Artesian Lakes celebrating 50-year history

No filter needed. The natural beauty of Artesian Lakes has drawn people to the resort community for decades.

By Vanesa Brashier,

Artesian Lakes is celebrating its 50-year anniversary as a family-owned and operated business. Over the years, many Southeast Texans have enjoyed camping trips, retreats and overnight stays at the resort referred to as the Crown Jewel of Texas by the East Texas Chamber of Commerce. While the memories of many families are linked to the resort through vacations, no one knows the property like owner Dr. Jimmy Smith.

Artesian Lakes, aptly named because of the mineral waters that spring up from five deep wells on the 600-acre property, has 13 inter-connected lakes that vary in depth from 8 to 20 feet. An abundance of wildlife, including squirrels, deer, raccoons and alligators, call the resort home today in addition to the 100 or so homeowners who live or spend weekends inside the gated, affluent subdivision that is sprawled out over 400 acres. The resort is located on CR 2132 in northeast Liberty County.

Smith’s aunt and uncle, Jack and Mark Biggs, purchased a small section of the property in 1932 from two owners, the Beesley Family and Texas Construction Materials.

Spanish-moss laden Cypress trees line one of the roads leading to a cluster of waterfront homes at Artesian Lakes.

“It had been called Chain O’ Lakes by one of the first mayors of Beaumont since the 1900s supposedly. The land was used for gravel quarry excavation starting in the 1900s, which created all these lakes,” Smith said. “We are surrounded by an ancient ox-bow of the Trinity River, which is responsible for the enormous deposits of sand and gravel.  “Eons ago there was a geologic uplift, and the land was used for gravel quarry excavation starting in the early 1900s, which created all these lakes. They started by taking off all of the longleaf pines and then digging for gravel using mules and oxen with a scoop dragging behind them.”

As technology improved and made its way to Texas, a steam-powered, wood-burning Climax Model B locomotive was used to haul the trees and gravel around the property. Much of the gravel ended up in the Houston or Beaumont areas where it was used for construction projects.

World War II brought the end of many of the Climax B locomotives as scrap metal was needed for the war efforts. However, the locomotive at Artesian Lakes was spared that fate because it was stranded on an island in one of the lakes. For decades, the locomotive remained on the island until Smith and his son, Wyatt, rescued and relocated it to another site within Artesian Lakes. 

Virgin timber was pulled from land to make way for gravel quarries at Artesian Lakes.

“A lot of the excavation in later years was done by draglines. The larger gravel was mostly what they wanted back then,” Smith said.

As a 6-year-old child, Smith recalls sleeping in one of the old cabins that were left behind from the early logging and quarry days.

“I can remember waking up to the sound of a black bear rummaging through the trashcan. That would have been around 1952-54,” he said. “That’s about the time my uncle drilled one of the artesian wells – the one that supplies the swim lake water. It still flows about 100,000 gallons a day.”

In 1969, Smith’s parents, Dr. J.D. Smith, Sr., and Norma Smith, purchased the property from his uncle and aunt and developed it as the Big Thicket Camp Park. Smith said he and his brothers provided a lot of the labor for the construction of facility.

Laura Beesley sits atop an artesian well in this 1930 circa photo. Artesian Lakes has five artesian wells, including two that still produce 100,000 gallons of water per day.
Two girls stand on a railroad track at the Artesian Lakes property near Romayor during a flood of 1929. At the time there was a switching system to channel all five of these tracks to a single railroad trestle.

For 12 years, the family managed the park, which later was leased to the Red Arrow franchise. Smith Sr. continued making improvements to the park, including building a home for the family, which later became the present-day Hilltop Restaurant and Herb Farm.

In 1983, Smith and his father purchased another 102 acres that adjoined their property. The resort was later renamed Chain O’Lakes until 2002 when it was changed to The Retreat at Artesian Lakes, which was an extension of the 400-acre Artesian Lakes subdivision and picked for the sake of continuity, Smith explained.

Over the years, the park has morphed from a campground to a resort with 30 waterfront cabins now available for lease. Smith said The Retreat at Artesian Lakes has become a favorite destination wedding and special events venue and frequently is the site of corporate events. The resort features a 160,000-gallon saltwater pool that has boulders and waterfalls incorporated in the design. Enormous magnolia trees and Spanish moss-covered oak trees add to the ambiance of the rustic setting.

Dr. Jimmy Smith (right) visits with one of the residents of Artesian Lakes.

Hilltop Restaurant and Herb Farm draws in other visitors to the resort with Saturday morning breakfast after a horse-drawn carriage ride from the log cabins and Friday and Saturday night dinners. Smith said his wife, Helena, is overseeing management of the restaurant.

“We host roughly 40 corporate events per year, and they are sometimes 2- to 3-day retreats,” Smith said. Now retired from dentistry, Smith facilitates leadership, team-building and conflict resolution programs for some of these corporate gatherings.

With his son and daughter-in-law, Wyatt and Jenna, handling the day-to-day concerns of the resort, including the management of its water system and sewer plant, and maintenance of the cabins, Smith is focusing his attention on selling the last remaining waterfront properties in the gated community. Homes in the neighborhood range from $350,000 to several million.

Though the homes are located in a rustic, remote setting on the edge of the Big Thicket National Preserve in northeast Liberty County, the homes have amenities that are not readily available in other nearby communities, such as a 250 mbps fiber optic cable to each home site.

“The majority of our homeowners are weekenders. We have only 12 couples who live here full-time,” he said. “We try to make it as low hassle as possible for the residents who really want to enjoy their retirement or weekends. Mowing is part of the property owners’ association fees. Our residents do not get a water bill or sewer bill. It’s part of their association fees. They get garbage service, mowing, weed eating in certain areas, fish stocking and road maintenance.”

Smith is working on a new project inside Artesian Lakes – a 106-acre master-planned community that will feature a 65-acre lake surrounded by 20 lakefront home sites. To check out log cabin rentals, restaurant accommodations and menus, conference center rentals and lakefront properties available for purchase, go online to

See more photos below:


  1. I just heard that the new housing development in the area of the Retreat is owned by Trey Harris & Terrenos,. Is this just a rumor or is it true???

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