Shell Deer Park Donates Historic Archives to UH Libraries

Collection Offers Insight into Relationship between Refinery and City

Everyone knows about Spindletop, the East Texas oilfield that launched Texas’ love affair with oil. But how that oil is made into fuel and other useful products – and how the process has shaped the communities surrounding the plants – is less well-known.

An agreement between Shell Deer Park and the University of Houston Libraries will make it easier for scholars and the public to learn more about that relationship, as historical documents, photos and artifacts from the plant become part of the library’s Energy & Sustainability Research Collection.

Greg Willms, vice president for manufacturing at Shell Deer Park, said the collection – spanning the company’s 90-year history in the city – is a tangible sign of Shell’s commitment to the communities in which it works. “Shell Deer Park’s historic collection showcases how our employees have worked to advance the plant and the community simultaneously, be it through donating coal to heat Deer Park schools during the Great Depression or lending a pump to save a neighborhood during Hurricane Harvey while continuing to maintain safe operations and produce the products that fuel our world,” Willms said.

Shell Deer Park was a crucial player during the early days of the city, said Christian Kelleher, director of special collections for the UH Libraries.

The Shell Deer Park collection dates back to the 1930s and was organized in the 1980s by the Shell Deer Park Historical Society, made up of plant employees and retirees, and displayed in a small museum on plant grounds. When post-9/11 security provisions restricted access, the company preserved the artifacts and periodically made them available to the public through pop-up installations.

But the collection didn’t have a permanent home.

“So much of Shell and Deer Park’s history is intertwined,” said Sherry Garrison, a member of the Deer Park City Council. “This collection has created a unique story that has been documented, shared and now preserved. I am very excited that our residents and other visitors will have this special history accessible.”

Kelleher said the University will digitize the collection, which documents both plant operations and the lives of its employees. That will make the collection accessible for people interested in genealogy, as well as to scholars interested in the ways in which the oil and gas industry impacted U.S. society.

“We’re thrilled that the University will be able to digitize this collection and unlock our history, so that the descendants of our former employees can learn more about the role they played in paving the way for the site and community we have today,” Willms said.

Housing the archives will strengthen the University’s partnerships with the energy industry and serve as a resource for both students and faculty, said Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

“Housing the Shell Deer Park archives will help expand the energy and sustainability research collection, which documents Houston’s place as the global capital of the energy industry that continues to shape the city’s and the world’s technologies, economies, politics, environments, and cultures,” Short said. “These collections are invaluable to faculty and students who wish to study the effects of this industry, as well as providing a resource for the greater public.”  

Eloise Brice, vice president for university advancement, said the gift will offer “a glimpse into the storied history of a consummate leader in the energy industry; a shining example of progress through perseverance and determination.”