And now you know: The first Wingate

Published 5:53 pm Saturday, November 18, 2017

By Mike Louviere

When one hears the Wingate name in Orange, those who have been in Orange for a long period of time usually think of the Wingate Meat Market that stood for years on MacArthur Drive. Others may think of Roy Wingate who was a noted attorney and civic leader in Orange. The Wingate family made many contributions to Orange over the years. The first Wingate to come to Orange was David R. Wingate. He sat a high goal for his family to follow.

Wingate was a descendent of some of the original settlers of the Carolina colonies who settled in the 1600s. His great grandfather had served in the Carolina Congress and was a signatory that declared loyalty to the state and the united colonies. The Wingates had fought with Francis Marion, The Swamp Fox, during the American Revolution and had allowed Marion and his men to stay on their plantation.

When Wingate was a young boy, his family left South Carolina and moved to Hancock County, Mississippi. In 1839, he married Caroline Morgan, and they soon had seven children. To support his family, Wingate went to work in logging camps. He was an intelligent, hard working young man and by 1849, he owned his own sawmill.

An uncle, who had gone to Texas and fought in the revolution there, wrote back home and told of the great forests in the eastern area of Texas. Wingate made a visit to Texas in 1844 and saw the forests of pine and cypress for himself. The amount of land available for settlement appealed to him and, in 1852, he sold his investments in Mississippi and moved to Newton County, Texas.

He established a large plantation in the Belgrade, Farrsville, Cow Creek area and in seven years had built a productive plantation. One year, his crop produced 350 bales of cotton and made him the largest cotton planter in Texas.

He wanted to return to his saw mill roots and, in 1859, he purchased the abandoned Spartan Sawmill at Sabine Pass and built it into the largest steam powered sawmill in the state. Wingate bought a small fleet of schooners and began transporting his lumber products along the Gulf Coast.

In 1861, he and his son enlisted in the Sabine Pass Guard.

He began blockade running. In 1862, Union forces burned both his sawmill and his residence. He moved his family back to Newton County. His love of sawmilling led him to move to Orange in 1873 and by 1878, he had established the D. R. Wingate and Company Sawmill.

In 1880, the mill was destroyed by fire. His loss was $50,000.

He built a larger mill that was also destroyed by fire, costing him another $50,000 loss.

By this time he was 71 years old and tiring.

His friends talked him into creating a stock company. He took their advice and D.R. Wingate and Company was established.

Wingate had always felt an obligation to care for his employees and give to his community. He had served as a judge in Hancock County, Mississippi. In 1861, he had been appointed Confederate States Marshall for the Eastern District of Texas. After returning to Newton County, he served as county judge for several years. In 1878, he became county judge of Orange County and served until 1894.

In 1890, his wife Caroline died after several years of illness. She was beloved in the community and her funeral was the largest ever seen in Orange until that time.

After her death, the old sawmiller went into a new venture. He became a rice farmer. His efforts were successful and brought a new commerce into the region.

On February 15, 1899, Wingate died of pneumonia, he was buried next to his wife in Evergreen Cemetery. As signs of respect, all businesses in Orange closed for the time of his funeral and his funeral became the largest ever seen in Orange.

In spite of his losses in the sawmill fires, he kept rebuilding and at the time of his death he was one of the wealthiest men in Orange. He was remembered as a man who refused to bow to misfortune and continued to prosper and give to his community.

In 1979 the Texas Historical Commission erected a commemorative marker at Wingate’s gravesite.

“And now you know”