Port of Orange, poised for the second century of service
The Port of Orange is still in the same location doing the same business as when it started in 1916. Its 99 year operation makes it the longest running business in its original location in Orange.
In the 19th Century Orange had two main cargoes to ship by water; lumber and cotton. Shippers were at the mercy of the Sabine River and Sabine Lake. The rise and fall of the river dictated the size of the cargo and the weather conditions on Sabine Lake often added hazard to the ships hauling the bales of cotton or stacks of lumber. Once the cargo got across shallow Sabine Lake there was a shoal at Sabine Pass that limited draft to six to eight feet. Cargo would have to be taken across the shoal on shallow draft ships and loaded onto larger ships with a draft too deep for loading at the port in Sabine Pass. This added extra cost to the shipping. Something needed to be done to get cargoes out of Orange and Beaumont in a more economical manner. Businessmen in both cities thought a ship channel would be the answer.
In 1899 or early 1900, Dr. E.W. Brown, George Holland, and F.H. Farwell of Orange met with businessmen from Beaumont and discussed an alliance to fight opposition to establishing ports in Beaumont and Orange. The opposition mainly came from John W. Gates who had brought the railroad to Port Arthur and made the gift of a channel from Port Arthur to Sabine Pass. Gates wanted the port at Port Arthur to be the only one in the region.
In 1901 congress appropriated $325,000 to dredge a channel 10 ½ feet deep. This limited cargo to heavy barges and tugs. Not what the businesses in Orange and Beaumont needed. H.J. Lutcher, J.W. Link, and Dr. E.W. Brown of Orange and Colonel W.S. Davidson of Beaumont went to Washington and conferred with congressional leaders and the U.S. Corps of Engineers about a proposal to pay half of the cost of dredging a deeper channel to Orange and Beaumont. Their proposal was accepted and the dredging started in 1911 and was finished in 1916.
The Stark and Brown families donated a tract of land two miles below the city for the port and a channel 3,000 feet long, 26 feet deep, and 200 feet wide was dredged. The city built and operated wharves and warehouses. On the upper side of the channel, Lutcher and Moore Lumber Company built a loading facility for their lumber that enabled 400,000 board feet of lumber to be loaded daily by an electric monorail system. Several vessels could be loaded daily with this system.
Over the years these channels became part of two systems. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway runs from Florida to Brownsville, Texas, and the Sabine Neches Ship Channel.
The Sabine Neches Ship Channel is 79 miles long and “Y” shaped. It begins where the Sabine River and the ICW merge near the mouth of the Port of Orange, crosses the north portion of Sabine Lake and continues south to the Gulf of Mexico. At the intersection of the Neches River, the channel turns north up the Neches River to the Port of Beaumont. By 1972 the channel depth had been deepened to 40 feet and plans are to deepen to 48 feet and also widen it by another 40 feet.
Thanks to the efforts of the progressive businessmen over 100 years ago the Port of Orange has been opened to ports worldwide by a system as long as the Panama Canal and one that handles as much tonnage.
The Port of Orange has advanced from a lumber and cotton port to including rice when the area was a large producer. Loads of bananas from Central America came to the port for years. Locally manufactured plastic pellets and other petrochemical products went across the Orange docks. As the economy changed so did the focus of the port.
The port is a noted lay berth facility. Vessels that are not needed for a short period of time are docked at a lay berth facility until they are needed again. Orange has a quality facility that is in demand.
The newest operation at the port is as a Transmodal Marine Yard. Transmodal shipping is more economical than shipping by rail or truck. The cargo is in containers and does not have to be handled directly. Multiple containers can be loaded on a barge that only requires one tug for power.
The port also operates the property that is the former naval station. There is a wharf for lay berthing and several of the old warehouses that have been refurbished and available for industrial and commercial use. There are also facilities available for marine repairs and servicing. From a limited operation nearly a century ago, the Port of Orange has become one of the most important ports on the Gulf Coast.