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Gilbert Family Papers

Identifier: AC-159

Scope and Content Note

The collection has great strengths as a record of business activity in Southeast Texas and western Louisiana especially in the industries of lumber, petroleum, banking, and ranching. The collection includes original records of the lumber companies, Nona Mills and Nona Mills, Ltd. These records include board of directors' minutes, stock certificates, correspondence, brochures, balance sheets, lists of stockholders, by-laws, and lists of officers.

Lumber related materials include information including the scale of wages paid from the saw mill foreman to common laborers. Other papers include catalogs of lumber cutting and saw milling equipment, information on lumber grading, and information on court decisions affecting the industry. Timber baron John N. Gilbert's papers document many aspects of the lumber industry, including information on timber prices, lumber strikes, and correspondence from John Henry Kirby regarding hiring members of a lumber union. Gilbert's correspondence richly documents the decline of timber resources in Texas and Louisiana and the opportunities for the lumber industry in the West, particularly California and British Columbia. The Gilbert papers include photographs of the lumber industry including the production of turpentine, employees' houses, and sawmills.

The Gilbert Papers provide information on their ownership of real estate, particularly that of the four-story Gilbert Building. The information on this building includes payroll from the construction of the building, blueprints, and photographs of the interior and exterior.

The Gilbert Papers provide documentation of the petroleum industry. The correspondence of both John N. Gilbert and W.C. Gilbert have extensive discussion of famous oil men including Pattillo Higgins, Glen McCarthy, and A.W. Hamill. The papers include files on individual companies which include statements of profit and loss, lists of officers, annual reports, stock certificates, newspaper clippings. Exploration for oil had important consequences in the area and the success and failure of wells are noted both in correspondence and newspaper clippings.

The Gilbert papers provide information on banks throughout Southeast Texas and western Louisiana. Banking records include many statements of condition, lists of officers, annual reports, and stock certificates. The most extensive materials are those of the first bank in Beaumont, the First National Bank.

John N. Gilbert’s correspondence includes both personal and business information. Topics include: political matters including evaluations of candidates, oil companies and drilling for petroleum, the work of the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce, letters from fraternal organizations, and people requesting employment references.

W.C. Gilbert, Jr.'s papers include papers on the construction of bomb shelters in 1961-1963. The materials include diagrams of the shelters, and information on what to stock in the bomb shelter. There is also information on geodesic homes, including floor plans and photographs.

Buell Bassette's papers document his education at West Point in the 1890s.

The photographs present many images of the lumber industry including cabins of the workers, officers of the Nona Mills Company, sawmills, turpentining, and log skidders. Photos from the petroleum industry include drilling crews, gushers, and wells. Ranch photos include approximately half a cubic feet of photos of barbecues on the Gilbert Ranch including games, food being served and musical numbers performed.


  • Creation: 1850-1995


Language of Materials

Materials are in English.

Access Restrictions

Some restrictions may apply.


The Tyrrell Historical Library holds copyright, with the exception of published materials. Copyright for published materials is retained by the publishers. 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.


The founder of the famous Gilbert family in Southeast Texas was Nathan Gilbert who was born April 6, 1817 in New Haven, Connecticut. He married Caroline Amelia Louisa Allis on October 8, 1840. The Gilberts had eight children, Nathan Gilbert (1842-1851), John Dutton born 1844, Wilbur Fisk born 1846, Elias Benedict born 1848, Amelia born 1850, John Nathan born 1855, Mary Lucretia born 1858, and Caroline Allis born 1864.

The family moved to Texas in the 1850's. They initially settled in Kosse, in Limestone County where John Nathan Gilbert was born. In 1861 the Gilberts moved to Sabine Pass in 1861. Here Nathan Gilbert engaged in general merchandising. Nathan Gilbert speculated in real estate including lands in Jefferson and Hardin counties which he gambled would yield large amounts of petroleum resources. His plans, at least for his lifetime, were short-lived, however, for he died at Houston in 1866. His son, John Nathan, was then eleven years old.

After the death of his father, young John Nathan moved to Beaumont where he worked for the Long and Company sawmill for $3 per week. Promoted to clerk in the lumber company store at $40 per month in 1875, Gilbert saved his earnings to invest back into the company. At the age of twenty-two he became a partner in the newly organized Beaumont Lumber Company in 1877, and he was elected secretary, treasurer, and general manager of the company in 1882, serving in that position until Kirby Lumber Company purchased the operation in 1901 for a reported sum of $1.2 million.

With the Carroll family John Nathan Gilbert formed other corporations during the nineteenth century, including the Nona Mills Lumber Company, which operated saw and planing mills in both Texas and Louisiana, and experimental farms in Texas. Although the Beaumont Lumber Company sold out to Kirby Lumber Company in 1901, Nona Mills Company continued operations for many years into the twentieth century and was later managed by his son and grandson.

Beginning with John Nathan, the Gilbert family served as directors of First National Bank of Beaumont from its inception in 1889. J.N. Gilbert served as president of the bank from 1892-1894. The bank absorbed many other banks in Beaumont during the twentieth century, eventually becoming First Security National Bank and later First City.

The Gilberts had extensive holdings in the petroleum industry. The lands that Nathan Gilbert had obtained in Hardin County were developed into the prolific Sour Lake Oil Field in 1901-1902. J.N. Gilbert organized several companies from this development including the Gilbert Company and the Minor Oil Company.

The Gilbert family's financial interests included not only lumber, banking, and petroleum. John N. Gilbert invested in a wide array of business ventures in Southeast Texas. The family was particularly involved in rice production, cattle ranching, the development of a deep water port at Beaumont, and real estate rentals, including the downtown Beaumont four-story Gilbert Building, constructed shortly after the Spindletop boom of 1901.

John Nathan Gilbert was a member of numerous civic, social, and religious organizations, including the Beaumont City Council, First Methodist Church, the Neches Club, and the Beaumont Club. He was a 32nd Degree Mason, a Shriner and a Knights Templar.

Gilbert married Annie Wilbarger in 1883. They were the parents of four children, Harvey Wilbarger Gilbert born February 18, 1884, Wilbur Carroll Gilbert, born April 11, 1888, Lyn Fuller Gilbert born April 1, 1886, and Annie Wilbarger Gilbert born in 1890.

John N. Gilbert's first wife, Annie, died in 1890. J.N. Gilbert married his late wife's sister, Laura, in 1893. John N. Gilbert died June 5, 1924.

Harvey Gilbert, J.N. Gilbert's son, had many business interests in lumber and petroleum. He is credited with many ideas to develop the area including the creation of an airport mid-way between Beaumont and Port Arthur and the Neches River Festival. Gilbert was involved in many civic, fraternal and religious organizations. He married Hortense Gibbons on February 18, 1914 and they were the parents of two children, John Nathan II and Eleanor Hortense. The Gilberts later divorced. He died in 1955.

Lyn Fuller Gilbert died at the age of thirty-three on November 3, 1918. His business activities included serving as president and general manager of the Minor Oil Company. He was also vice president and a director of the Gulf National Bank.

Annie Wilbarger Gilbert, the only daughter of John N. Gilbert, was educated at the Belle Austin Institute in Beaumont and the Mount Vernon Seminary in Washington, D.C. She married Charles Thompson Butler in 1914. Butler, an attorney, worked for Sun Oil Company for many years. They were the parents of two children, Laura Gilbert, and Charles Thompson Butler, Jr. She died on June 1, 1971 in Pacific Palisades, California.

Wilbur Carroll Gilbert graduated from the Eastman Business College in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1908. Upon his return to Beaumont in 1908, he engaged in rice production, cattle raising, and retail grocery business. He soon joined in many of his father's oil, lumber, and agricultural pursuits. He served as a director of the First National Bank for forty-four years.

In 1920 he became president of the Pearl Street Property and Renters Association. This organization encouraged the development of Pearl Street as one of Beaumont's leading thoroughfares. This association encouraged the building of the Jefferson County Courthouse, the Goodhue Building, and the Edson Hotel.

W.C. Gilbert was active in the community. He was a member of many organizations including the Rotary Club of Beaumont, Beaumont Farm and Ranch Club, Coastal Cattleman's Association, Inc. He was a member of St. Mark's Episcopal Church. Gilbert developed the Gilbert Ranch near Fannett, which his father established in 1900. Events at the ranch included the Gilbert Ranch Rodeo which was held in the 1920's. He hosted many barbeques at the ranch including organizational gatherings and company picnics, sometimes more than 600 guests at a time.

W.C. Gilbert married Elizabeth Felton "Betty" Bassette on January 2, 1915, and they were the parents of two children, Elizabeth Candee Gilbert and Wilbur Carroll Gilbert, Jr. He died on July 15, 1958 and is buried in Magnolia Cemetery.

Elizabeth Candee Gilbert was born August 31, 1918. She graduated from the Walker School in Connecticut and continued her education at Connecticut College for Women. She was married to Lawrence Chandler Wild on December 8, 1941. They had one child, Carroll Candee Wild, in 1944. The Wilds divorced when the daughter, known as Candee, was a small child. Her daughter died in 1978 of a brain tumor.

She later married Robert Patrick O’Riley Fortune on May 21, 1954. After the marriage she lived with her husband in Indianapolis, Indiana. Mr. Fortune died September 30, 1973. The Fortunes were donors of the Fortune-Fry Research Laboratory at the Indiana University Medical Center, pioneering in ultrasound techniques. Elizabeth Gilbert Fortune died June 9, 2002, in Indianapolis. She was buried in Magnolia Cemetery in Beaumont.

W.C. Gilbert, Jr., popularly known as "Sonny," was born December 22, 1925, in Hartford, Connecticut. He attended Beaumont public schools as a child. He continued his education at preparatory schools in the East, and graduated from Severn School in Severna Park, Maryland. Gilbert served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, he attended the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) where he was a member of Kappa Sigma fraternity. He graduated from University of California at Berkeley with a bachelor of science in business administration. He was active in his family's lumber, petroleum, banking, and ranching enterprises. Gilbert was president of lumber companies, the Nona Mills Company, and Nona Mills, Ltd., and petroleum companies, the Gilbert Company, Lyn Oil Company, and vice president of Lake Oil Company. Gilbert took an active part in social and community activities. He was a member of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, and the Beaumont Country Club. Gilbert recognized the need for revitalization of downtown Beaumont, serving on the board of Downtown Beaumont Unlimited. He was president of Magnolia Cemetery Company. W.C. Gilbert, Jr. died in 1995 and was buried in Magnolia Cemetery.

Biographies of Elizabeth Bassette Gilbert's family

Lena Candee Bassette was born at Oran, New York, on June 18, 1872. She was one of five children of Ralph Candee and Anne Sarah Housley. At the age of eleven she moved to Houston, Texas, where she was raised by her aunt and uncle, Mary Elizabeth Housley Felton and George C. Felton. She graduated from Houston High School in 1890.

Not only was Lena Candee a wife and mother, but a political, civic, and social leader as well. She married Buell Burdett Bassette on June 21, 1893, in Houston, Texas. They were the parents of three children, Elizabeth Felton Bassette born May 30, 1894, Harold Burdett Bassette, and Ruth Candee, born September 4, 1901. Lena Candee Bassette was a political activist. During the days before women had the right to vote, she marched in suffrage parades in New York City. Around the turn of the century, she spent many hours observing Congress. When she returned to Connecticut she put her political experience to work. Her home was a gathering place for political activity in New Britain, Connecticut. Not only was she that city's first woman voter, but also organized a chapter of the League of Women Voters and served as its first president. She was active in the Republican party and served as the first president of the Women's Republican Club. Her biggest political milestone was being the first woman to run for a seat in the Connecticut House of Representatives.

Her community activities included serving as the first society editor of the New Britain Herald. She was active in many organizations including the New Britain's Woman Club, Boy's Club Auxiliary, the YWCA, the Welfare Committee, the Repertory Theatre, the Burritt Memorial Auxiliary, and the New Britain Musical Club. She was the regent to two DAR chapters, the Dolly Madison Chapter in Washington, D.C., and the Esther Stanley Chapter in New Britain, Connecticut. Lena Candee Bassette died March 10, 1957.

Buell B. Bassette was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on February 7, 1870, to Frederick H. Bassette and Margaret Anderson Bassette. He grew up in New Britain, Connecticut. He graduated with honors from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, in 1893. He was appointed a second lieutenant in the 5th infantry on June 12, 1893, but resigned his military commission to work in the cotton seed oil business in Velasco, Texas. He worked for several years in Houston in the fire insurance business. He returned to New Britain where he was office manager at Russell & Irwin Manufacturing Company where he remained until 1902. He was organizing auditor of the American Hardware Company from 1902 to 1905; treasurer of the Corbin Motor Vehicle Corporation from 1907 to 1909; auditor of the Stanley Rule and Level Company from 1909 to 1918, and treasurer from 1918 to 1929 when Stanley Rule and Level was consolidated with the Stanley Works. In 1937 he retired from Stanley Rule and Level. Bassette was best known for his social activism. He was involved in many temperance organizations and ran for governor of Connecticut on the prohibition ticket in 1912 and 1924. He was appointed general secretary of the International Reform Bureau with headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 1905. He was active in the Congregational church. Buell Burdett Bassette was the author of an 867 page genealogy book, One Bassett Family in America with All Connections in America and Many in Great Britain and France which was published in 1926. He died at his home in New Britain, Connecticut, on December 17, 1941.


72 Cubic Feet (72 cubic feet in 198 boxes.)


The Gilbert family, long-time business and civic leaders of Southeast Texas, played a prominent role in the development of Beaumont from the city's modern economic beginnings in the middle of the nineteenth century through to the middle of the twentieth century. Their many business interests, based primarily on oil, cattle, rice, and lumber involved every major economic venture in the region for more than a century. They were also leaders in the banking community and in the development of transportation industries, including railroads and deep water shipping.


The Gilbert family papers span from 1850 to 1996, containing the papers of over five generations of the family. The collection includes both the business and personal papers of the Gilbert family, and the papers of Wilbur C. Gilbert's wife's family papers documenting the Candee and Bassette families of New York and Connecticut.

Organization of Collection

This collection is organized into 5 record groups.

  1. Businesses
  2. Personal Papers
  3. Elizabeth Bassette Gilbert's Family Papers
  4. Oversized Business Ledgers
  5. Photographs and Other Artifacts

Acquisition Information

The Gilbert Papers were donated to the Tyrrell Historical Library by W.C. Gilbert, Jr., on May 7, 1992. Wanda Pauler donated 7 cubic feet of papers from the Gilbert Building on April 3, 1996.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

Gilbert-Muse Family Papers, AC 2006.004.

Separated Material

Bassette, Buell Burdette. One Bassette Family in America: With Connections in America and Many in Great Britain and France. Springfield, Illinois: The F. A. Bassette Company, 1926.

In the Shadow of the Lost Pines: A History of Bastrop County and Its People. Bastrop, Texas: Bastrop Adviser, 1955.

Polk 1994 Beaumont, Texas City Directory. R. L. Polk and Company.

Pump and Circumstance: Glory Days of the Gas Station. 1993.

Severn School Alumni Directory. 1986.

University of California at Los Angeles Southern Campus Yearbook. 1949.

Warner, C. A. Texas Oil and Gas Since 1543. Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing Company, 1939.

Whispers, Episcopal High School of Virginia Yearbook. 1941.

In Rare Book Davison of Archives:

Crivelli, Albert F. Shipfitter's Manual. New York and Chicago: Pittman Publishing Company, 1942.

Processing Information

Processed by Tyrrell Historical Library Staff.

Finding aid revised and encoded 2012 August.

Finding Aid for the Gilbert Family Papers, 1850-1995
Language of description
Script of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Tyrrell Historical Library Archives Repository