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Located on the Lamar State College, Port Arthur campus, the historic Gates Memorial Library is significant for its Classical Revival architecture and association with John W. Gates, who was a prominent philanthropist and industrialist in Port Arthur. He is perhaps best known for promoting barbed wire. His widow, Dellora, built the library in his honor in 1917. In terms of design, the library is a fine example of Classical Revival architecture. Notable features include the large portico supported by several Corinthian columns, large windows, and decorative bas relief medallions. Overall, the building features smooth Indiana limestone facade. The library remains an important library for students and the community. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.

Gates Memorial Library was built in 1917 and is named after industrialist and oilman John W. Gates, who played a large role in developing Port Arthur into a major economic center.

Gates Memorial Library was built in 1917 and is named after industrialist and oilman John W. Gates, who played a large role in developing Port Arthur into a major economic center.

John Warne Gates was born on May 18, 1855 on a farm in Winfield, Illinois. He had two older brothers but they died when Gates was just 15. As a young man he studied bookkeeping, business, and penmanship in a few classes at Northwest College in Naperville, Illinois. Around this time he met Dellora and they got married on February 25, 1874. After taking the classes at Northwest College, he opened a hardware store with a partner. The store did not generate the amount of income he wanted so he started working as a salesman for a barbed wire manufacturer called the Washburn-Moen Company. He was responsible for Texas and was sent there in 1876, specifically to San Antonio.

At the time, the cattle industry was thriving in the state. Ranchers raised cattle primarily using the open-range method since there was little wood and other materials to build fences. To show how useful of barbed wire could be, Gates set up a corral in the city's main plaza that kept the wild cattle inside. The ranchers were impressed and bought out all of the hundreds of miles of barbed wire that Gates had with him. With the $8,000 he earned from the sales, he, along with a partner, started their own barbed wire business called the Southern Wire Company. He bought out his partner in 1880 and two years later merged with a competitor to form the Braddock Wire Company. In 1897, he founded the American Steel & Wire Co. of Illinois, and later founded the American Steel & Wire Co. of New Jersey. By this time, Gates' companies became the largest producers of barbed wire in the country and he became very wealthy as a result.

With a large fortune in hand, Gate's business interests expanded into railroads and oil. He and others built the Kansas City Souther railroad, which ran from Kansas City to Port Arthur. Upon learning of the search for oil in the area between Port Arthur and Beaumont that would be called Spindletop, Gates decided to invest in the effort by forming the Texas Company (which is now Texaco) and built pipelines, refineries, and established other oil-related businesses. Eventually, he essentially owned most of the businesses in the city. Oil was finally discovered on January 10, 1901. Gates also played a large role in developing Port Arthur. He established the Port Arthur Business College (the predecessor to Lamar State College), the First National Bank, the Port Arthur Light, Power and Ice Company, the Plaza Hotel, and contributed funds to the Mary Gates Memorial Hospital and the St. Charles Home for Boys.

Gates earned the nickname "Be-A-Million" from his love of gambling and would often make high bets. He was rumored to once bet a million dollars on a horse race but this was apparently not true; he bet just $70,000 but won $600,000.

Gates became ill in 1911, suffering from diabetes, kidney problems, and a tumor in his throat. He traveled to France for treatment but it was too late and he died on August 9, 1911. His funeral was held in the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Dellora, their son, and a few others inherited his fortune. In 1909, Gates set aside land for the library but the plans were postponed when he died. A few years after his passing, the public library that was located in a high school became insufficient. Dellora led the efforts to built the Gates Memorial Library to finally fulfill her husband's wish. She passed away in 1918. The city owned the library until 1980 when Lamar State College acquired it.

Brintle, Sidney A. "Gaters, John Warne (1855-1911)." Handbook of Texas Online. Accessed November 12, 2020.

Carr, James. "Gates Memorial Library." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. May 4, 1981.

"Gates Memorial Library." The Historical Marker Database. Accessed November 11, 2020.

"John Warne Gates." Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed November 11, 2020.

"John Warne Gates." The Historical Marker Database. Accessed November 11, 2020.

McDonald, Archie. "Bet-A-Million" Gates." Texas Escapes. 2005.

"Mission and History of Gates Memorial Library." Lamar State College, Port Arthur. Accessed November 11, 2020.

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Michael Reed, via Wikimedia Commons: