The Storm that blew Orange away

Published 8:16 am Saturday, September 9, 2017

By Mike Louviere

Orange has just suffered the most devastating flood in the history of the town. Hurricane Harvey stalled over Orange and dumped torrential rain for about 12 hours continuously. Areas of Orange that had never held much more water than heavy dew were now under several feet of water. Harvey may well go down in history as the most expensive hurricane to ever strike Orange. Homes and businesses were flooded en masse. The hurricane that struck Orange in September, 1865 was different, it blew down houses.

The day of September 13, 1865 turned gloomy, and windy. Later in the morning the rain and wind increased to gale force. By afternoon the wind started blowing shingles off of roofs, then the roofs themselves, later in the day buildings began to be blown down.

Dr. D. C. Hewson made the following statement after the storm; “People left their homes to seek shelter on the prairie where by crouching in the grass away from the timber they were free from danger. What a time was then. The crash after crash of buildings, the sullen roar of the tempest like a great waterfall rushing in its madness and ever and anon it seemed to gather strength and burst out with renewed violence.”

Robert E. Russell reported that “there was not a leaf left on a tree or weed, grass was torn out of the ground. Trees that were not blown away were broken off two to three feet above ground. All skiffs, sailboats, and steam boats are wrecked, except for the Waterwitch.”

The anchorage in Orange was the area of the river where Riverfront Park is now located. There were reportedly 19 boats that were heavily damaged, most sank. The Waterwitch was a schooner that had a dubious history; it had formerly been used as a slave ship and had been converted to haul freight. It was heavily damaged, but was salvaged.

The water in the river had been turned black and was “stinking”. It was as though the bottom had been stirred up and brought to the top. Fish died, and crabs and crawfish were crawling up on the bank.

Bolts of dry goods from the H. Thompson store were found hanging in treetops by the upper bridge on the Beaumont Road, about two and one half miles from town.

After the storm ended, there were only three houses left standing in Orange. One house was on property located near the Texas and New Orleans Railroad, Another home, owned by D.C. Call, was still standing at Third and Main Streets. The third house was the home of Hugh Ochiltree, a large two story home on the bank of the Sabine River, near the anchorage.

Russell later stated, “Ruin marked the site of our pleasant village….the storm stripped the leaves from the trees, but the trees have budded and put forth new leaves, the morning after the storm, the people of Orange were up and running in a short time, Orange was rebuilt and prospering.”

Orange recovered from the hurricane of 1865 and has gone on to have an impressive history of recovery from strong hurricanes since that time. Each time the town and its citizens have come back better and a bit stronger. There is no reason to believe recovery from Harvey in 2017 will be different.

“And now you know”