Bridge City, the “Golden Link to the Triangle” is a residential community with a growing business district. It is located between Cow Bayou and Sabine Lake. The lake is a 78 square mile saltwater lake opening into the Gulf of Mexico. At the south end of town is the scenic Rainbow Bridge, the south’s tallest bridge spanning 173 feet above the Neches River and the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge the first cable-stayed suspension bridge in the state of Texas. It spans 143 feet above the river. At the north end of town are double bridges crossing Cow Bayou on Highway 87 and a smaller steel bridge on East Roundbunch at the east entrance.
With the addition of a second Neches River bridge & with the extension of Highway 1442 (W. Roundbunch) to link Bridge City with Interstate-10, it is no wonder that Bridge City is the highest growth spot in Orange County. The 1990 census proved that point. Bridge City was the only community in Orange County to show growth between 1980-1990, an increase of 4.8% in population to 8, 034. The 1995 estimated population is 10,034. The county seat is in Orange.
It is centrally located on Hwy. 87/73 between Orange, Port Arthur and Beaumont with major highway connections to Interstate-10, Hwy. 62, FM 105, 408 & 1006 (to local refinery), and FM 1442. One should use exit #869 off IH-10 and take FM 1442 10 miles south to Bridge City. It has access to both the Port of Orange and the Port of Port Arthur, Sabine River and Intracoastal Canal.
The market area includes city limits & outskirts, Orangefield, McLewis and south of Vidor. The marketing range is approximately 15,000. The 1998 school districts tax rolls in these areas shows 24,101 single-family residences. This estimate does not include apartment complexes.
“Building Bridges Together” is the official motto of Bridge City adopted by the Chamber of Commerce and City Council in 1995. The city operates under a city manager/council form of government having a mayor & six councilmen & is governed by a Home Rule Charter adopted in 1974. There are 5.69 square miles within the city limits with 359 square miles in the county.
The city was incorporated in July 1970 and has realized steady, aggressive growth. In 1993 the city implemented a unified development code. In 1999 the city adopted a Class a subdivision rebate program.
Brief History of Prairie View & Bridge City, Texas
Prairie View (renamed Bridge City in 1941) was located in Orange County and was first settled by the Attacapa Indians who were nomadic and ranged between Lake Charles and the Neches River. They were cannibals and their village was located on the east bank of the Neches River in Orange County. There were brief periods when the Choctaws, Alabama-Coushatta, Biloxi and Cherokee Indians stopped temporarily after the American Revolution. Legend has it that Jean Lafitte traveled up and down Cow Bayou and may have buried treasure. By 1748, Joaquin Orobia Y. Basterra had explored the county for the Spanish crown.
In the mid 1820’s the population was almost entirely white. The first inhabitants came from neighboring states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. A large number of Acadians were among the settlers.
Some families living in the area since the 1830s include John and Oliver Bland. Other early pioneers were John Turner, (grandfather to Lillie Warren and Roy M. Hatton) and his four sons, Ben C., George, Jack and Jep Turner. Others were brothers Bill and William (Bob) Hatton, Samuel Burgess, born January 1854, R. C. (Bob) Gravett, born August, 1837. Gravett was also called Judge Gravett since he served as justice of the peace. Others were Robert Walker, Larkin Thomas and Tom and George Foreman. Also Robert L. Kibbe, Sr., W.F. Rachal, brothers Frank and George Washington Harvey, Samuel Augustine (Gus) Smith, A.G. Stewart.
The first one-room private school, the Gravett School, was built about 1878 near the present site of the First Baptist Church. The John C. Bland and Bob Gravett families built it. The Gravett family donated the land. The parents of each child attending paid a tuition fee of $12 per month and the students went to school three months of the year. The school’s first teacher was Kate Middleton. Later Ben C. Turner bought the land and the school, along with more acreage. Some of the first students were Roy Hatton, Abbie Turner, Laura Hatton, Annie Thomas, Zeke Gravett, Percy and Henry Bland, Ollie Beauchamp, Ned Harvey and Henry and George Harvey, Jr.
The first school building was also used as a place of worship. It began as a Catholic church but had no resident pastor so the church changed denominations several times, according to the availability of a visiting preacher. Preachers came once or twice a month and were called “circuit riders.” Sunday school was held each Sunday afternoon and P.B. Philly, a school teacher and Methodist preacher, assisted.
On August 7, 1941, the Prairie View County School District and the small adjacent Winfree School County District voted to consolidate. The organization of the new board took place on the home of Mr. and Mrs. George C. Harvey. J.F. Hammers, the Orange County school superintendent, acted as chair.
In 1941 the new school district was named Bridge City Common School District after a name suggested by Mrs. Winnie Lormand to O. Eudale Granger, a school board member. Granger was also the janitor and bus driver. He asked for suggestions from a group of women at a quilting bee. The quilting club was one of the few organized groups at the time. Some of the original members of the quilting group were Mrs. D.V. Werth, Lilly Lehman, Mrs. H.D. Howard and Mrs. L.B. Howard. Several other city names were suggested including Bridge Port, Blandale and Orange Port. The school district name became Bridge City and thus the community became know as Bridge City due to the many bridges one had to cross to enter the town.
Ferry & Bridges:
In the 1800s access to the Prairie View community was by the Dryden Ferry over the Neches River and a drawbridge over Cow Bayou at East Roundbunch and a drawbridge at Orangefield for trading in Orange. According to a United States Texas State General Land Office map of 1874, Cow Bayou was recorded in the Office of the Library of Congress in Washington.
The Rainbow Bridge construction was a Work Projects Administration (WPA) project. The WPA was an agency of the United States government. The WPA began in 1935 by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the Works Progress Program. It was renamed Works Projects Administration in 1939, when it was under the Federal Works Agency. In its eight years of existence it employed about 8,500,000 individuals at a total cost of nearly $11 billion. Workers built roads, buildings, airports, public utilities, recreational facilities and bridges, just to name a few. The cost to build the Rainbow Bridge that was dedicated September 8, 1938 was $2.75 million.
Local communities rather than the state highway department do naming of bridges other than descriptive names. The Rainbow Bridge was first officially called the Neches River Bridge or the Port Arthur-Orange Bridge but locals had a number of names for it.
In 1957 the North Port Arthur Lions Club decided to host a contest to give the 19-year old bridge a name. Out of thousands of entries submitted, several were submitted calling it the Rainbow Bridge. Six-year old Christy McClintock of Port Arthur had the earliest postmarked entry of Rainbow Bridge, winning her the recognition for naming the bridge and a $50 saving’s bond.
The Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, sister span to the Rainbow Bridge, is the first cable-stayed suspension bridge in Texas, with 143 vertical foot clearance. The overall length of
the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge is 9,440 feet and the Rainbow Bridge is 7,760 feet long. The incline of the new bridge is 3.65 percent with the old bridge having a 5 percent incline. The highest point on the Veteran’s Memorial is 272 feet to the top of the towers, and the highest point on the arch of the Rainbow Bridge is 220 feet from the water.
Bailey’s Fish Camp opened on July 4, 1921 where the Dryden Ferry brought travelers across the Neches River. Henry and Mary Bailey built and operated one of the first businesses with gas pumps. The business was a one-story building at the end of Lake Street and operated as a fish camp that sold cold drinks and food cooked by Mary “Grandma” Bailey. The Dryden Ferry brought commuters to the refineries and businesses in Port Arthur. In 1933 a second story was added to the building housing a dance hall upstairs and continued operation until 1954. Son Fred Bailey later ran the business until his death in January 1994.
Prairie View began to grow with additional traffic from the bridge and with overcrowding of people working in the shipyards in Orange during World War II. Adequate housing was not available in Orange before the Riverside Navy base was built, so they came to Prairie View.
Beginning in 1848 the Unites States took over the postal service from the Republic of Texas and post offices sprang up in many parts of the county. By 1858 the city of Orange became the main post office for the county serving Prairie View on a rural route. In 1941 there were 12 mailboxes between Cow Bayou and Roundbunch, all on one post. One letter carrier in a private car brought mail from Orange.
In 1943 the Lions Club took steps to get a post office. In 1945 they were notified the post office was assured. In 1946 the community of Prairie View received a post office permit. The post office began in a 6 foot by 8-foot space in the back of Dick Hebert’s grocery store located on Texas Avenue near the intersection of Hwy. 87 (Texas Avenue) and N. John Street.
The first postmaster was Navy veteran James Burly Scales, Sr. He received his appointment signed by President Harry Truman on July 1, 1946. He and his sons built the first post office at 1065 Texas Avenue in the rear of the building that also housed Sigona’s Dry Goods. For three years Scales’ spouse was the only clerk. In 1949 he hired Doris Ketterman, the first employee outside his family. At that time the post office was third class. Stamps cost three cents and post-cards one penny.
Chamber of Commerce & City
About 1954 community leaders tried to organize a chamber of commerce. There were 21 charter members who paid $5 dues each. Austin Floyd was the first chairman of the Bridge City group. J.B. Scales, Sr. was acting secretary. The committee was inactive for a while until 1956. Reorganization of the unity was expected to benefit the move to obtain a bank for Bridge City although an active chamber was not mandatory before a charter could be obtained for a bank. By a “show of hands” at a meeting on April 11, 1957 the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce was reorganized.
The business community began to grow in 1959 with the formation of the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce. The chamber was active in business and community development looking forward to the city’s incorporation. The first chamber of commerce president was Jay Eshbach. He and his spouse, Dot, owned The Kitty Kottage and worked out of their home on Kibbe Street.
On July 22, 1961 Bridge City voters defeated a proposal for incorporation. There were 278 votes cast “for corporation” and 357 cast for “no corporation”. Julian Sartin was the presiding election judge. Leaders tried again on October 28, 1961 with a total of 837 votes cast. Votes cast “for the corporation” were 296 and 541 votes were cast for “no corporation”. The special election failed a second time. The presiding election judge was John R. Long.
On June 5, 1970 Orange County Commissioners Court was petitioned to call another election for the incorporation of Bridge City. There were 1,123 votes cast. Some 677 voted “for the incorporation” and 446 voted “against”. The election on July 7, 1970 carried and Bridge City became a general law city. The new city’s order for incorporated was signed by Orange County Judge Charlie G. Grooms on July 13, 1970. In 1974 the city received its charter and the people adopted it. The city has six council members and a mayor. Before the city incorporated, the county maintained all the roads with a constable and sheriff handling law enforcement. When the city incorporated the population was 6,258.
The first mayor was Preston M. Woods. Co-chairing the committee for incorporation in 1970 was Albert Gore and C.W. (Bubba) Hubbard. The first city attorney was H.D. Pate. The first council was made up of Woods, Charles English, E.T. Earnest, Don Clayton and Jack Pepper. Pat Brandon was the first city secretary and Bill McClure was the first city manager. Bill Kiihnl was the city’s first fire Marshall and Jim Custer was the first chief of police. The first city judge was Guy Rascoe