Levingston, other shipyards may get historical marker
By the end of 2008, Levingston Shipyard, recalled by many as helping “ … put Orange on the map,” may soon have a historical marker at the corner of Green Avenue and Simmons Drive.
According to historian Dr. Howard Williams, the Orange County Historical Commission has applied to the Texas Historical Commission to dedicate a marker for Levingston. If that happens, it will join markers noting the Riverside Housing Addition and USS Aulick (the first combatant ship built in Texas). The OCHC has also applied for markers denoting the Consolidated Western and Weaver shipyards and the “Moth Ball Fleet” (which helped preserve ships for the future).
“Consolidated built the largest ships such as destroyers,” Williams said. “Levingston built a lot of the rescue tugs that tended to casualties and other search operations.” According to Jerry Pennington of the local historical commission, which reports yearly to Orange County commissioners, Beacon Maritime is re-establishing “Levingston Island” (first known as Harbor Island), a small part of the Orange landscape technically in Louisiana.
Orange County Master Gardeners will landscape a plot for the markers, Williams said.
Consolidated Western Steel, Levingston and Weaver produced more than 300 ships during World War II, according to Williams.
“At the peak of production, more than 22,000 workers were in the shipyards and the population of Orange skyrocketed,” he said.
New research by Pennington shows that in 1930, having operated a shipyard for 10 years building wooden tugs near the Moss Street / Sabine River area, George Levingston bought five acres at the corner of Front Avenue and Mill Street. As the Depression took its toll in the early ‘30s, Orange banker E.W. Brown Jr. invested with Levingston. The first stockholders were Levingston, Brown, George Sells and J.P. Trelleu. Levingston sold his stock in 1945, when General Manager Ed T. Malloy (hired in 1939) bought Brown’s controlling interest.
Pennington writes of George Levingston: “He was a tough hard-driving Irishman and demanded the fullest of his employees, but was known to be warm and loving to his family and friends. His prime recreation was visiting his many friends in New Orleans. He retired in 1972 when the yard was sold to Ashland Oil. Mr. Ed Paden purchased the property in 1982 and he ‘completed his pileage’ and closed the shipyard.”
In 1941, before Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, Levingston rolled out a self-propelled barge with 16 gas tanks called the Sea Otter II. It apparently never saw much action and was mysteriously taken out of service in early 1942. At the time, it was thought by Levingston employees (one of whom was Jerry Pennington’s father Vernon) that she delivered supplies to Great Britain before the war, done clandestinely because U.S. support of England was not popular with Congress or many Americans.
After the U.S. entered the war, there was no need to secretly help the British. The Navy’s official word on demoting the Otter was that the 16 gas engines put her at risk. Still, the Navy awarded her the American Defense Service Medal and several others.
In December, 1941, shipyard workers had a 530-ton steel tug named the Tuscarora on the line. After Pearl Harbor, production was stepped up and the ship was delivered to the Navy on Dec. 13. According to Pennington, the ship saw duty in Norfolk, Va., and remained in use until 1976.
Part of Levingston Shipyard’s legacy is that it built off-shore drilling rigs, and one type became known as “Levingston Class” within the industry. Levingston employees also built off-shore platforms and drilling ships.
In 1942-43, Levingston produced at least 24 tugs that saw their way into British hands via American transfers. The HMS Reserve and HMS Sprightly later saw duty for the Royal Australian Navy. “The Reserve was narrowly missed by a Kamikaze pilot in the Lingayen Gulf on Dec. 1, 1945; and the Sprightly was attached to the U.S. Seventh Fleet,” according to Pennington. Another tug built at Levingston, the Athlete, was sunk July 17, 1945, by an acoustic mine near Italy, killing nine crewmen.