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Halvor I. Ostebee Collection

Identifier: AC-419

Scope and Content Note

This collection contains photographs taken by Halvor I. Ostebee from approximately 1858 to 1903, including most notably, photographs of the Lucas gusher, the city's landmark oil well that gushed in 1901. Other photographs depict Beaumont around the turn of the century, including city functions like the Texas Rice Festival, scenes of downtown Beaumont and some of its historic buildings (especially churches), and several photographs of the Ostebee family. The collection also includes documents, such as Halvor Ostebee's oath to the Beaumont Light Guard, his certificate of citizenship, and the submission form for his photograph, "Wild Gusher," to the Library of Congress. Photographs of Ostebee himself, from childhood through adulthood, are found throughout the files, including self-portraits taken in his studio, with his Light Guard Company, and with his wife. The collection also contains interesting correspondence, such as a playbill from a show at the Kyle Theatre in downtown Beaumont, several postcards of the City of Beaumont, a 1949 directory of Lamar College (now Lamar University), and a bill of sale from Blain's Cash Store, circa 1940's, which was located on Crockett Street (now the city's entertainment district). Other files include some of Halvor Ostebee's negatives, scanned images from books at the Tyrrell Historical Library, and several local newspaper articles about Ostebee (One article, published in The Sunday Enterprise, in 1933, stated, "Hardly an event of importance occurred in Beaumont in those earlier days without Mr. Ostebee being on hand with his camera to record it for the future"). Several obituaries ("Fashionable Photographer of Spindletop Boom Dies", "Death Takes Mrs. Ostebee") and Ostebee's death certificate are also present. Many scans and photographs, obtained from his granddaughter, Lelia Burel Arnett, in 2004, at the time of the Tyrrell's exhibit on Ostebee, are also available, as well as a file containing Ostebee family events (circa 1848-2001), genealogical notes, and a biography of his life (composed by Lelia Arnett).


  • Creation: 1848-2004


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions apply.


The Tyrrell Historical Library does not hold copyright for most of its collections. The researcher must secure permission to publish. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to the Tyrrell Historical Library. The researcher assumes full responsibility for complying with copyright, literary property rights, and libel laws.

Biographical Note

Halvor Ingebret Ostebee was born in Sand, Rogaland Parish, near Stavanger, Norway, in 1872, on the Ostebo Farm. He was the first child of Siri Mikkelsdattar and Ingebright Pedersen Tysseland (in keeping with Norwegian custom, his father took the surname Ostebo when he moved to the farm of his bride). At age 10, he and his family, including four siblings, immigrated to America and settled in Joliet, Illinois. The youngest child, Stina Taletha, died of measles, about a month after the family arrived. Four more Ostebeee children were born in the United States. Halvor was confirmed in the Stavanger Lutheran Church in LaSalle County, Illinois, in 1885. They lived in Joliet until 1887, when they moved to Hendrum Township, Minnesota, where other families from Norway had settled.

Little is known about Ostebee before he came to Beaumont, Texas, at the age of about 22, although it is believed that he had been a photographer for a Chicago newspaper and that he had traveled the country for the newspaper. His first studio, in Beaumont, was a portable building on the northwest corner of Laurel and Orleans Streets, called the Beach Studio; a year later, he moved to a building between H.A. Perlstein's Blacksmith Shop and the Gordon Grain Company, at the corner of Pearl and Fannin Streets. One of his studios was the "Beaumont Art Studio" which took "High Grade Photos of All Descriptions," and was located at 961-963 Pearl Street. Another studio listing was for "Ostebee, The High-Priced Photographer, Beaumont Art Studio; Simplex Photos, 75 cents per dozen," located at 559-1-2 Pearl Street. He had several business partners; one of his ads stated: "Ostebee & Weber, Successors to Yancey & Ostebee, Artists and Photographers, Beaumont, Texas." A self-portrait, dated 1896, reads: "H.I. Ostebee – Traveling Agent: Portraits in Crayon, Pastel, Water Colors, India Ink, etc." In 1897, Ostebee was sworn into the Texas Volunteer Guard, Beaumont Light Guard Company F, 5th Regiment, formed at the time of the Spanish-American War; he used the name Harry and was 25 years old, weighed 138 pounds, had light blue eyes, fair complexion, and medium-light hair. He was self-described as an artist and photographer.

In 1899, at 27, Ostebee married Erna Mueller, age 19, the daughter of August and Amalie Mueller, at the Christian Church of Beaumont. Mueller's father was born in Hesse Darmstadt, Germany, and had come to New Braunfels, Texas, as a child. His maternal grandfather, Jacob Brecher, was one of the first founders of New Braunfels. August Mueller and his wife Amalie, with their daughter Erna and son Raoul, moved to Beaumont from New Braunfels, where August had been a carriage maker. He then went to work as a wheelwright at the Beaumont Wagon and Carriage Manufacturing Company, the city's biggest carriage maker at the turn of the century.

A photograph of Erna taken at the Ostebee Studio has a note attached, saying: "My first day in Beaumont, February 12, 1899." A picture of Halvor and Erna, taken at the Matzdorf Hall, in New Braunfels, Texas, places them celebrating New Years in 1899; the banner at the top of the ballroom says: "Happy New Year to All, 1899." It appears the dancers are toasting the couple, who are at the front of the room, so they may have been announcing their recent marriage. Halvor and Erna had three children: Elsie (born 1903, died 1970), Edwin (born 1905, died 1970), and Lucile (born 1908, died 2001). All the children were gifted artistically, and Erna was also an accomplished artist and homemaker; Edwin later became an artist, sign painter, and a neon designer. The Ostebee children grew up in a house at 2169 South Street, and attended Averill School. They referred to their father as "Papa" and all three children hated to have their pictures taken.

Erna helped support the family in ways that she could. When times were good, she would have 20 or more people gathered at her table for a meal she prepared on a wood stove; Halvor made home brew and wine. When times were bad, during the Depression, Erna opened a barbecue stand beside their house in Rosedale, on the old Voth Road; Halvor made the mistake of passing out some of his prized home brew to her customers and was thrown in jail, and the business was subsequently shut down. At one low point, the family burned hard-cover books in the wood stove to keep warm because they didn't have any money for firewood.

Ostebee's career as a portrait photographer declined after he closed his studio and moved all his photographic materials to his home, but he continued to take photographs. He walked or rode the street car, carrying his big camera and tripod, and took pictures wherever he could. At the height of his career, he took pictures of Beaumont's elite; at the end of his days of photography, in his sixties, he walked to the Pear Orchard and photographed the children of Beaumont's poor black residents. He worked at a number of different jobs over the years to support his family. He was a clerk at E.L. Wilson Hardware Company, a laborer at Beaumont Box Manufacturing Company, and a tank builder at Magnolia Petroleum Company. Halvor was a quiet, gentle man; he was good-natured and liked to make jokes and chuckle about things. He smoked a pipe with Prince Albert tobacco. One of his favorite expressions of approval was, "That’s the ticket!" Whenever he left the house, he always wore a suit with suspenders, a necktie, and a hat, with black high-topped shoes. He wasn't very tall – only 5'7" or 5'8" at most – and had bright-blue eyes and sandy hair that never turned completely gray, even at 80 years old. He was very physically fit because he walked everywhere most of his life; he never learned to drive and never owned a car. When an ice-skating rink opened in the city in the early 1940's, he went ice skating (in his seventies); he was a proud fan of Norwegian Olympic skater Sonja Henie and he went to see all of her movies. All of his life he loved the boiled potatoes and fish of the Norwegian diet that he grew up with. He spoke Norwegian, German and English, but with an accent. He read all of the local newspapers every day because he liked to keep up with current events. He had a crystal radio set that he listened to and was always interested in the weather reports, perhaps because he grew up in such cold climates.

Unfortunately, many of Ostebee's early photographs were lost. Thieves stole an exhibit of his work at the Southeast Texas State Fair, in the 1920's or 1930's. In later years, he destroyed the plates and photographic chemicals that were stored at home because Erna could no longer tolerate the smell and the clutter. At the time of her death, in 1937, Erna was 57 years old; Halvor was a widower for the next 26 years. He did not become a naturalized citizen until after she died, in 1937, and he was 65. He lived for a while with his son, Edwin. Later, he lived in a room at 945 Alma and at 1335 Ashley, the then-Schlesinger's Home for the Aged, where he died at age 80, in 1953. Both he and Erna are buried at Magnolia Cemetery, in Beaumont.


0.3 Cubic Feet (0.3 cubic feet in one box)


Halvor Ingebret Ostebee was a pioneer Beaumont, Texas, photographer who, during the Spindletop oil boom, was best known for the first action-picture of the Lucas gusher, the city's landmark oil well that was discovered in 1901. He opened his first portable photography gallery, called Beach Studio, in Beaumont, in 1897. The city's elite flocked to have pictures taken on birthdays and other anniversaries, and particularly weddings. His photographs of the history-making event at Spindletop were printed in newspapers and magazines all over the country; he also took many photographs of the famous oil lake fire of that time.


This collection contains photographs primarily from Ostebee's own personal holdings, featuring photographs of the Lucas Oil Well and Oil Lake, and street scenes of Beaumont, along with local churches, buildings, and people of the time. It also includes documents, such as family name and genealogical histories, Halvor Ostebee's oath to the Beaumont Light Guard (Texas Volunteer Guard), his certificate of citizenship, and the submission form for his photograph, "Wild Gusher," to the Library of Congress.

Organization of Collection

This collection is organized into 24 folders.

Acquisition Information

This is an artifical collection assembled by the library's staff, circa 2004, with images and information acquired from Lelia Arnett, granddaughter of Ostebee..


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

AC-2003/35, Spindletop Collection, Tyrrell Historical Library, Beaumont, Texas.

AC-2003/290, Ostebee Collection, Tyrrell Historical Library, Beaumont, Texas.

AC-2004/042, Ostebee Collection, Tyrrell Historical Library, Beaumont, Texas.

AC-2004/066, Ostebee Collection, Tyrrell Historical Library, Beaumont, Texas.

AC-2004/069, Ostebee Collection, Tyrrell Historical Library, Beaumont, Texas.

AC-2004/121, Ostebee Collection, Tyrrell Historical Library, Beaumont, Texas.

The Tyrrell Historical Library also featured an exhibit in its main reading room, called, "Spindletop Photographer: Ostebee Exhibit 2004-2005," and the exhibit material is archived in the library's Exhibit Archives.

Separated Material

The 2004-2005 Tyrrell Library exhibit material is archived separately in the library's Exhibit Archives.

Processing Information

Processed by Tyrrell Historical Library staff, 2004.

Finding aid revised and encoded by Tyrrell Historical Library staff, 2012 October.

Finding Aid for the Halvor I. Ostebee Collection, circa 1848-2004
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Tyrrell Historical Library Archives Repository