[p. 139]

Providence Rice

THE present generation looks upon the rice industry as something entirely new in Jefferson county, and that until a comparatively recent date no one had ever conceived the idea of raising the pearly cereal on the coastal plains of Texas. As a matter of fact, the culture of rice in a limited as well as primitive way began not so many years after the early settlers began raising the three staple crops -- corn, cotton and pumpkins.

The first rice grown in Jefferson county was planted by David French, on the old French homestead, three and one-half miles north of the city of Beaumont, soon after the close of the Civil War. At that time irrigation systems were unknown in this section, and the grower trusted in providence for sufficient rainfall to mature the crop. In fact such crops were designated as "providence rice".

It was planted in rows and cultivated in the same manner as other crops. Mrs. Thomas Langham, daughter of Mr. French, was a very small girl at that time, and was given the task of keeping the birds away from the rice while maturing . Only enough to supply home needs, with some to spare for chicken feed was planted. It was milled by hollowing out the end of a log about three feet in length, making a mortar, after the fashion found in laboratories in the present day. A piece of wood a bout three feet long and three inches in diameter was rounded at the end and used as a pestle to grind the rice until the husks were removed. The glistening white polished rice of today was unknown to the early settlers.

J. B. Langham also raised rice about the same time and made quite a success of it. In 1868 Mr. French brought some old machinery from Louisiana and put up a small rice mill near the French homestead. Not being a mechanic himself, the mill was a failure.

Little more was heard from rice growing until 1886, when Louis Bordages and Edgar Carruthers planted about 200 acres near Fannett. This was also "providence" rice, but they raised a good crop, and from this is dated the rice industry of Jefferson county on a commercial basis. Valentine and Live Hargroves raised rice near Big Hill in the late 80's.

Irrigation was begun in 1891 when W. G. Lovell, B. C. Hebert, and Joe Broussard built small pumping plants on Taylor's bayou. These plants demonstrated the value of Jefferson county soil for rice culture when scientifically grown, and brought about the formation of the first irrigation company. The Beaumont Irrigation company was incorporated in 1898 by local capital, and built a pumping plant on Pine Island bayou, with canals extending southward. Approximately 3000 acres were watered from this canal the first year, and gradually increased until it was watering 25,000 acres.

The McFaddin-Wiess-Kyle canal with a capacity sufficient to water 10,000 acres, was constructed in 1900. The pumping plant is located on the Neches river south of the Magnolia Petroleum company's plant.

Previous to this, in 1899, the Port Arthur rice canal was constructed, with a pumping plant on the Neches river near where the Pure Oil Refinery now stands. It was too near the gulf, and went out of business when incoming salt water made it unfit for irrigation purposes. It was capable of watering 10,000 acres.

In 1903 the Treadway canal was constructed, and one of the largest pumping plants in the United States built on Pine Island bayou. It has a capacity sufficient to water 35,000 acres. In the meantime many more private pumping plants were built along Taylor and Hillebrandt bayous, the largest of this class taking water from Lovell's lake.

With the cultivation of rice becoming a permanent industry in Jefferson county, Joe Broussard added rice milling machinery to his grist mill in 1892, and it became known as the Beaumont Rice and Grist mills. This plant was located near where the Southern Pacific passenger station now stands.

In 1900 the Hinz Rice Milling company of California erected a modern plant on the block just south of the court house, the former homestead of George W. Carroll. After operating for two seasons this plant burned down and was never rebuilt.

In the same year Gustave A. Jahn of New York built a modern brick mill on Main street, which was later purchased by William Carroll and associates, and became the Atlantic Rice mills.

In 1901 Joe E. Broussard, founder of the first rice mill in Texas, built a large plant in the western end of the city, known as the Beaumont Rice mills. It burned down and was rebuilt in 1902. It is one of the most modern plants in the rice belt, and is equipped with an elevator for handling grain.

In 1902 the McFaddin-Wiess- Kyle mill was built, a modern fireproof structure with elevator equipment. It has not been operated since 1921. The Tyrrell Rice Milling company was organized by B. A. Steinhagen in 1915, and this concern erected a modern mill.

There are approximately 200,000 acres in Jefferson county subject to rice culture with irrigation facilities. While the coming of industries, general farming, tank farms, and the constant expansion of towns and cities have occupied thousand of acres formerly classed, if not actually used as rice land, the installation of drainage is making more land subject to cultivation, and there is little likelihood of the potential acreage suitable for rice culture being reduced for some years to come.

Rice is by far the largest agricultural crop in Jefferson county and comes third in exports out of Beaumont, oil and lumber leading. Rice from Beaumont mills is shipped to all sections of the United States. Mexico, Canada, West Indies, South America and Europe.

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