If you’ve ever been involved in baseball in the Lake Jackson area, you’ve most likely watched or played ball at J.T. SUGGS FIELD. This field, located on Old Angleton Road, was built on land donated by one of the original pioneers of Lake Jackson: J.T. “Johnny” Suggs. Born in 1911, Johnny grew up in West Columbia and began working for the Dow Chemical Company in 1940 in the engineering department.
During this time, the influx of manufacturing workers, who were putting in 16-hour days, 7 days a week in order to complete construction of the burgeoning chemical plant, were staying in temporary housing units at “Camp Chemical” in Freeport. The supervisor of Dow engineering and construction at the time was Mr. Granahan. In April 1941, he asked Suggs to present an idea to the Velasco City Council - that Dow develop 500 acres of Velasco's land in order to install neighborhoods, which would include 1,200 permanent houses for the Dow workers.
Suggs made the proposal, emphasizing that Dow would pay for all the engineering so the city would not be out any money. Despite Suggs’ charming and persuasive personality, and much to his surprise, the councilmen were not interested in this offer - one would think no one could refuse. They were concerned it would add to existing construction and tear up the streets. If they had said “yes,” the city of Lake Jackson would never have existed!
Only a few weeks later, Suggs was asked to survey some nearby property selected by Dr. A.P Beutel, general manager of Dow Texas Operations. Based on Suggs' results, Dow purchased these 42,000 acres. The company solicited Alden Dow, architect and son of Dow founder Herbert H. Dow, to come from Midland, Michigan, and design a completely new city, to be called Lake Jackson.
In the winter of 1943, Johnny Suggs became the very first resident to move into the new city of Lake Jackson at the address 111 Trumpet Vine. Streets were not finished, but because housing was so badly needed, people came anyway. There were no clothes dryers in those days, so clothes had to be hung outside to dry. Mosquitoes were so thick that folks could only hang a few pieces at a time before rushing back inside for respite from these legendary insects. There was no telephone system – only rural eight-party lines–so whenever the phone rang, everyone picked up. Suggs would always say, “Hellooooo,” no matter which phone was ringing!
Around this same time, a few LJ men met and visited the Angleton Jaycees. Shortly thereafter, they organized a meeting at Suggs’ home to form their own chapter. They elected Suggs as the first president, an honor which Suggs modestly shrugged off. “It was probably because they were at my home, and I furnished the Cokes.”
In October 1943, Lake Jackson had its first big celebration with a street dance sponsored by the Jaycees. Alden Dow paid for a big band. Logs burned in the background from the clearing operations, and it was a beautiful scene. John Suggs, freshly anointed as president of the Jaycees, gave a speech in which he described Lake Jackson for the first time as the “City of Enchantment.” The speech had been written by Art Webb who owned Lake Drug.
Suggs worked for Dow Chemical from 1940-45, when he resigned his position in order to develop a cemetery, Restwood Memorial Park. In addition, he established many of the early residential developments in Lake Jackson, including Lake Forest and Flag Ridge Estates. He assisted in the founding of Lake Jackson State Bank and American Savings and Loan. He also made numerous philanthropic donations to several organizations and charities. For all of his generosity and dedication to Lake Jackson, he was named Outstanding Citizen of the Year in 1966 by the Brazosport Chamber of Commerce. Who knows if Suggs similarly chalked this tribute up to buying a round of Cokes, but most anyone else in the community would have recognized it as a high honor.
So, the next time you drive by Suggs Field, you will know that the man behind the name was critical to our city’s beginnings. His generosity, creativity, bright sense of humor, and original surveying laid the “groundwork” for the charming and desirable city that Lake Jackson is today!
By Fran Hammond