Pettus is far from dead. It still boasts a few businesses, including a convenience store, Dairy Queen and its own school district.
The town started life as a small settlement in the 1850s. But it wasn’t until the discovery of oil there in 1929 that the town truly began to grow.
When oil prices dropped, many people left, and populations dropped from well over a thousand to only a few hundred.
However, something is stirring in this community, and the new American Electric Power substation and electric lines could be the spark that ignites it.
“Any time a company is going to spend the kind of money and time to bring this kind of power in, it means good things for the county,” Commissioner Dennis DeWitt said during a recent meeting of county leaders. “It is my understanding that this is coming in to energize those natural gas processing plants west of Pettus.
“This could spur some other industries to come in that need this power.”
According to information from Power Engineers, AEP is hoping to build a new double circuit transmission from the Kenedy switching station to a new substation just south of Pettus.
“This new transmission line could involve the rebuild of a large section of the existing Kenedy switching station to Pettus single-circuit 69 kV transmission line to a double circuit 138 kV capable transmission line,” according to a letter presented to county leaders last week.
During that same meeting, County Judge David Silva implied that this area was underpowered by the current infrastructure.
“The Midstream Plant that is going in there now had to bring in two or three generators.”
The current power lines, he said, couldn’t provide the juice they needed for the plant.
In the beginning
Pettus started life as Dry Medio in the 1850s. The town’s name was changed to Pettus City after the Civil War in honor of John F. Pettus, one of the most prominent of the area’s early settlers.
Cattle and sheep were the dominant livestock. However, in the late ’20s things changed when oil was discovered.
In the midst of the Great Depression, oil boom towns like Pettus offered hope for many.
“It was like the gold rush,” DeWitt said.
Thousands of people poured into the town, he said. Many, according to historical records, were living any place they could — under shade trees, in barns and even in tents.
While it is unlikely that this many people will be sleeping in tents and under trees, it is likely that the oil boom could spark a resurgence in this small community.
“Pettus has potential,” said DeWitt, whose father worked in the oil field. “It is a hub of oil and gas lines.”
A town’s growth
Justice of the Peace Judge Ted Staples is one of those excited to see the resurgence of this town.
“People are wanting to see it come back,” he said. “I would love to see it come back.”
Even now, as many county leaders point out, the area oil and gas boom has offered this county shelter from the nation’s economic downturn.
“We don’t realize how fortunate we are with the economic boom going on right now,” he said.
With pipelines, rights of way and easements already in place, Pettus could see another growth explosion.
Oil companies tend to locate lines near existing rights of way and easements. Even the cryogenic plants, DeWitt said, were built near the old Houston Natural Gas plant.
Staples is amazed at the growth he has already seen in the town.
“Right now, it’s like what happened in ’36,” he said.
Years ago, he said, the town sustained not only a drug store and lumber yard, but several cafes and grocery stores.
“People of all walks of life are coming in here,” he said. He sees oil field employees from across the country coming to the town to work — and at least some, to live in the RV parks that dot the area.
Not all good
With the good comes the bad though.
Being the justice of the peace for the area, Staples also sees the number of speeding tickets triple because of the growth — something not seen during the prior booms.
“We didn’t have all the traffic back in the old days,” he said “I don’t want to see all that traffic. I drive on the shoulder more than I do on the main road.”
In the past 76 years, Staples has seen both the growth of this town and its decline.
“I never dreamed I would see something like this again,” he said.
This community’s future is far from written.
“All we can do is speculate,” DeWitt said.