Clay’s ‘Jewel of the Gulf Coast’ needs repolishing
In 1928, my father Clay started his first venture in what, in later years would become the city of Bridge City, Texas. Eighty years ago, he opened the Silver Slipper Dinner Club, a unique place visited during Prohibition by many of the area’s power-brokers.
After the Rainbow Bridge was completed and World War II ended, Clay increased his investment on the new highway. He proclaimed that the little peninsula community was the “Jewel of the Gulf Coast.” He envisioned industry on the Neches River and saw the Cow Bayou channel as an outlet to Lake Sabine and the Gulf, as the state’s best fishing resource. His optimism led him to build the first motel between the Neches and Cow Bayou, one of the county’s few motels. He later added a restaurant and a package store. The motel, dubbed “The Midway” because of its location between Port Arthur and Orange, would last 60 years in continuous operation. It remained the only motel through the years as the community grew around it. The swing span bridge over Cow Bayou was installed and the highway extended from Ferry Drive to Orange. Businesses sprung up on the new stretch that would become Texas Avenue and opened Clay’s “Jewel” to the world.
The Cow Bayou Bridge brought the creation of the Bridge City Independent School District and a merging of Prairie View and Winfree schools, which would have been impossible without the swing bridge. Today the bridge has been named a historical landmark thanks to the efforts of Clay’s grandson Mark and a handful of civic-minded citizens. Clay had drawn up a plat and plans were in the works to build a shopping center in the place he had so much hope in when premature death took him on Feb. 19, 1959.
Clay’s vision never really came to pass, but a beautiful community had sprung up. Some of the country’s finest people, from Louisiana, Jefferson County and East Texas, joined by folks from other states, came to work in the petroleum chemical plants.
Well over 50 years ago, Phyl and I chose Bridge City to be our home and raise our children. They are local products, home guards, which take exception to being treated otherwise. Our family has contributed much, over many years, for the betterment of the community. We also produce the immediate area’s only locally-owned newspaper, The Penny Record which highlights events and keeps citizens informed. The family came up knowing Clay’s dream and has worked every day to help make it become a fine community, filled with God loving, humble people. A unique place indeed.
Clay’s “Jewel of the Gulf” was struck a terrible blow by a storm named Ike, born way off in Africa. All of Clay’s landmarks were washed away in one clean sweep; the motel, restaurant, Granny’s Seafood and the Silver Slipper building are no more. Some 99 percent of the citizens took a licking and Clay’s offspring were no exception. The community we love is pure devastation. We can pump people up by saying, “We’re a strong determined people, we will bounce back,” but the truth is that it will be a long haul. Many will move away, others will live in desperation not knowing how they will manage to put their lives back together.
Much help poured in after Ike. Good organizations that fed, watered and iced us as our city and county leaders pressed the government for help. Soon the organizations will leave and mud and devastation will remain. We will soon be forgotten with many broken promises marking our paths. We are not alone; much of the coast is hurting. None of us will ever be the same. Our government is brain dead, offering us “blue roofs” through many expensive commercials; when what we need is boards and nails and a bed to lie on. A wind-driven surge put a sea of water on top of us and the insurance companies found their out by calling it a flood. Never before, going back to the Native Americans living on Lake Sabine, has our little part of Texas flooded at 11 to 14 feet. We are the highest elevation on the Gulf Coast from Florida to Brownsville. Flooding rain comes from heaven; this surge named Ike came from the devil. The big insurance companies sided with Satan. Our local agents, God bless ‘em, tried to help all they could. Some succeeded better than others.
Don’t think for one minute that the government hasn’t failed us. We have some housing coming, brought thanks to the Hutchison plan. Sen Kay Bailey Hutchison was one of the few who didn’t come only for the photo-op. Now however, for the most part, we will be forgotten, especially after the Nov. 4 presidential election. We will just be someone else’s leftover problem. To date, neither McCain or Obama has even mentioned our destruction. Are they willing to help? I guess it’s George’s problem. You can bet on what FEMA will provide: a token, when we need a dollar bill.
The “Jewel of the Gulf Coast” needs a good repolishing. It will take a lot of wax and elbow grease, and we will get back; but not in my lifetime will the “Jewel” again shine as brightly.