The story goes that Price Pruett sold Ross Sterling the land which became New Town and New Town became Goose Creek. This has been repeated so many times that it has become Baytown legend. It’s a story that’s easy to remember but like much of our early history, it’s not the whole story, and not entirely factual.
It started back in 1878 when Ashbel Smith deeded 800 acres to his niece, Jessie Hull. This was the north part of his Evergreen plantation extending into another tract east to Cedar Bayou. Her tract stretched from today’s Texas Avenue north to Ward Road and extended all the way east to Cedar Bayou, but excluded a 30-acre tract he had sold to Gilbert Brooks in 1869.
In 1881, she went through a nasty divorce and moved back east where she lived until her death in 1930. In 1892, she sold her land to Thomas Wright who had emigrated from England to America 20 years earlier and had established a brickyard on Cedar Bayou.
Although drilling for oil in the area started in 1905, most were dry holes and the field was almost abandoned in 1910.
But on Aug. 24, 1916, a huge gusher was hit by Charles Mitchell of the American Petroleum Corporation on the Gaillard land, just west of today’s Lee Drive. It was quite the tourist attraction. It was estimated that over 1,000 automobiles carrying sightseers came from Houston to witness the gusher.
Within days hundreds of oil field workers arrived from the oil field at Humble to live and work at Goose Creek. Most of them lived in a tent community which the locals derisively referred to as Ragtown.
Another oil man working in the field was C. T. Rucker who held several drilling leases in Goose Creek. In 1910 he had been living in the Magnolia Park area east of Houston. Among his neighbors there were machinist Henry Cathriner and Real Estate Developer William E. DeFee.
With Mitchell’s gusher came the realization that at least some of the population was here to stay. Through Rucker, DeFee knew the area was ripe for development. He acquired 20 acres from Thomas Wright and had the tract surveyed by Samuel Packard on Sept. 18, 1916, subdividing 12 blocks as the Goose Creek Townsite. It was filed with Harris County Sept. 26, 1916 and the streets in this first section were named for Wright, the landowner and DeFee, the developer.
Every town needs a Main Street so that was the name given the street in the middle. By November, 30 lots had been sold to families looking to escape the filth, noise and danger of the oil field.
That month Annie Schilling’s two-and-a-half-acre tract on Tabb’s Bay was the center of drilling activity. Renters living on her land had been given notice to move but most ignored it. There were still lots of people living in shacks and tents until Nov. 6, 1916 when a blazing gasser lit up the sky. Two more well explosions over the next month finally convinced people to get out of town.
For most people, “out of town” meant just a little further north, but enough people had decided to permanently settle that DeFee opened a second 20-acre tract on Feb. 9, 1917 with blocks 13 through 24. Two streets in this addition were named for his children, Muriel and Jack. The entire 40-acre town site was located northeast of the intersection of today’s North Main Street and Texas Avenue and was not on Price Pruett’s land. Pruett was still in negotiation with W. T. Terry and the Goose Creek Realty Company for development on his land west of N. Main. Ross Sterling had bought land from Pruett as well as from several other people as right of way for his Dayton-Goose Creek Railroad, but not for residential development in Goose Creek until after 1925.
In November 1916, Harris County purchased a lot in the town site from Wright and built the Goose Creek County Jail and Courthouse on the corner of Wright Street and 2nd Street. It was in use until the new jail (still standing) was built in 1928.
In 1917, Wright sold an additional 40 acres surrounding DeFee’s Townsite to the Goose Creek Realty Company for development and when the city of Goose Creek was incorporated in 1919, the new city included some of Pruett’s land as well as some of Wright’s land.
By 1930, William E. DeFee had moved to Humble and was still working as a real estate developer. C. T. Rucker was still an oil driller in Goose Creek and his wife was running a boarding house on W. Pearce Street. Henry Cathriner owned an automobile dealership on the corner of Texas Ave and Commerce. You can still see his name on the building on the Pearce Street side.
By 1946, the 800-acre Wright tract had been developed and annexed into the city of Goose Creek and in 1948, Main Street was renamed as Sterling and the shelled county road was named North Main Street.
Baytown resident Chuck Chandler is retired from the Exxon Refinery and serves as Vice President of Baytown Historical Preservation Association. Contact him at email@example.com