Orange was the “End of the Line”
The track that ran behind the “End of the Line” depot on the river in Orange.
Mike Louviere – For The Record
Orange is often either the first or the last city in Texas travelers will see on Interstate 10. However, one rail line in Orange truly was the End of the Line.
The first exposure Orange had to the railroad was in 1856 when the Texas Legislature charted the Sabine and Galveston Railroad and Lumber Company and gave them a mandate to build a rail line from Madison, as Orange was then known, in Orange County to Tidewater, between Liberty and Smith’s Point. The line operated for three years until a merger was proposed to combine the Sabine and Galveston line with a Louisiana line and renamed the railroad the Texas and New Orleans Railroad Company with the long range plan to run the line from New Orleans to Houston.
The first railroad station was built in Orange in 1857. It was built at the intersection of Third and Front Streets. The station was called, “The End of the Line Station.” The line stopped in Orange.
The merger and expansion took a long time and the start of the Civil War interrupted progress. Some of the rail supplies were sent to Sabine Pass to be used in the construction of Fort Griffith. Several miles of track were removed and used at Sabine Pass also.
After the war ended and Reconstruction came to the area, the rail line was only worked on piecemeal. There was only enough construction done to keep the line operational in sections. It was 1881 before the first passenger train ran the full route. The run was made from Houston to New Orleans.
In 1881, C.P. Huntington, who was in control of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company of California bought the Texas and New Orleans and the Louisiana Western Railroad Companies. They then became a division of the Southern Pacific Railroad system.
In 1885, a storm called “The Big Wind” by locals was part of a hurricane hit Orange. Among the damaged buildings was the train station. It was heavily damaged, but not blown down. Southern Pacific officials decided to tear down and rebuild the station.
The new building was 22 feet wide and 148 feet long. A wood platform and dock was added. The cost of the building was $4,300.
The land along the riverbank had originally been either a slough or a part of the dry riverbank. It had been filled in to the river’s edge so that tracks could be laid. Pilings were driven and the building was built over the river. Part of the land became Front Street. The land and the tracks belonged to Southern Pacific, who allowed the town of Orange to use it as a street.
The freight and storage areas were so long that telephones were installed as an internal system of communication for employees. There was also a modern fire protection system. Large round white fire extinguishers were installed on every other ceiling joist. They were designed to operate at a certain temperature. There were also portable fire extinguishers at various locations throughout the building.
The building was a simple rectangle. There was little style to it. The design was utilitarian. Tracks and a ramp extended 150 feet over the river to allow for loading and unloading of ships and boats.
Another depot had been built on a location at 11th Street and Green Avenue. It was a large frame building. In 1908 the still-standing brick depot was built. The old building was cut into two pieces and taken into town and used for two residences.
The station on the river was no longer used except for storage and offices for the Southern Pacific Railroad. In 1941, the offices were located to the depot on Green Avenue.
The depot on the river was unused until 1955 when it was leased to Charles F. Camp. He used it for his business, Camp Grain Company. Camp’s granddaughter married Eugene E. Saxon and after Camp’s death, the business was renamed Saxon’s Grain and Garden Center.
In 1970, Southern Pacific sold the river depot building to Saxon but retained ownership of the land and the tracks. They gave Saxon a three-year lease on the land and tracks.
Over time the business closed and for years there was only the track over the river as a sign that anything had ever been there. When the city of Orange began the work on the boardwalk along the river, the old trestle and tracks were removed.
The depot on Green Avenue was closed in 1974. Passenger trains no longer stop in Orange. Amtrak trains pass through occasionally, but the glory days of passenger traffic in and out of Orange are gone.
Near the location of the old depot on the river is a Texas state historical marker commerating “The End of the Line Station.”