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And Now You Know: The last wooden cargo ships built in Orange and their last days

Mike Louviere
And Now You Know

When Orange began building ships for World War II, it was the second time there had been ships built for wartime service. The first built for a “war effort” had been large wooden ships with sails and auxiliary engines.

At the time they were built, the sister ships War Marvel and War Mystery were the largest wooden cargo ships ever built. They were both 330 feet long, 49 feet wide. The ships had three 1450 horsepower engines with 15 foot diameter propellers and were capable of carrying 4700 tons of cargo. (For comparison, the Battleship Texas is 573 feet long)

Also built in 1917 were three ships constructed by F.H. Swails. They were sailing vessels with auxiliary engines. They were the first of the “City Class”, The City of Orange, City of Houston, and the City of Pensacola.

In late 1917, Swails sold his firm to Henry Piaggio, a native of Italy who had become an American citizen and operated International Shipbuilding.

Between 1917 and1919, the company built nine more large five-masted Barkentine ships of the “City” class.

The City of Orange had been launched in 1917 and on May 25, 1919 burned in Marsailles, France.

The City of Houston launched in April 1917 caught fire while being loaded in Orange. She was rebuilt   1919 by different owners in Mossport, Mississippi as a four-masted schooner and renamed Jesse Bounds. On October 10, 1919, she foundered and sank in the North Atlantic sailing from Beaumont, Texas to Brest, France.

The third of Swails’ ships, the City of Pensacola launched in May 1917. She was torpedoed on April 29, 1918 off of the coast of Spain while on a return trip from Genoa, Italy. She was the only wartime loss of the City Class ships.

The City of Gulfport launched December 1917 she burned in LaPlata, Argentina on March 14, 1919.

The City of Mobile, launched March 1918 burned in Montevideo on May 14, 1919.

The City of Beaumont had the most unique history of the ships built in Orange. She was launched in March 1918 and in 1922 sold to an owner in New York City who removed her engines. In 1925, she was sold to an owner in Baltimore and converted into a floating nightclub and renamed in 1927, the Buccaneer. For a time, she was owned by a movie company. In 1937, she was scuttled to be used as a breakwater for an oil company at Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. The last two of her masts were removed for safety in 1964. Her foretop when removed was sent to the museum ship Balculuthain at San Francisco.

The City of Dallas was launched in July 1918 and in 1919 was transferred to Italian registry and renamed Shia Dallas. August 4, 1919, she burned at Genoa.

The City of Austin, launched October 1918, was transferred to Italian registry, and renamed Shia Austin, later renamed Mortara. In 1922, she was sold to a New York owner and her American registry restored. In 1923, she was converted to a schooner barge and renamed Smith & Terry No. 4. She was used in intercoastal coal transport under several more owners. In 1935, her documentation was abandoned. At that time her hull still existed at Port Johnson, Bayonne, New Jersey.

The City of Galveston was launched December1918 and scrapped at Spezia, Italy in 1923.

The City of New Orleans launched February 1918 was towed to Gulfport, Mississippi for final outfitting. In June 1919, she was transferred to Italian registry after her auxiliary engine was removed. In 1923, she was cut down to a schooner barge. In 1923, she foundered and sank off the coast of Delaware.

The City of Lafayette never received American registry. Launched in April 1917 the U. S. Shipping board approved transfer to Italian registry before the ship was completed. In 1922, she was renamed Miramante while laid up at Genoa. In about 1923 she was broken up and scrapped at Spezia, Italy.

The City of Waco was launched spring 1919 and moved from Orange to Gulfport under a Carpenter’s Certificate. At Gulfport, she was registered as the Modena. In 1921, she was sold at Buenos Aires, Argentina by a court order. Her documentation was abandoned. She is believed to have been scrapped in Argentina.

The City Class of ships were needed for cargo transport to Europe at the time they were designed and constructed. By the time most were ready for service, they were no longer needed for their intended purpose. The war was ending, and steel and welded construction was being used. Large wooden sailing ships were being phased out.

Orange had seen the end of its first shipbuilding boom.

“And now you know.”