Wanda Orton

West Baytown, a.k.a. Old Baytown, also is known now as the Historic West End, a designation that pleases nearly every BIB (Born in Baytown).

Why do we care?

It’s not only pride about the past; it’s about the future. We realize our old town won’t be revitalized overnight. Look how long it’s taking to breathe new life into Goose Creek’s old downtown. Remember the naysayers who claimed Texas Avenue was a hopeless case? Surely, there’s still much to be accomplished, but remarkable progress already has been made. If city leaders had believed the naysayers, nothing ever would have been done.

Similar progress can proceed on the west side of the creek, with the historic designation bringing hope – at last – to a section largely neglected and abandoned.

It’s a packaged deal consisting of hope, purpose and commitment.

City leaders, with their vision, are providing all of the above, but we have to have followers as well -- citizens committed to the cause, willing to work and share their talent and imagination. This community was created in the first place by visionaries such as Ross S. Sterling and other directors of Humble Oil & Refining Co. when they decided to build an oil refinery here. It grew into one of the largest such refineries in the world.                      

A special bond exists among those who grew up in Old Baytown, where we were making memories and didn’t even know it. We took a lot of things for granted, thinking, for example,  it wasn’t unusual to have huge oil tankers from all over the world gliding in and out of the Baytown Refinery Docks. Didn’t every town on the coast have a port?

Merchant seamen from all over the world added more international flavor to our town, along with the military stationed here to guard the refinery during World War II. We needed wider sidewalks to accommodate these visitors and temporary residents.

While patriotism prevailed in most towns during World War II, how many had a Navy Mothers Club in the middle of downtown, like we had on Minnesota Street? …  Or hosted USO dances for the military men and women, as we did at the Community House?

How many towns could boast the number of churches Old Baytown had in one neighborhood alone? We’re talking Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Church of Christ, Christian Science and Episcopal. Per capita, that’s a whole lot of churches, and most of the first ones were built by the members.

Old Baytown can tout numerous firsts connected with industry. The first tanker in the fleet of Humble Oil & Refining Co. sailed in the 1920s with a name easy to remember: Esso Baytown.

Humble’s Baytown Refinery housed the company’s first hospital in the 1920s. It became a model for industrial health facilities over the nation. In 1938 the world’s first commercial alkylation plant went into operation at the refinery.

During WWII the Baytown Refinery was the first refinery to reach the  one-billion-gallon mark in the production of 100-octane aviation gasoline. In other words, the main industry in Old Baytown helped win the war, keeping the U.S. and our Allies flying.

A student at San Jacinto Elementary at the time, I remember going to the Billion Gallon Day festivities for three days in December 1944. Another claim to industrial fame was the Baytown Ordnance Works, operated by HORC. It was the first commercial synthetic toluene plant in the world.

During the Billion Gallon Day celebration, Maj. Gen. Hubert Harmon, commander of the 13th Air Force, said, “Every other bomb … and every other round of ammunition carries a punch that was born right here at Baytown.”

 Actually, at Old Baytown.

Wanda Orton is a retired managing editor of The Sun. She can be reached at viewpoints@baytownsun.com, Attention: Wanda Orton.

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