Orange Train Depot: Sold!
There are plans in the works to restore the former train depot in Orange in the near future.
A non-profit organization group has been formed to purchase and restore the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot on Green Avenue.
Leading the efforts in the Friends of the Depot group is Carrie Joiner Woliver and her husband Ron.
Some people may remember Carrie Woliver as the author of “The Train Stopped in Orange: A Captivating Family History Revealed Through 1917 Texas Diaries.” The book was written after she discovered four valuable diaries from 1917-18 written by her grandparents, Will and Pearl Joiner, after the death of her mother. The journals held a treasure trove of history that she knew she had to share them with others. Their diaries, a portrait of Americana, revealed the rich history of Orange when train depots were the heart of the bustling city.
Carrie Joiner-Woliver is a native of Orange and a graduate of Lutcher Stark High School.
The real estate transaction has not been completed yet, but is in the process. Other members of the Friends of the Depot include Diana Hill, former Mayor Brown Claybar and developer Bill Shaddock of Dallas. The group has hired an architect who is working on the restoration of the historic building.
“It is our hope to restore vitality to the city,” said Carrie Joiner Woliver.
Woliver said the group has been working on the project since March. The group will work on fundraisers for money to restore the depot. In January Friends of the Depot will host a meeting to announce further development plans.
For now, according to Woliver, they plan to use part of the depot as a museum and use the remainder of the building to hold meetings and for various venues. Friends of the Depot is looking for assistance from the community such as volunteers to work the many fundraising efforts or special events and for volunteers for the various committees.
The depot dates back to 1902 and has not been used as a depot since the 1960s. For a while, office space was leased out. It was also purchased by a local businessman years later.
A fire destroyed the roof in the 1990s, but this would not be the last time the roof would be damaged.
The deteriorating structure’s roof was damaged again during Hurricane Rita in 2005. Although, the roof was repaired the structure continued on a downward spiral. Since then it has remained empty and haggard.
It has been for sale through American Real Estate since 2008 and at one time the asking price was said to be at $199,900 but marked down from $299,900.
In December 2009, the long vacant structure was being considered for a restaurant by Jeannie and Wyatt Bartling. They went to the city council to request a variance to allow on premise alcohol consumption at the restaurant. However, the depot is located 215 feet from West Orange Middle School which is within the 300 feet rule. The purchase of the depot was contingent upon allowing the variance. However, their request was denied after the school superintendent voiced his opinion on the matter.
For some it may be hard to imagine, but at one time trees and green fields surrounded the old train depot off Green Avenue. There were no stores, businesses, traffic lights or asphalt streets.
Not much is known about the building, although it most likely had a ticket office, a refreshment stand and other amenities for travelers. Orange journalist A.F. Burns, writing in 1936, described a typical turn-of-the-century day about another depot in Orange.
The Green Avenue depot is eligible for listing by the National Register of Historic Places. During a meeting of the Orange County Historical Commission, a suggestion was briefly discussed about buying the depot, however was thought that money matters would most likely prove difficult for the nonprofit organization. The depot does not have an historical marker.
According to local historian Dr. Howard C. Williams, Historical Commission chairman, three early rail lines gave Orange solid connections with the entire U.S., including most ports on the Gulf.
In his book “Gateway to Texas: The Orange County History,” he writes that the most successful and most important economically to Orange was the Southern Pacific line. In 1859, the Sabine and Galveston Bay Railroad was renamed the Texas and New Orleans. Line president A.M. Gentry gave the order to build a line from Houston to the Sabine River at Echo, according to archives.
It began operation in 1861, intending to continue into Louisiana at some point, but postponed by the war. The line carried troops and was guarded by Confederate soldiers. After the war, the company went bankrupt. Eastern businessmen rescued the line and it again made Houston to Orange journeys by 1876. Two years later, Charles Morgan extended his lines in New Orleans to Lafayette, La., and ultimately to Orange.
A few years later, California railroad man C.P. Huntington, for which several cities are named including Huntington Beach, bought the Texas and New Orleans; which in effect became part of Huntington’s Southern Pacific. He now had a line that could run from San Francisco to New Orleans.
The Union Pacific line, still operating in Orange, started as a subsidiary as Missouri Pacific with a tram line that ran parallel to Texas 62 from the river sawmills to Mauriceville and Buna, and later to Newton.
It had a depot where the Sabine River met Division Avenue, the future site of the Jack Tar Hotel and later Orange House retirement center. Another line, the Kansas City Southern, was completed through Orange in 1897. It was never a dock railroad but had stops in Vidor, Mauriceville and Lemonville; and extended to Shreveport, La., and Kansas City, according to archives.
The Orange Depot is in the process of being purchased. It will be transformed into a museum and a place for meetings and various venues. The Friends of the Depot group is looking to host fundraisers for the restoration costs.