Stephen F. Austin State University

Humble Camp at Monroe City was Unique to the Time (July 2012)

By Kevin Ladd, Director
Wallisville Heritage Park

The Progress, Thursday, June 20, 1935

Humble Camp News by J. B. Carter - The Humble Camp site has been definitely located and staked off and streets are now being graded. We understand that the office building and warehouse will be built right away. The engineers are seen working in all directions of the leases and we feel sure that when the present drainage project is completed, there will be a lot of water gone and a great many disappointed mosquitoes.

The Progress, Thursday, June 27, 1935

Thursday the Humble Oil & Refining Company were moving in their houses to be erected on their new site at the Humble Camp. The first section of the camp will be composed of an office and supply building combined. They will also start building 7 houses at once to take care of their key men. This work has been contracted by the Tyler Construction Company of Tyler, Texas, and they already have 20 carpenters on the job. Six entire city blocks have been laid out and are now ready to begin building on. The road from the camp site to the Anahuac-Beaumont road is nearing completion and will be ready to start shelling in a few days. Obe Smith, our Anahuac Humble representative, will erect a filling station and garage at the entrance to the road to service the Humble employees and the traveling public.

The articles above capture some of the excitement surrounding the construction of the Humble Camp at Monroe City during the summer of 1935. The Sun Oil Company later established a small camp nearby, as did the Brown & Root Company. Such camps were the order of the day. At a time when many workers and their families had only one vehicle, or even less than that, companies had to provide nearby camps or so-called company towns that could accommodate the workers and their families. This was an economic reality during the period of time after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 until the post-World War II era.

An interesting article in Newsweek magazine on February 13, 2011 addressed "The Last Company Town in America," profiling a rather idyllic town called Scotia, California. Established in 1863 by the Pacific Lumber Company, Scotia was established as a self-contained, company-owned town, complete with a school, post office, church, company homes and eventually its own electrical power plant. Most of the lumberjacks who initially located there hailed from Nova Scotia, hence the name.

The same corporate logic that created Scotia was played out across the United States over the intervening decades with other lumber or mining interests and various oil companies at other big fields. The Newsweek article sets forth some interesting statistics. By the time these company towns, or oilfield camps in our case, peaked during the mid-1930s, some 2 million Americans were living in such communities. The numbers declined slightly during the 1940s while Americans joined up for the Second World War. The post-WW II economy, a time of boom and expansion, spelled the beginning of the end for places like the Humble Camp. Jobs were plentiful. Housing was more affordable. The suburbanization of America kicked itself into high gear, and Humble Oil & Refining Company began closing the camps in the 1950s.

The Humble Camp, as evidenced in our new book on Monroe City, reflected all of these trends. Photographs from that time period show every two houses shared one garage, suggesting that only every other household had a car. The Humble Camp here offered every amenity one might imagine, and life in the camps was rarefied. There was the Recreation Center, tennis courts, ball fields, city utilities, company houses, poor boy houses, bunk houses, offices and warehouses.

The Humble Camp at Monroe City also existed as part of a network of other Humble Camps at places like Lovell Lake, Amelia, Kingsville, Conroe, Katy, Raccoon Bend, Friendswood, Tomball and Hardin -- to name just a few. Men from Monroe City were always coming from or going to these other fields, which only added to the sense of camaraderie that existed among those who were part of "The Humble."

"Monroe City: The Town Oil Built" is available at the Wallisville Heritage Park, PO Box 16, Wallisville, TX 77597 or can be ordered by mail for $33.

Oh, yes, back to Scotia, California -- the Last Company Town in America. Newsweek reported in that same article Scotia will be sold off sometime this year. Marathon Asset Management, a Manhattan-based hedge fund, inherited the last wholly owned company town in a 2008 bankruptcy case. They will put the entire town on the market. The real estate is valued at around $50 million.

As we have discovered at the Heritage Park, the only thing we have left of Monroe City are the memories -- and those can't be taken away.

Monroe City Humble Camp - Two Buildings