About 30 residents of Humble and its surrounding area gathered at the Octavia Fields Library in Humble Saturday, April 29, to hear a presentation on the history of Humble. They were not disappointed. The presentation brought back memories to many in the room, along with surprises about the past for nearly everyone present.
Harris County Branch Manager Janna Hoglund of the library introduced long-time Humble resident and retired small business owner Julia Nation: “Julia Nation is a descendant of one of the first families that settled into the Humble area, the Dunman family. She was born and raised in the Humble area. She also had a business on Main Street and was one of the people who formed the Main Street Business Association in 1980 that played a big role in organizing ‘Good Oil Days’ in Humble and the Christmas Festival that we have every year.” Hoglund explained that Nation would concentrate on the 1940s and ‘50s, which was the time when she was growing up in Humble.
To understand Nation’s presentation of the 1940s and ‘50s, it helps to have knowledge of the earliest history of Humble. That history, briefly summarized below, had been covered in a previous presentation by Dr. Robert Meaux, vice president of the Humble Museum.
Early settlers began moving into the Humble area in the early 1800s. Joseph Dunman is thought by many to have been the first to settle in the area and to have arrived in 1828. Nation’s maiden name is Dunman and she is a direct descendant. Pleasant Smith Humble, known as “Plez,” arrived sometime just before the Civil War. Humble acquired land along the San Jacinto River and soon began operating a ferry in the area east of where Highway 59 crosses the river today. Many think it was located along the river approximately where North Houston Avenue turns into Old River Road today. In 1886, Humble opened a post office in his home and his name was adopted by the community as its name.
The Humble area soon became a commercial center because of the vast timber resources in the region. C.O. Bender built a large sawmill and Humble became a hub for transporting lumber. Bender purchased the town site and established a commissary where his workers traded tokens for merchandise. The early town soon had two hotels, two general stores, a church and a school.
In 1902, shallow oil production began. In 1904, a big oil gusher occurred, making Humble famous. Humble became a tent city boomtown, overflowing with people as well as oil as new discoveries continued to mount. By 1905, the Humble oil field was the largest producing field in Texas.
Nation summed it all up: “It was the pine trees and the oak trees that brought people here in the 1800s. The oil came after 1900 at Moonshine Hill. It is said that the paved road at Moonshine Hill was the first paved road in the state of Texas. At one time, there were 20,000 people at Moonshine Hill in tents.”
During this time, the Humble Oil and Refining Company (now Exxon Co. U.S.A.) was formed. In the 1920s, as oil production began to decline, many landowners returned to farming and lumbering. In 1933, the town of Humble was formally incorporated. It remained a rather small, quiet city until the opening of Houston Intercontinental Airport in 1969.
“What I remember growing up in the ‘40s and ‘50s was a time when there were no freeways or interstate highways, no shopping malls, subdivisions or motels, and life moved at a slower pace,” Nation said.
Nation described a series of memories to highlight how much times have changed since then.
“Old Humble Road was the main road to Houston, a long way away. People lived in the town, not outside of town. There was Bill’s Cafe on 494 that opened in the ‘50s. Duran’s Service Station was the only service station in town. There were men’s boarding houses, but none for women in Humble. There were small cafes on Main Street and before TV [was available], people would park on Main Street before dinner and visit with each other and go to the Log Cabin Restaurant or the Dairy Barn,” she said.
Nation explained that for entertainment there were mostly school and church socials and a theater called The Jewel (the original burned down in the 1980s.} She described traveling shows that would come through town and swimming in Spring Creek at the end of Lee Road.
“And there was the Humble Rodeo every year west of 59 at 1960,” she said.
Nation pointed out that Atascocita Road was originally a cattle drive road, more like a trail, and coal oil was used for lighting west of Highway 59 until about 1948 when the area was finally electrified. The area where George Bush Intercontinental Airport is today was an area inhabited by dairy cows.
In April 1980, partly as a result of the efforts of Nation and the new Main Street Business Association, Humble organized its first “Good Oil Days” celebration, which is famous for its walk down Main Street and downtown Humble. Nation closed her presentation with an open invitation to everyone, any time.
“I invite you to First Street and to walk down it and enjoy it,” she said.
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