Orange County
March 2015

Kathy Wilkening & Steve Wilkening

ORANGE, TEXAS. Orange, also known as the "Gateway City," is the county seat of Orange County. It is located on U.S. Highway 90, Adams Bayou, and the Southern Pacific and Missouri Pacific railroads and stands at the junction of the Sabine River and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in eastern Orange County near the Louisiana border. The community was originally called Green's Bluff for Resin (or Reason) Green, a Sabine River boatman who arrived there sometime before 1830. The town was renamed Madison in 1840 in honor of President James Madison. It obtained a post office in 1850 and became the county seat upon the 1852 organization of Orange County. To avoid confusion with a community called Madisonville, the town was renamed again when it incorporated in 1858, taking the name Orange from an orange grove owned by George Patillo. Because of its relative isolation on the Louisiana border, the community became a stopping place for outlaws and renegades interested in crossing the Sabine River into Texas.

Local ferries, which had operated during much of the town's history, were replaced in 1938 by the Rainbow Bridge on Highway 87 across the Neches River between Orange and Port Arthur; at the time of its construction, it was the highest bridge in the South. The population level of Orange grew again during World War II, when shipbuilding increased the population of the greater metropolitan area to roughly 60,000, prompting the construction of government housing and other residential developments. Three shipyards were still in operation in 1949, and the United States Navy maintained a "mothball" fleet of more than 140 ships berthed in the Sabine River. Petrochemical industries developed in the postwar period, and U.S. Steel built facilities in the area.

The population of Orange numbered 21,100 in 1950. Later, Orange, along with Beaumont and Port Arthur, came to be considered part of an industrial Golden Triangle; it became a major manufacturing center as well as a seaport. Lamar University at Orange was established in 1971, and the Stark Museum of Art in 1978. The population level remained relatively stable after the war, varying from a low of 21,100 in 1952 to a high of 28,960 in 1976.

As the state's oil-based economy declined in the 1980s, the city's shipyards and oil industry complex experienced major strikes and layoffs. In 1990 the population of Orange numbered 19,381. At that time a total of 431 businesses were reported, including two newspapers, the Orange Leader and the Opportunity Valley News. The town's W. H. Stark House, Lutcher Memorial Church Building, and Sims House were listed in the National Register of Historic Places. By 2000 the population had dropped to 18,643 with 1,351 businesses.

W. T. Block, A History of Jefferson County, Texas, from Wilderness to Reconstruction (M.A. thesis, Lamar University, 1974; Nederland, Texas: Nederland Publishing, 1976). Miriam Partlow, Liberty, Liberty County, and the Atascosito District (Austin: Pemberton, 1974). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (Jefferson County; Orange, Texas; Orange County). Howard Williams, ed., Gateway to Texas: The history of Orange and Orange County (2d ed., Orange, Texas: Heritage House Museum, 1988).