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BY BOB BOWMAN
History laid a heavy hand on on Bevilport. But you won’t find it on many road maps or marked by highway signs.
The old townsite–once a steamboat port on the Angelina River–was named for John Bevil, a Virginian who came to Texas in the l820s. He is given credit for founding the community, as well as Bevil’s Settlement, the forerunner of Jasper, the county seat of Jasper County.
As a speculator, Bevil’s propensity for land deals occasionally got him in trouble, and he was reportedly forced to leave Jasper County for a time as a result of disputes over land titles. He also developed the unsuccessful City of the Pass (now Sabine Pass) in Jefferson County.
As a river navigation point point from 1830 to 1860, Bevilport was noted for its bustling docks, which shipped East Texas cotton and hides to New Orleans. A mail station operated there in 1835 and the community was incorporated by the Republic of Texas in 1837. General Sam Houston, who engineered the Texas Revolution, was given the first lot in the townsite.
Bevilport had a main street and a hotel by the 1850s and served as a business and social center until the Civil War. It also continued to be a freight depot for Jasper County during high-water seasons. But, when logging for Beaumont sawmills began to interfere with riverboat traffic on the Neches River below its confluence with the Angelina River, Bevilport began to decline.
“When I was a kid, we’d hear the big boats from Beaumont coming up the river, blowing their whistles. We’d start out running along the banks and when they got to Bevilport, we’d be there to meet them,” remembered old-timer Albert Gray in the l960s.
Bevilport’s post office, established in 1854, was closed in 1867, reopened in 1897, and closed permanently in 1899. Today, there are few buildings left at Bevilport. One of the town’s old homes, once owned by Randolph C. Doom, an early customs collector, still stands–but not in Bevilport.
Former Congressman Jack Brooks of Beaumont bought the home, moved it a few miles north of the river, and refurbished it as a family retreat. During Brooks’ heyday as a political power broker, House Speaker Sam Rayburn stayed there, fished in the Angelina River, and had a room in the Doom home named for him.
Vice President Lyndon Johnson also stayed there several months before President John Kennedy’s assassination, which propelled Johnson into the presidency.
The Doom house may be the only Deep East Texas house that can claim that a U.S. Vice President and a House Speaker “slept here” within a span of two years. But Bevilport’s best claim comes from an old store ledger once used in a Bevilport store. The ledger shows that Sam Houston bought a gallon of kerosene on credit at the store in the l830s–and never paid for it.
(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books about East Texas history and folklore. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)