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Strake-Gray Oilfield House /
Roughneck House update
By Sondra Hernandez

Photo by Sondra Hernandez

The Strake-Gray Oilfield House at the Heritage Museum of Montgomery County complex in Conroe. The home is going through preservation efforts. The exterior was recently painted and work continues on the interior. When the renovations are complete exhibits depicting life at Conroe’s oilfield will be house in the new part of the museum.

Heritage Museum seeking oilfield, baseball memorabilia for new new museum exhibits

The Heritage Museum of Montgomery County is seeking the following items from the public to complete displays inside the Oilfield House and Roughneck House now at the Heritage Museum complex:

Photos and other memorabilia from the Conroe oilfield

Stories of those who lived in the Conroe oilfield

Photos and other memorabilia from the baseball teams that we formed among oilfield workers

Stories of those who were involved in the oilfield baseball teams

An early 1930s-era cook range, gas or electric

Dining chairs from the 1930s era

A 1930s-era washing machine

A 1930s-era refrigerator

Contact Sally Copley, executive director, at the Heritage Museum of Montgomery County at
936-539-MUSE (6873) if you have items from Conroe’s oilfield days or baseball memorabilia that you’d like to donate to the museum.

It’s Conroe native Gertie Spencer’s firm belief that Montgomery County’s oil boom in the 1930s changed our county more than anything else in the county’s history.

“It changed our whole way of life,” said, Spencer, who is a member of the Heritage Museum of Montgomery County’s board. “It paved our streets, updated and built our schools and built our first hospital. All of those things came due to the tax money created from oil.”

Pioneer oilman George Strake discovered oil southeast of Conroe in December 1931 and it was an event that would change the county and city’s history forever.

“Conroe had a population of 3,000 at the time and in a matter of weeks, there were 15,000 men in town looking for jobs,” Spencer said. “It was like a boomtown in one of the movies.”

To preserve, commemorate and educate residents and visitors on the county’s rich history related to oil, the Heritage Museum of Montgomery County is seeking memorabilia and stories from the Conroe oil field.

Everything from photos and documents, to pieces of furniture and stories of those who lived through that time are sought.

Memorabilia from the baseball teams that sprung up among the oil camps is needed as well.

All of the items will be housed in new exhibits at the Strake-Gray Oilfield House and the Roughneck House that are now a part of the museum complex.

The two buildings were moved to the Heritage Museum in August 2015 from their original location on Duffy Lane in the Conroe oil field area.

The buildings were donated by Sarah Bess Gray Crow and her niece and nephew.

Crow’s family is one of the families whose lives were changed by the oil boom.

Her father, Clyde Thomas “Dolly” Gray, was a excellent baseball player and he came to look for work in the Conroe oil fields during the oil boom.

Back then, all the oil companies had company baseball teams - including Strake. His team was called the Strake Wildcats.

“Dolly” Gray was asked to fill in for one game and he hit a home run, according to his daughter Sarah Bess.

“Back then they’d pass the hat after the games,” she said in a previous interview with The Courier. “When it got to my dad, there was a note in it from Mr. Strake that said ‘Report for work in the morning.’”

Gray was a roustabout in the oil field and in 1946 became foreman of the Strake field.

The Gray family moved from town to the house that Strake had purchased previously for former head driller Harvey Lee located on Duffy Lane.

Photo by Sondra Hernandez
The Roughneck House, left, is now in place at the Heritage Museum of Montgomery County complex. The small bunkhouse served as a place for oilfield workers to rest between shifts

Behind the main house, was a “Roughneck House.” Men would come from Houston to work in the oil fields and they’d sleep and eat in the bunkhouse and then head back to work in the oil field while their families remained in Houston.

Both structures are now going through preservation efforts to ready them for museum space.

The Strake-Gray Oilfield house has had steps added, a wheelchair ramp constructed, exterior painting, renovating inside and new plumbing and electricity, according to the museum’s Executive Director Sally Copley.

The interior of the home is about 50-percent finished.

Once finished, the front room will serve as a gathering area.

Other rooms in the home will have exhibits that feature the Grangerland Camp, an area that discusses George Strake’s discovery and an exhibit to pay homage to the oil camp baseball teams.

A glimpse at life in the Grangerland Camp

In 1906, 555 acres were acquired by Dr. and Mrs. Edwin D. Granger, according to www.countygenweb.com/txmontgomery.

When the oil boom hit, a boarding house and 36 cabins were built by Dr. Granger’s two sons, D.D. and W.D., to serve the oil field workers who flooded the area.

H. B. Nelson and Wordie Nelson McGehee also operated a boarding house and a passage in “Montgomery County History” published in 1981, gives an account from Wordie Nelson McGehee of the Grangerland Camp.

Her family arrived in Conroe on Dec. 26, 1932, by bus.

“The next day, we went to Grangerland Camp being built by Mr. D. D. Granger,” McGehee said in the narrative. “We made plans for him to operate the boarding house, which was surrounded with two-room cabins to be rented.”

She described roads in the area as being filled with “chug holes” water and mud, often wondering if they’d make it to their destination.

She continued that lots of hard work went into feeding the men who worked in the oil field.

“Most of the cooking I did. Lots of days making 48 pounds of flour into biscuits for three meals, along with milk-gravy, meats, potatoes, beans, salads, cake and pies, all homemade,” McGehee said. “The oilfield workers worked in 12-hour shifts. One shift would get up, eat and go to work. Another shift of men came in, ate and went to bed in the same bed the others had just gotten up from.”

Later a grocery store, service station and café was constructed.

The community that developed was named Grangerland and that community still exists southeast of Conroe.

Local actress Martha Davis will make a video where she depicts Mrs. Granger as the operator of a boarding house. This video will be played in the exhibit about the Grangerland Camp.

The museum board is also planning to contact George Strake Jr., hoping he’ll contribute to a video for the George Strake room.

“We’re making the oil field come alive,” Copley said. “We’re very blessed that Sarah Bess and her niece and nephew donated these buildings to use and that we can be a part of this history.”

Work continues on the structures and Copley promises there will be a special open house when the exhibits in the Strake-Gray Oilfield House and the Roughneck House open to the public.

Courtesy Photo
Board Members of the Heritage Museum of Montgomery County showed off their new steps that for the Strake-Gray Oilfield House that were built by the City of Conroe. Shown in the photo are: Nancy Kolb, Sue Ann Powell, Celeste Powell, Sally Copley, Joe Kolb, Carolyn Walker, Frank Banar, Ann Marie Hopkins, Gertie Spencer, Judy Robert, Ron Saikowski, Gloria White, Julie Benich, Sharon Walters, Sue Hughes, Jean Barnhill, and Homer Wilson.

Call 936-539-MUSE (6873) or visit
www.heritagemuseum.us for more information.


Conroe Courier

April 17, 2016



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