1916 Safe Harbor. The Port of Orange.
Part 4 of 5.
by Nina Harden
On December 27, 1915, pacts were made with both local unions of the International Longshoremen’s Association, and the Gulfport, Mississippi basis and wage scale were adopted for the Port of Orange. This provided for a nine hour working day with a scale of 30 and 35 cents per hour fro laborers and 50 cents for foremen, “a measurably lower wage scale than obtains at other ports nearby.”
As a counterbalance for the higher pilotage rate the port charged, and to compensate for the longer time needed to reach port, vessels coming to Orange were promised: “Sabine water for hull and boilers. Fresh drinking water – pure and practically free, Port facilities with modern conveniences. Low wage basis and consequent reasonable stevedoring.”
The great Intracoastal Canal had started that hyear to connect the waters of the Mississippi with the Rio Grande through a chain of lakes, rivers and bayous, interlaced by canal links through Southern Louisiana and Texas. On completion it would allow for the barging of coal and other products direct to Orange from the East offering further promise of prosperity for the city from growth and development of industry.
There can be no doubt that the opening of a deep water port was a boon to the lumber industry and already the Orange Board of Trade, that day’s equivalent of the chamber of commerce, has secured equitable lumber rates into the port assuring her of a competitive basis in this field. Lumbermen found vast booming space in the clean fresh water for the storage of sawn and hewn timbers. Just below the city the Sabine River made a loop, some four hundred yards and the loop proper was little used by shipping. A considerable boomage space was already in use in the loop and there is room for millions of feet of timber to be stored in its waters free from contamination by salt, oil or other deleterious substances.
Statistics for 1914 showed that a total of 3,500,000 tons of cargo had been handled on the Sabine that year with most of it in quantities of timber floated to the Orange mills. This was to change in the next decade as did many things in Orange. The dream of the port, however proved a reality.
In his article entitled, “The Matchless Sabine”, J.M. Dullahan had credited R.E. Russel, a pioneer citizen for the detailed information regarding the early shipping.
Dullahan wrote: “Time was when the Sabine River was the most important artery of commerce west of the Mississippi. No day passed in autumn, winter or spring but that four or five steamers plied up or down its broad waters, bringing down cargoes of cotton from the farming sections of Western Texas and Eastern Louisiana, and returning laden with supplies for the farmers.
“The writers is indebted to Mr. R.E. Russel, a pioneer citizen of Orange, for detailed information regarding the early shopping. A journal kept by Mr. Russel’s father-in-law records the fact that the Velocipede was the first steamship to navigate the Sabine, making two trips up the river in 1838. She was followed by the Ceres in the same year, the Wisconsin and the Rufus Putnam in 1840.
“The Ceres, Wisconsin and Putnam were all sunk in the upper waters of the river, after having made several trips. The Albert Gallatin made her first trip up t he river in 1840, returning with a large cargo of cotton on April 12 of that year.
“In later years, Mr. Russel recalls that the L.Q.C. Lamar was one of the largest vessels operating on the Sabine. She was one of the regulation type river steamers, originally designed for service on the Mississippi and frequently she has brought cargoes of a thousand or more bales of cotton down the river to Sabine Pass. The Bertha was another large steamer that operated in this traffic. It was no infrequent thing in those days to see two steamers round the bend of the river above Orange, racing for port, piling pine-knots, sides of bacon and anything else that would make steam, into the furnaces, each with a ‘nigger on the safety valve’, and each straining every effort to be first to port.
“On January 20, 1880 the last spike was driving into the railroad bridge across the Sabine River a short distance above Orange and the first train of the Southern Pacific railroad crossed that bridge. From this time forth, traffic on the upper Sabine decreased. Some vessels were operated in the cotton trade until the late eighties, but a pronounced falling off in the traffic was marked from the first encroachment of the railroad.
“The river traffic was not confined to the cotton trade, however. A phase that was even more active and of greater importance to Orange was the operation of a number of schooners in and out of this port. Some either or ten were owned here, and altogether there were 12 or 15 that regularly visited the Port of Orange, the traffic dating back to the time that what is now Huntley, Jefferson, Green’s Bluff, Madison and finally, Orange.
“Cypress logs in great quantities were rafted down the Sabine to Orange and here were manufactured into shingles and lumber. The shingle industry, for a number of years, took precedence over the manufacture of lumber. There were sawmills here before the days of the circular saw, but their output was limited.
“The shinglemills furnished outbound cargo for the numerous schooners that moved in and out of the port and most of the supplies for the mercantile establishments were brought in from Galveston, Port Lavaca, New Orleans and other trading stations on the return of the vessels.”
The historical significance is of great value and interest as it was compiled from first hand experience or from interviews with pioneers and from the journals and records of earlier residents.
[Editor’s Note: The final part of this series will continue in the next edition and feature information about The Port of Orange in present times.]