October 28, 1998
Spooky legend lives on
By CARL CUNNINGHAM, JR.
PORT NECHES Most any person living in Mid County the last 40 years has
heard the legend of Sarah Jane Road.
It is a winding wooded road that more closely resembles Deep East Texas
than a road you would travel in East Port Neches. Barbed wire fences line the old road
that is surrounded by thick groves of cypress trees and swamp.
As one version of the tale goes, when the moon shines bright in the
heart of old Port Neches, it is said the ghostly figure of Sarah Jane searches the marsh
and thicket of East Port Neches Avenue to find her infant child who drowned in the river.
Another more gruesome telling of the legend has the creepy character of
Sarah Jane being hanged from one of the many cypress trees near the rickety old bridge
that marks the center of the Sarah Jane Road legend.
Neither version of the local Halloween haunting story is true. Not the
ghostly apparition, not the drowning or hanging. Only one part of the old legend is true.
There was a woman named Sarah Jane who, contrary to popular lore, was
not hanged at a young age and did not lose an infant to the dirty water that flows under
Her name was Sarah Jane Sweeney Block and she has three children that
are alive and well today. She passed .away in 1983 at the age of 99. Sarah Jane was born
in Grand Chenier, LA in 1884 and moved to Nederland in 1906. She married Will Block, one
of the founding fathers of Port Neches, in 1919.
Besides marrying into the family that owned all the surrounding marsh
and prairie land that is now Huntsman Chemical, the Port Neches City Park and Oak Bluff
Memorial Cemetery, the only connection between Sarah Jane and her namesake stretch of road
was a work of fiction perpetuated by a Port Arthur News writer years ago.
W. T. Block, one of Sarah Jane Sweeney Block's alive-and-well children,
is still puzzled as to why the myth has lasted as long as it has.
"About 30 years ago, a newspaper reporter made the connection
between the family land and my mother's name," said Block. "I told them she bad
lived to be 99-years-old and that she certainly was never hanged, let alone having a baby
drown in the river out there."
In the mid 1940's, Jefferson Chemical (now Huntsman) bought hundreds of
acres surrounding Highway 366 and East Port Neches Ave. The Keith family graveyard and the
Gentz family cemetery that were on the property were moved. The Gentz family burial ground
was moved to Block Cemetery, now Oak Bluff Memorial.
Block says the original chemical plant located there, had trenches that
ran along the side road leading into the river. The evaporating waste fuel and chemical
mixture flowing in the trenches emitted an ethereal, creepy looking fog.
That along with the ominous trees, intense darkness and remote location
all combined with a shred of truth, a "Sleepy Hollow'' type tall tale and Halloween
tricksterism to form the decades-old basis of the legend of Sarah Jane Road.
As the years went on, the legend only grew. Families handed down the
scary stories of the haunting figure searching the swamp and surrounding woods for her
long lost baby.
Garland Allison, a chemical plant retiree and Groves resident, lives
right in the thick of the wilderness area that comprises the heart of the Sarah Jane Road
"I've heard it told that a lady once threw her baby in the river
to drown her," said Allison. "She was hanged in the same spot and supposedly
haunts the road."
In his 16 years of living on Coke Road, he says he has never seen
anything too spooky out there, save for the occasional gang of hungry raccoons.
When I was a kid, we used to ride in trucks out here on
Halloween," said Allison. "We'd scare the girls and have a blast. It is pretty
scary at night out here with the tall trees and darkness, but that's about all there is to
be scared of."
Art Williams lives just down the road from the infamous bridge that
crosses Sarah Jane Road. The scariest thing he has seen out there at night is a roving
alligator looking for a meal.
"People bring their kids out here on Halloween night to scare
them," said Williams. "I guess that is how it has been passed through the
W. T. Block has been both annoyed and amused by the story over the
"My mother worked dawn to dusk for 99 years," said Block.
"She was a sweet lady and was the hardest working person I've ever known. She's
certainly not a restless spirit."