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Shell looms large in history of Deer Park

For the past year, the city of Deer Park has been celebrating its founding 125 years ago with a series of events, ceremonies, recognition and fanfare, culminating in a free Nov. 4 concert featuring country singer RaeLynn.

But to keep looking forward, it is vital for the city to look back at the deep roots it shares with Shell Deer Park, Position 1 City Councilwoman Sherry Garrison said.

“I think it’s important for people to know how connected we are, and how connected our success as a city is tied to Shell Deer Park,” she said.

Simian West founded the city in 1892 and named it after large deer that roamed the coastal prairies. In 1893, the Deer Park Hotel was constructed on the corner of what is now Texas 225 and Center Street. This hotel would later serve to strengthen the connection between Shell and Deer Park.

“In 1928, (the hotel) served as the temporary headquarters for the construction workers who were building the refinery,” said Garrison.

But the hotel wasn’t the only shelter Shell workers sought. An old schoolhouse, built in 1910 but deserted by 1928, kept some of the Shell team warm during the uncharacteristically cold and snowy winters in 1928 and 1929.

“There was apparently an old pot-bellied stove in the school that was still working,” Garrison said. “They had a record 8-degree-temperature weather and 22 inches of snow.”

As soon as the refinery was constructed, Shell began giving back to the community, Garrison said.

During the course of construction, the company found a broken headstone on its property to mark the graves of two people who died in 1834 – two years before the Battle of San Jacinto.

“This was one of the oldest headstones in Harris County,” Garrison said.

Instead of ignoring the plot, the company did its best to put the headstone back together, set it upright and treated the area as a grave site.

When Shell expanded in 1976 and 1977 and it became clear that the plot would be overtaken by the growth, the company got permission from the Texas Historical Commission and a court order from the Harris County attorney to have a funeral home move the piece of history to a safer place.

“They sifted through to see if they could find (remains associated with the headstone), but they never found anything,” Garrison said.

“They took a cubic foot of dirt from under the headstone and moved the dirt and the headstone to Dow Park.”

During cold winters, Shell provided the city with coke, a byproduct of coal, to use for heating. When the city’s dirt roads wore down, Shell provided material to fill in the ruts, along with construction equipment to make repairs.

During the Great Depression, the company furnished supplies to local homes and schools.

Shell also constructed an area of housing called Staff Row, located on Shell property, where many of its staff members lived.

“When you’re part of a community in the way that Shell was and is still a part of this community, you have something invested,” said Amanda Accardo, external relations manager for Shell Deer Park. “Those people were in this community, and they wanted to take care of it.”

In fact, Shell was instrumental in keeping Deer Park schools from being absorbed into La Porte ISD, and agreed to donate $25,000 to help fund the community’s schools’ operations expenses for their first year if the city voted to incorporate.

“If you look back, there are so many different ways that Shell helped shape who we are as a city – I really want people to know that our histories are intertwined in this way,” Garrison said.

Many Shell employees have served as mayors or on City Council or as trustees in the Deer Park ISD board.

Accardo said that the company is thankful to have been such an integral part of the community for so long.

“I think that the really exciting thing about this opportunity and (Nov. 4) event is that it gives us a chance to show the legacy that this community has built up together with the site,” Accardo said.

In addition to headliner RaeLynn, the concert, set from 4-9 p.m. Nov. 4 will feature Shell’s 7 Mile Perimeter band along with food trucks and a representation of the history between the city and the company. The event will occur in the Abshier Stadium parking lot.

“We’ve spent the entire year building up to this event, and we’re looking forward to bringing all of Deer Park together for this family friendly concert experience,” Mayor Jerry Mouton said.

According to Barry Klein, general manager of Shell Deer Park, visitors to the event can view the “Shell Experience,” which will include a pop-up museum of the entity’s 88-year history in Deer Park and what the company is planning for the future. The space will also include a 360-degree virtual reality tour of the Shell Deer Park and bouncy castles for kids.

“We look forward to seeing our employees, their families and the entire Deer Park community participate in an event that celebrates our history and legacy, all leading up to performances by Shell’s own 7 Mile Perimeter band and country music star RaeLynn,” Klein said.


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