texas Gulf Sulphur], ca. 1939, by Richie, Robert Yarnall, Degolyer Library, SMU.

[Texas Gulf Sulphur], ca. 1939, by Richie, Robert Yarnall, Degolyer Library, SMU.

Built in a section of Wharton County that had previously lacked any paved roads, Newgulf had 400 company-owned houses, ranging from one to three bedrooms, which were leased to employees. The town’s prosperity and population peaked in 1940 with 1,586 people, as well as 15 businesses that included but were not limited to a café, two dry-goods stores, two pharmacies, two grocery stores, a movie theater, a company-built post office, a hospital, a library, a school, and a nine-hole golf course with a clubhouse (Newgulf, TX, TSHA).

However, the prosperity in Newgulf, Texas, brought forth from the sulfur industry was not to last. The sulfur industry faced difficulties by 1956 as foreign sulfur prices began to drop and the industry began producing more sulfur than it was able to sell.  Newgulf was hit especially hard in 1957 when the construction of several Texas Gulf Sulphur plants away from Newgulf coincided with a national recession, leading to both layoffs of Newgulf employees, and the start of the company selling empty houses in the town by 1961 (Newgulf, TX, TSHA).

With the onset of technological changes in sulfur mining, there was a reduced need for employees and the town population stalled at 963 from 1980 to 1990, and only 100 houses remained in Newgulf in 1990. The businesses and resulting infrastructure of

[Texas Gulf Sulphur Company], ca. 1939, by Richie, Robert Yarnall, Degolyer Library, SMU.

[Texas Gulf Sulphur Company], ca. 1939, by Richie Robert Yarnall, Degolyer Library, SMU.

Newgulf was largely gone as better roads facilitated increased shopping in neighboring towns. The Newgulf post office closed in 1993 and by 1995 the mining site was manned by a mere skeleton crew with the golf course and elementary school, which eventually absorbed into the Boling Independent School District, among the only remaining institutions in Newgulf (Newgulf, TX, TSHA).

Today, Newgulf Elementary School is “one of the three campuses that comprises Boling Independent School District. Newgulf Elementary is located in the former town site of Newgulf, ‘the last company town in Texas’” (Bolingisd.net, 2013).

Newgulf is now considered by many as a ghost town, the sulfur production facilities and its prominent smokestacks left unused.

Texas State Library and Archives CommissionInstitute of Museum and Library ServicesThe non-oil-related Richie images of Texas companies were made available through funding from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission as part of the TexTreasures program. The TexTreasures program was funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services which is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

by Brandon P. Murray, Digitizer/Metadata Creator, Central University Libraries, SMU

 Sources:

Merle R. Hudgins, “BOLING DOME,” Handbook of Texas Online, January 23, 2014, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/gzb01

 Merle R. Hudgins, “NEWGULF, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online, January 23, 2014, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hln18

 “Newgulf Elementary School,” Boling Independent School District, February 12, 2013, http://www.bolingisd.net/elementary/

 

About Cynthia Boeke

AA-CUL(CMIT)
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2 Responses to Newgulf: From Sulfur Boomtown to Texas Ghost Town

  1. Tony says:

    Good history remark. If you are interested in modern day photos of Newgulf, you can visit this blog: http://photography-tx.blogspot.com/2014/04/texas-ghost-towns.html

  2. Bart says:

    I love reading articles about ghost towns, like the long abandoned town of Bodie in central California. In terms of Newgulf, TX, I don’t know if I could ever live in a town that smelled like sulfur all day! Anyway, I loved the article. Very interesting stuff.

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