This is part one of a two part story reprint on the Port of Orange, to be followed by a three part story.

Nina Harden
for the record

“The Port of Orange did not just happen. Though endowed with a myriad of natural facilities that can, at best, be set forth but briefly in this article, her addition to the list of deep-sea ports of the Gulf and of the world has a history that ranges back for more than 30 years, when a group of sturdy pioneers headed by Henry J. Lutcher, began the campaign for deep water that has just now been brought to final fruition.”

The above quote was taken from a publication of 1916 in which newspaper reporters and business and civic leaders contributed articles. A reporter named Marcus E. Sperry (who possibly may have been editor of the Daily Leader at the time) is one of the contributors and it is from his article that I am quoting first.

Mr. Sperry was a young man at the time and left Orange the next year to take part in the great World War I. He was believed to have been a commissioned officer  and whether he returned to ORange is not known.

He was a talented writer and his article is easy reading and informative as well as interesting. He continued, “The principals of this group besides Mr. Lutcher were John H. Kirby, who was then a resident of Tyler County where he was operating a sawmill, and Samuel T. Swinford of Orange, the Messers, A.J.m E.W. and George W. Bancroft, who were the operating mills here, and Judge D. R. Wingate.

Their first endeavors were directed toward the development of a harbor at Sabine Pass, the depth of water over the bar that now serves the ports of Orange, Sabine Pass, Port Arthur and Beaumont, being at that time, about 18885, only six or seven feet at high tide and vessels drawing only four or five feet frequently dragging bottom in passing in and out at low tide.

There was a theory that is the shoal bottom through Sabine Pass was broken up that the wash of the current would materially deepened the channel. A massive steel barrow was constructed and ragged through the channel by powerful tugs, plowing the bottom to a depth of two or three feet. No material results were attained and this experiment was given over.

The first effectual step toward deepening of the channel over the bar was the passage of a bill in Congress, through the efforts of Hon. Charles Stewart of Houston who then represented the district including this section of the state in Congress, appropriating a substantial sum for the building of jetties to protect the Sabine Pass entrance.

Contracts were let and brush mattresses were laid, weighted down by quantities of stone. As the work proceeded, the outward wash of the currents began to gradually deepen the channel, and from year to year, vessels of gradually increasing depth could navigate the Sabine Pass Channel.

In 1888, the Lutcher and Moore Lumber Co. loaded its first vessel of substantial size in the Sabine Pass harbor,the schooner Comet being given a cargo of cross-ties for the Mexican Railway at Tampico. The vessel drew about ten feet and is believe to have been the first of the draft to load in the harbor.

The barge Nicaragua, still in constant serve of the Lutcher and Moore Lumber Co., was complete in 1888 and transported most of the cargo to the Comet, being towed by the tug Fannie.

By 1893, a depth of 17 feet had been attained through Sabine Pass and coincident with the arrival of the schooler Augustus H. Welt that took an export cargo from the Lutcher and Moore Lumber Co. mills; there was a jubilee held at Sabine Pass in which a large number of Orangeites and invited guests from other points participated. The Welt was the deepest draft vessel that had ever entered the Sabine Pass harbor and carried a large cargo of lumber and timber to foreign points.

The lumber interests of Orange were now in much better position to make export lumber shipments. Previous to completion of the jetties, the handling of their shipments had offered a very complex problem. The effort had been made to load large vessels outside the Sabine Pass bar, but heavy demurrage charges had accumulated in each instance owing to rough weather making it difficult to get barges alongside the vessels for loading.

With a safe harbor provided for the vessels, the next problem confronting the local interests was the deepening of a channel from Orange to Sabine Pass so that barging could be facilitated. An even depth of seven or eight feet was available through Sabine Lake except at an outlet of Sabine River through Southwest Pass into the lake where a shoal reduced the depth to four feet at low tide. Arrangements were finally made for dredging this shoal with a government dredge doing the work.

Sabine Lake offered considerable danger to navigation, however, sudden squalls frequently damaged shipping and it was realized that a safer route to Sabine Pass was required. Saw mills at Orange and Beaumont were making constant use of their respective rivers, the Sabine and the Neches, sending heavy shipments of lumber across Sabine Lake to the new harbor of Sabine Pass.

Together with Congressman Ball of Houston, delegations from the neighboring cities held an extended conference, the meeting being held on board a boat that toured the waters of Sabine Lake. This conference was deadlocked over the question of the route to be taken by a proposed new channel to serve Orange and Beaumont. The representatives of Orange were willing to leave the mater of location of the channel entirely in the hands of the United States engineers, but the insistance of Beaumont delegates on a highland route, or none at all, resulted in abandonment of the project and it lay dormant for nearly ten years.