Bailey hopes to re-open Sabine Lake marina
Henry Bailey, 63, steps through remnants of the once popular Rob Bailey Fish Camp where he was raised. Nearby, the Bailey family oak tree struggles against the dry July heat partially uprooted by Hurricane Ike. The withered oak once shaded the backyard of the home where Rob and Sue Bailey raised six children. Today, north Sabine Lake glistens in bright sun where the piers and timbers of the old wharf poke from the water like fish bones.
“The oak was given to us by my uncle Joe,” Bailey said, referring to Joe Bailey who owned the famed Bridge City establishment Joe Bailey’s Fish Camp on Cow Bayou before it burned in the 1960s. The oak tree was a gift to the newly-married Rob and Sue.
In 1941, Rob Bailey acquired the land at the end of Old Ferry Road around the bend from his brother’s venture, Fred Bailey’s Fish Camp. Rob sold bait at the boat launch called Rob’s Place. In time it would become Rob Bailey’s Fish Camp with a store run by Sue on what had become known as Bailey Road.
Henry Bailey, a geologist living in League City, took over the landmark Sabine Lake property after the death of his mother in 2008. Sue, 84, had lived there almost 50 years until her death from cancer. But by then, the longtime Sabine Lake marina was already in disrepair.
The boat launch hadn’t been used since Hurricane Humberto filled it with silt on Sept. 13, 2006. In 2008, on the same day, Hurricane Ike, swept away the closed landmark store and Bailey home place that Henry had recently remodeled for his mother.
But Bailey says he has plans to redevelop the property and re-open it to the public.
“It is what my mother would have wanted me to do and I’m going to do it,” he said.
Since Hurricane Ike, the future of the almost 15 acres of Sabine Lake marsh and shoreline that Bailey inherited has been unknown. The land starts at the foot of the county bridge over narrow Old River Bayou that snakes through the marsh. The property has been inhabited by humans for at least 1500 years. Bailey himself being the donor of an immense collection of Atakapa artifacts held at the Museum of the Gulf Coast. The collection was found near his home. Folklore says Jean Laffitte used the area to hide and house contraband – mostly slaves. Other Sabine Lake myths and legends abound.
Bailey says he made the decision to redevelop the property after returning to Bridge City and seeing the damage from Hurricane Ike.
He intends to do the work in phases starting with clearing the land and dredging the boat launch. Eventually he wants to rebuild a marina type facility on the site that once attracted fishermen and hunters from all over the U.S. He has acquired permits from the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the boat launch and improve the shoreline.
“People will be able to launch their boats here again by next spring,” Bailey said.
A major hurdle for Bailey will be the new property designations imposed by FEMA. The Bailey property falls under a “velocity zone’ with significantly tougher building codes and restrictions that could make the project prohibitive.
The site provides easy access to north Sabine Lake and surrounding waterways. It adjoins the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Lower Neches Wildlife Management Area, and provides a spectacular 360-degree view. It is also a nature lovers paradise made famous by Sue Bailey who appeared on “The Texas Country Reporter” stomping through the swamp in hip boots promoting Texas wetland conservation.
Bailey let curiosity become her teacher and she shared what she learned from observing the local habitat. She became the Audubon Society’s first woman marshal, protecting and monitoring rookeries on Sydney Island and other sites. She was also featured in numerous newspaper articles and Southern Living magazine.
In 2003 Sue Bailey was named “Citizen of the Year” by the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce.
“I found her Citizen of the Year plaque about 50 yards out there,” Bailey said, pointing to the marsh where Hurricane Ike scattered the home. “It was pretty messed up but I kept it.”
Bailey also said he discovered a ruined box of his mother’s nature photographs and negatives in the swamp but he left them behind.
“Everything else is out there somewhere,” he said.
Bailey is the namesake grandson of Henry and Maria Bailey, survivors of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. The couple moved to the shore and opened a family business, Bailey Fish Camp, on July 4, 1923. The Bailey family catered to ferry traffic crossing Old River Cove. Rob Bailey, skippered the “Vivian” tugboat that shuttled the Dryden Ferry across the Neches River. Motorists drove north on Humble Island then crossed a half mile wooden causeway suspended on pilings where Bailey’s Fish Camp was conveniently located.
After the Rainbow Bridge was opened in 1938 Fred Bailey operated Fred Bailey Fish Camp. The venture featured Grandma Bailey cooking, cold beer and fresh seafood. There was a dance hall upstairs that featured live bands. Fred Bailey died in 1994. The original Fred Bailey Fish Camp burned to the ground in 1997. A home was rebuilt to replicate the original Bailey building in its place by Bailey relatives, but it too was washed away by Hurricane Ike.