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THE PROUD HISTORY OF PRAIRIE VIEW / BRIDGE
Before the American
Revolution, Prairie View (later named Bridge City) was first settled by the
Attakapa Indians, who were nomadic and roamed between Lake Charles, Louisiana,
and the shore of the Neches River including Cow Bayou. 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 in the area. By 1748, Joaquin Orobia Y. Basterra had
explored the county for the Spanish crown.
Prairie View had settlers even before Texas became a
Republic. During the Republic of Texas days, Orange County was non-existent, but
the area was included in Jefferson County (1836 - 1846). Now a ghost town, the
settlement known as “Cow Bayou” was 10 miles west of Orange and was established
in 1870. It was the principle community between Louisiana and the town of
There were many families that came across the Sabine River
and stopped to settle in this new frontier and became independent pioneers not
belonging to groups under the colonization contracts from the Mexican
Government. Because of the natural boundaries of the water, out-laws would hide
out in this area, referred to as “no-mans land”. Those trying to stay ahead of
the Mexican Army stopped to wait for the all clear signal and just
Prior to the Mexican War in the mid 1830's, the settlers were herdsman
and raised cotton on the river banks along with rice, corn and sugar cane. Most
of the area was prairie and timberland, which was crisscrossed with many streams
Orange County was created by the Texas Legislature in 1852,
separating it from Jefferson County. Finally, in 1858, Orange became the name of
the City on the river in the new County. Access to Prairie View Community was by
ferry on the Sabine and Neches Rivers and drawbridges over Cow Bayou at E.
Roundbunch and Orangefield for trading in Orange.
In the early days, the main occupation in the area was ranch
farming and cattle raising. Farmers raised their meat that included sheep,
goats, hogs, and poultry. They also raised horses. Fruit, cotton, vegetables,
and sugar cane were also grown. There was a large sugar cane farm near Bland and
Rachal Street that covered an area all the way to Cow Bayou. Some settlers
hunted alligators and muskrat.
The farmers carried their corn to a local gristmill to have
it ground into corn meal. The courser meal was used for grits.
In the 1890s during the fall of the year, cane was cut,
stacked on wagons drawn by oxen or horses and brought to the mill to be ground
and made into syrup. Part of the cane was made into brown sugar for preserving
fruit. Living close to the rivers and bayous enabled early settlers to also
At the turn of the century 2 settlers bought 2,800 acres of
land. When they decided to divide the property, they did so with a dirt road
called Roundbunch. One took the property on the north side and the other took
the property on the south side. It is said when they laid out the dividing road;
they did so on horseback.
A shell ridge several yards wide, in some places ten to fifteen feet
high, extended all along the lake front. In excavating the shell, Indian
arrowheads were found and some skeleton parts said to belong to Indians that
once roamed south and East Texas in the early Texas history.
In 1901 the
Cow Bayou Canal Company had a long canal dug and built a pumping plant on Cow
Bayou. The canal and pumping plant was for the purpose of irrigating rice. Many
hundreds of acres of rice were raised. A large warehouse was built on Cow Bayou
near the pumping plant for the purpose of storing the rice. After the rice was
harvested, threshed, sacked, it was then hauled on wagons to the warehouse where
it was sold then shipped by barge to rice mills to be cleaned and the husk
Bailey’s Fish Camp opened on July 4, 1921 where the Dryden
Ferry brought travelers across the Neches River. Bailey’s was 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. 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.
The tallest bridge in the south was completed over the Neches
River in 1938. It wasn’t until the 1940’s that Prairie View began to grow with
the additional traffic from the bridge and with the people working in the
shipyards and refineries in the surrounding towns during World War II. Adequate
housing was not available in Orange before the Riverside Naval Base was built,
so they came to Prairie View.
By late 1939, Highway 87 was a two-lane dirt road. At that
time Prairie View had two dairies, gas stations, and it’s first ice cream
parlour in 1950. There was a horse race track and several grocery
The first post office was completed in 1946, and by 1952 the
estimated population was 3,000. The channelization of Cow Bayou, the completion
of the private electric plant in 1962, and the presence of nearby oilfields and
petrochemical plants aided industrial growth.
August 2, 1941, the Prairie View School District and the Winfree School
District, a small adjoining district, voted to consolidate. The new school
district was named Bridge City Consolidated School District after a name
suggested by a group of ladies at a quilting bee.
The business community began to grow in 1959, after the
organization of the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber was active in
business and community development adding to the City’s incorporation. The
Chamber adopted its slogan “The Home of the Friendly People on the
Despite Bridge City’s rapid growth, voters proved reluctant
to incorporate their community. Although the population was 4,677 in 1960, two
incorporation attempts in 1961 failed to secure a majority of voters. On the 5th
day of June 1970, the Orange County Commissioner’s Court was petitioned to call
for another election for incorporation. A two (2) to one (1) vote of the people
incorporated Bridge City, and shortly thereafter the first mayor and Council
Before the City was incorporated, the county maintained all
the roads with the constable and sheriff handling law enforcement. The newly
incorporated City became a General Law City. However, in 1973, a Home Rule
Charter Commission was elected and in 1974 the people adopted the proposed
Charter. The main purpose of this was to give Bridge City citizens more control
over their future.
Through the dedicated efforts of the first Mayor, P. M. Wood and his
Council, consisting of E. T. Earnest, Don Clayton, Jack Pepper, Charles English,
and David Hock and the Citizens’ involvement, Bridge City prospered in a very
short period of time. During the first seven (7) years the City spent
approximately $1,802,200 for administration and the services while collecting
only $355,780 in property taxes. The difference of $1,446,420 came from sales
tax, franchise fees, revenue sharing, and numerous grants. Through annexation
procedures, the City also increased in size by approximately 400 acres and 1,200
Bridge City was the only city in Orange County to show a
growth in population in the 1990 census. With goals firmly set for the future
and possessing a positive outlook, it’s no wonder that Bridge City is the
“Golden Link to the Triangle”.
In 1990 the Texas Highway Department installed “leaning”
streetlights to accommodate the tall electrical lines along the roadway. The
city is referred to as the “City with the leaning lights”. They were the first
of their kind in the State of Texas.
Bridge City has an abundance of natural resources (land,
water, job opportunities in commercial and industrial fields) but the most
important of which lies within the minds of its people. The efforts of all our
leaders, past and present, has not been selfish or self-serving but directed
toward the common goal of making Bridge City a better place to live. The future
of Bridge City seemed bright under early leadership and continues to shine even
brighter today as we continue “BUILDING