We cannot allow 2012 to close without noting two significant milestones for Fayette County’s most magnificent structure. In 1937, Spindletop Hall opened as the private residence for Pansy Yount, one of the American Saddlebred’s most-storied figures. In 1962, Spindletop Hall became the alumni and faculty club of the University of Kentucky. In a single year, this historic building celebrated both a 75th anniversary and a 50th.
Pansy’s “rags to riches” story is surpassed only by Molly Brown – and only because Pansy’s story did not include the sinking of a famous ocean liner.
Pansy Bernadette Merritt Daley, born Feb. 21, 1887, married Miles Franklyn “Frank” Yount in 1915, after being divorced from another oil man just four months before. Her background is sketchy: one account holds she was a waitress in the boomtown of Sour Lake, Texas; Frank’s younger sister suspected Pansy of a somewhat lower profession. Be that as it may, Yount built an oil business after dabbling in real estate and automobile sales. The same year he married Pansy, he founded Yount-Lee Oil Company with four partners.
In 1917, the company drilled the first deep well in Sour Lake, the first of several in the field, and the capital stock rose to more than $2 million. The preceding year, the Younts began construction on a mansion in Sour Lake, naming it “Sunnyside.” The mansion still stands today.
Over the following five years, the company’s success soured, and Yount turned his unerring eye on the “played out” oil field at the Spindletop salt dome near Beaumont, Texas. The site of the 1901 Lucas Gusher, a “monster” that flowed out of control for eight days, was considered over by 1922. The following spring, Yount moved the company to Beaumont, and he and Pansy purchased a 1908 mansion for $90,000 (more than $1 million in today’s dollars), naming it “El Ocaso” (The Sunset). The mansion no longer stands.
Incredibly, just two houses away lived another oil man with a similar interest in exploring potential reserves at Spindletop. Marrs McLean had been intent on drilling at the flanks of the Spindletop, acquiring leases from 1915 – 19, a fairly simple task because almost no one had faith in any prospects for success. Through various agreements, by 1925 Yount and McLean had tied up the entire field.
On Sept. 15, the first attempt failed. But on the evening of Nov. 14, at about 5:25 p.m., the second well struck black gold. Yount called Pansy, who joined him at the wellhead in knee deep mud from recent rains, to watch as the capped well produced at a potential rate of 20,000 gallons a day. Further strikes in the dome led Yount-Lee to become the top oil producer on the Gulf coast.
Yount’s financial success led him back to his love of automobiles (he acquired quite a collection) as well as establishing Spindletop Stables for his prized Saddlebreds.
Truly, life for the Younts was not like most other Americans, even after the Crash of 1929. But for Frank Yount, the end came Nov. 13, 1933, when he was struck by a massive heart attack.