|To Big Thicket
Photo courtesy Ken
Rudine, August 2007
P. McDonald, PhD
About fifty years ago, I worked as a "hop boy" on a milk delivery
truck that ran the country route for Kelly's Dairy in Beaumont,
Texas. Dad was the salesman who drove the truck, so I had a sympathetic
boss and could consume all the pint bottles (once upon a time milk
came in such), of chocolate milk I wanted. I "wanted" when we served
the customers in Saratoga, in Hardin County. The reason: the water
smelled highly of sulfur. It really didn't taste bad if you held your
nose, but a boy has his foolishness, so I disdained the smelly stuff
and succumbed to the seduction of chocolate. Upon reflection, maybe
Saratoga's water was just an excuse.
Anyway, that water helped this East
Texas community earn its name and gave it unfulfilled notions
of becoming a famous health spa like the one in New York from which
it borrowed its moniker. J.F. Cotton discovered a spring at
the site of this future town in the 1850s. I expect he smelled it
before he saw it. In the 1880s, P.S. Watts attempted to capitalize
on the water's unique properties. This was a time in which many people
placed great faith in hydropathy, or the healing power of water. Watts
may not have thought he was dealing with another Lourdres, but he
did hope for another Saratoga, as in New York, where the elite retreated
to "take the waters," sometimes seeking health and sometimes just
enjoying their wealth.
Watts built a hotel and rental cottages and such, and changed the
name of the community from New Sour Lake to Saratoga,
hoping to attract customers. Not many came, but what made the water
smell the way it did eventually brought some measure of riches anyway.
Old Cotton himself attempted to find oil in the area of Saratoga as
early as 1865, and others tried again in 1887 and located a small
well. Much larger production followed the discovery of Spindletop,
about thirty miles south of Saratoga, in 1901. And the arrival of
a railroad also enabled the expansion of sawmilling because timber
produced there then could reach distant markets.
Saratoga enjoyed a period of some prosperity from oil-and-timber
production, but failed to hold its advantage. From a population
of 1,000 in 1925, it fell to about 350 in 1950, though lately the
number of folks who call Saratoga home has reach about 1,000 again.
Dad sometimes got a sore back from lifting those cases of milk and
our family frequently vacationed in Hot Springs, Arkansas, so he could
take the famed baths there. He might have been as well off in Saratoga.
Fifty years later, I don't know if the water still smells like sulfur
in Saratoga, and even if it does I might not be so persnickety now.
On the other hand, chocolate offers a powerful alternative.
Things Historical column
Saratoga serves as the Big Thicket Association Headquarters
Son George Jones
Birthplace of country music legend George Jones.
"If we all could sound like we wanted to, we'd all sound like
George Jones." - Waylon Jennings
Two Poems for George Jones
Possum by David Knape 4-27-13
Picture of Us Without George by Luke Warm 4-27-13
lived in Saratoga, Texas my entire my life (36 years) and grew up
a quarter of a mile from the end of Bragg Road. Everyone who
grew up in Saratoga knows [the local mysterious light] it as Bragg
Light, not the ghost light, ghost road light, nothing with the
name ghost or Saratoga even mentioned in the name. The light is
there and it's not swamp gas as other people try to say because
there aren't any swamps around Bragg Road. My granddad was born
in 1897 and was raised in Saratoga and always talked about the light.
So does my dad, who has spent his entire life here (since 1934).
People try to write articles about the road and light, that are
not from the area and they get so much wrong about it.
Just like it is known that oil was discovered in Saratoga way
before Beaumont, but because it wasn't a boom it's not recognized
as that. I just wish someone could write a completely accurate article
on the Bragg light so it is known that it is there and what it is.
My Dad tells me the story of the headless man looking for his head
is something that someone from out of town made up and that people
that descended from Saratoga never heard of it until they talked
to people from other areas.
I apologize if it sounds like I'm "going off" on this subject but
as someone who has lived here all my life it's irritating to hear
people talk and write about things that they don't completely know
about. I have a magazine from years ago that featured Bragg Road
and was fairly accurate on the article because they did a lot of
research from the people around here before it was published."
- Thomas Tomlinson, Saratoga, Texas, May 03, 2007
The "ghost" of Saratoga
"I was born and raised in Beaumont and heard many stories about
the "ghost" of Saratoga.... A friend of mine once told me that her
car was actually attacked and dented by an unseen force when she
was in Saratoga. .... On a double-date, I was taken out there late
at night, but nothing occurred. ... I would like to know more of
the story (legend), whether it be true or not. ... - Thank you,"
Rhoda W., January 02, 2002
Big Thicket National Preserve
Photo courtesy Ken
Rudine, August 2007
County map showing Saratoga
From Texas state map #10749 (SW of Kountze)
Texas General Land Office
Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing
Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history
and vintage/historic photos, please contact