Living in the land of drill teams, oil derricks and greasy home-cooking for two years has definitely changed me for the better.
Well, the greasy home-cooking may not have made me better, but the experiences I had did. Before diving into what a person has to do if they visit Kilgore, you must know why the town became popular in the first place.
To put it briefly, the smallish city of Kilgore is located in East Texas with parts being in both Gregg and Rusk County. According to the East Texas Oil Museum, the town boomed in 1930, when Columbus Marion “Dad” Joiner discovered oil in the area. The population rocketed and continued to thrive from there. As of 2014, Kilgore has a population of 14,948, according to the United States Census Bureau.
Now knowing the beginnings, visitors will now understand the value of the derricks and pump jacks sprinkled throughout the city.
To return to the point, there are many historical and fascinating places in Kilgore visitors are almost required (Okay, not required, but strongly encouraged) to see before they leave.
To begin, I have to stress visiting my Alma Mater, Kilgore College. Depending on the time of the year and what day of the week it is, the College offers events everyone can enjoy. The theatre department performs two different shows a semester, there is a fall pep rally that introduces members of the sports teams and sports fans can catch a football game on Saturday along with a performance from the “World famous Kilgore College Rangerettes.” Usually in April, the school hosts a crawfish boil, serving literally tons of crawfish to students, faculty and community members. Kilgore College also has both men and women’s basketball teams and a softball team if you want to watch more sports. Also, since 2016, the International Student Club has hosted International Appreciation Day; students from Mexico to Russia share cultures and food from their country. Also, at many of the pep rallies and the crawfish boil, you might see local business owner, Charlie, from Charlie’s Sno-Balls, serving up free snow cones to anyone who attends. Another tip: On Tuesdays, the Baptist Student Ministry serves free food, with The Wesley Foundation following on Wednesday and the Christian Campus Center on Thursday all from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
(Photo of Rowdy the Ranger, Kilgore College’s mascot, by Taylor Stewart)
These events are of course not the only ones throughout the year, but some of the most anticipated by students and community members.
To continue, visitors should grab a bite to eat at The Back Porch, on Broadway Blv. The restaurant boasts of great burgers (where for a dollar extra you can put a fried egg on it. Yum) and live music Wednesday – Friday night. Porch fest is also hosted by The Back Porch. This event is two full days of vendors selling products outside of the establishment and live music playing on two different stages. Every day you can also have as much free beans and hushpuppies as you can stomach. The Back Porch also offers sandwiches, salads, soup and other what I would consider bar foods. The place literally has a porch where customers can eat, and if it is the right time of night, listen to music being played from the stage.
Visitors also must visit both the East Texas Oil Museum and the Rangerette Museum. The ETOM offers information about the oil field and has an elevator that takes you to the center of the Earth, showing you each layer and how roughnecks (oil derrick workers) get oil. The museum also features a walkthrough of the town of Kilgore in 1930, after the boom happened. Visitors should definitely give themselves at least two hours to fully appreciate everything in the museum.
The Rangerette Museum of course tells the story of the Kilgore College Rangerettes, the first drill team in the world, created by Gussie Nell Davis in 1940. I won’t give away too much history on the Rangerettes, because that is what you visit the museum for, but this precision drill team has performed all over the world, including Ireland, Singapore and New York City and it shows. The skill of the women on the line show at every performance, including the once-a-year Revels spring show. Each show has a theme and showcases the team’s dancing skills, always ending with the famous high kick.
The next two options are almost free, with all you need being a car, gas money and time.
The Long and Winding road is a strip of pavement about three miles long covered with graffiti that has been there for years or possibly, just two days depending on if someone decides to visit and spray paint. Visiting during the day is the most fun because the scenery is beautiful: Full trees, art on the road and a possible zebra or five. To get there from 259, you must turn on Dudley, turn by the white run-down church with the huge turning lane that is past the bridge, when you come to a fork in the road, take a left, then after you pass a nice white color church, turn left again on the road following. It will take about 15 minutes to get there, so don’t get too worried if you feel as if you have been on the road too long. I’m not saying you should spray paint the road, because I’m pretty sure it is illegal, but I personally can’t stop you from doing anything.
The next thing to do would be drive through downtown Kilgore at night. The reason why I say at night is because lights are strung across the roads; also, oil derricks on “The world’s richest acre” are adorned with stars of different colors, and if you’re lucky, the Texan and Crim Theatres will be lit up with orange and red lights, serving an almost nostalgic purpose since both have been closed down. I cannot tell you how many times I have cruised downtown at night just to escape and relax.
Ronnie Spradlin, Mayor of Kilgore, also believes Kilgore is unique in several ways.
“Because of the volatility of the oilfield, job changes, transfers, booms and busts- our community is more welcoming, more accepting, more inclusive and more compassionate than other communities,” he said.
Some of the things he mentioned to check out before leaving Kilgore are the Broadcast Museum on Main Street, the Sabine River, the East Texas Oilman’s Chili Cook Off hosted in October in downtown and the East Texas Pipe Organ Festival.
“[The East Texas Pipe Organ Festival] is the only one of its kind in the world,” Spradlin said.
As you can see, Kilgore is an extremely unique city with its own quirks, events and special places to get away and relax. So, when you visit, make sure you do at least one of these things, or you haven’t yet truly been to Kilgore.