Texas Travel

City Spotlight: Kilgore

By Chet Garner 1.6.22

When folks talk about Texas oil in 2021, they tend to be talking about West Texas. But in the 1930s, they were talking about East Texas — specifically, a town called Kilgore. While it’s not quite as prominent these days as cities such as Midland and Odessa, it’s as quintessential as — and more historic than — any oil town in Texas.

Kilgore, Texas

Striking Oil

In 1930, the withering economy of a rustic, rural, and cotton-dependent East Texas got a jump-start with the discovery of the largest oil reservoir in the U.S. At the epicenter of the boom was a little town called Kilgore, whose diminishing population surged along with the surrounding area. Oil wells were even drilled within the new boomtown’s limits — at one point in the early 1930s, the greatest concentration of oil derricks in the world lay on a single block of downtown Kilgore. The phenomenon led to Kilgore’s designation as the “World’s Richest Acre.” Though the region’s oil boom subsided by 1940, oil production has remained central to Kilgore’s economy and culture ever since.

Kilgore, Texas

A Museum Boomtown

Today, Kilgore is home to the East Texas Oil Museum, which gives us a glimpse into the life of an authentic mid-20th-century oil town. The museum is entirely indoors, but the curators have recreated the lively, bustling streets of a boomtown. There are trucks “stuck” in the mud, animatronic people that talk to you as you pass by, and even a replica of an old-school movie theater (for an extra dose of reality, they pump the smell of buttered popcorn into the theater!). They’ve done a great job with it, and it’s neat to feel like you’ve really stepped back in time.

There’s another museum in Kilgore that honors “booms” of a different industry — broadcasting studios. The Texas Broadcast Museum is full of old equipment used during some of the most historic events in American and Texas history. They’ve got cameras that reported the JFK assassination, an ESPN news truck from the 1970s, and cameras from early sets of “Saturday Night Live.” The most fun part is a working news booth you can sit behind to give your own weather report.

Nationally, Kilgore is perhaps best known for the Kilgore College Rangerettes, the very first precision dance team in the country. Their iconic red shirts, white cowboy hats, and blue skirts are often seen at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. There’s a great Rangerette Museum in town where they exhibit props and costumes from their shows over the years.

Kilgore Cooking

While Texas is famous for being a culinary melting pot, I had never seen Hungarian food in the Lone Star State until I came to Kilgore. Brigitta’s Hungarian Restaurant only opened in 2017, but it’s already famous for its authentic Hungarian sausage, beef and chicken paprikash, stuffed cabbage, and cheeses — people around the country have Brigitta’s food delivered. It’s an absolute must if you’re in town.

Kilgore also boasts one of the most iconic barbecue joints in the state, the Country Tavern. It’s East Texas-style ribs are as sticky and saucy as anything you’ve ever had. They’ve also got great banana pudding, but the ribs are so darn good you might not have room for dessert.

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