Remembering Orange’s naval base history
was designated Navy Day in 1922 by the Navy League of the United States. It was
not a national holiday, it was a day set aside to honor the United States Navy’s
contributions to the nation’s history.
was suggested by the Navy League to recognize the birthday of President
Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and
supported both the Navy and the idea of Navy Day. In addition October 27 was
the anniversary of a 1775 report by a special committee of the Continental
Congress favoring the purchase of merchant ships as the foundation of an
official observance of Navy Day was on October 27, 1949.
Navy Day is
a day that once had great importance to Orange. The United States Navy first
came to Orange in an official capacity in 1940 and stayed for nearly six
visited Orange and been built here since the 19th century. At the
end of World War I there were 16 wooden ships that had been contracted for war
service. When the war ended those ships were no longer needed and were towed
down the Sabine River near the mouth of Conway Bayou and burned to the
waterline. The remains of those ships are still there today. They are both a
hazard to navigation and a lure for fishermen.
shipbuilding history in Orange and the probability of another war in the very
near future the Navy came to Orange and on August 24, 1940 established the
Office of the Supervisor of Shipbuilding under the command of Commander E.B.
Perry. The office was to oversee the construction of 24 landing craft and 12
efforts and contributions of Orange to the war effort are well documented in
the records of Consolidated, Levingston, and Weaver Shipyards. Orange had the
distinction of being the only Texas city to build warships for the navy.
By the end
of the war there would be a large surplus of ships that would no longer be
needed, but were too valuable to the Navy to be either sold or scrapped. The solution
was to establish reserve fleets to hold the ships in an inactive status, but ready
to be returned to service in short order if needed again.
1945 the Navy Department announced that Orange would be one of eight sites
selected for a reserve fleet location.
selected for its location on the Sabine River with the abundance of fresh water
and also because of the shipbuilding facilities in the city.
requested for the construction of the facilities and the construction of 12
piers in the river began. The first buildings were the barracks and the
administration building, later called “The Baby Pentagon.”
1945 the facility was renamed the U.S. Naval Station, Orange, Texas. Captain
T.R. Cowie was assigned to be the base commander. The mission of the facility
was to provide berthing space and logistical support for the reserve fleet.
same month the Texas Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet was established to
inactivate and provide maintenance for ships transferred to the Reserve Fleet.
The first vessel to report to Orange for inactictivation was the U.S.S.
Matagorda on November 5, 1945.
By 1946 the
end of the war had brought a reduction to the shipbuilding industry in Orange
and the Navy purchased part of the Consolidated Steel Shipyard and also cleared
a section of Riverside to expand the base, which by this time covered 168
In the years
after World War II all types of ships came to Orange, from the small LCI and
LST landing craft to the larger light cruisers, submarines to floating shops
and water barges.
In 1950 when
the Korean Conflict started, the base began to perform the work it had been
designed to do. Even though the naval activity in Korea was limited, the Orange
base sent over 30 ships to that conflict.
cease fire in Korea the base returned to the preservation work, though on a
more limited scale.
In 1961 the
Defense Department announced that 52 naval based would either be closed or
scaled back. The Texas Group and the Florida Group would be in the affected
class. 140 ships were transferred from Florida to Orange.
height of activity during the Korean era there were 850 Navy personnel assigned
to Orange. That number would decrease to 25 officers and enlisted men.
1962, 175 civilian contractors would be hired and trained to do the work
previously done by the Navy technicians. The regular Navy personnel would
function as overseers.
cutbacks and reorganization the Texas Group remained a vital part of the Navy.
It was a major facility for ships with a low mobilization priority and a long
term potential. By 1969 there were 250 ships berthed in Orange.
preservation of the ships required that all outside openings be sealed so that there
would be no outside-inside air exchange. Electrical dehumidifiers were
installed and all outside surfaces were covered with preservative compounds and
paint. Gun turrets were covered with special enclosures. To prevent hull
corrosion, cathodic protection was installed to prevent the electrolic
corrosion of the underwater hull.
1, 1966 the Texas Group was eliminated and the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance
Facility, Orange Texas was commissioned with 197 ships remaining berthed. The Commanding
Officer was downgraded to the Officer in Charge.
remained the same, but by 1967 the number of ships had decreased to 172. In
November, 1970 the number had further decreased to 166.
28, 1975 the Department of Defense announced that the facility would be closed.
For the next five years the remaining ships were either transferred back to the
Navy for alternate use of sold off to countries such as Mexico, Ecuador, Peru,
South Korea, and China. The few
remaining ships were transferred to the Beaumont Fleet.
By 1980 all
of the ships had been removed from the facility.
Some of the
property was sold to American Bridge, U.S… Steel to once again be used for construction.
Some of the property went to Lamar State College, Orange. Some of the adjacent
land was sold to the Orange County Navigation and Port District.
one half acres remained with the Navy and was used as the U.S. Navy and Marine
Corps Reserve Training Center.
On July 23,
2006 the Department of the Navy announced that the property was surplus and was
for sale. The installation closed in September, 2008. In 2009 the Reserve
Center was sold for use by the community as a Port center.
administration building and one adjacent building is now used for the offices of
Signal International. The remaining warehouse structures are used by various
local businesses, the exception being the buildings used by Lamar State
College, Orange as their welding training facility.
There is one
of the 12 original piers on the river that remains in use. The pilings of one
pier upstream are still visible. The other 10 piers have been removed with only
the ramps still remaining along Pier Road.