What Made Orange Great: “THE COVE” was Orange’s unique neighborhood

Published 12:32 am Wednesday, June 23, 2021

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By Mike Louviere

Rivers have a way of changing land and by doing so they change history. The Sabine River downstream of Orange makes a sweeping curve between the mouth of Adams Bayou and Cow Bayou. This area was once a large cove deep enough for ships to anchor. A large mound of shell, called a “midden” once stood near the mouth of Adams Bayou. This was evidence that the first inhabitants of the area were the Attakapa-Ishak tribe. The midden was made from the shells of the shellfish that made up a large part of the diet of the Attakapa.

The reasons for ships to anchor in the area are not clearly known. Some speculation is Jean Laffite once came here. Possibly he buried treasure, but no evidence of this has been found. Another group that may have come to the large cove could have been the “blackbirders”, ships who smuggled slaves into the Republic of Texas to be sold to the Louisiana plantation owners.

One thing unique to the area was a large grove of orange trees. Speculation is that they came from the seeds of over ripe fruit that the French and Spanish ships carried to combat scurvy among the crewmen. The fruit could have been tossed overboard and the trees grew from the seeds. The cove eventually silted up so that little evidence remains of the cove. In the area a residential neighborhood sprang up that is known as “The Cove.”

In 1840, the survey team that was setting the boundary between the United States and the Republic of Texas designated the area on the map as “Huntley”. Several years later, Alexander Gilmer, the lumberman and real estate speculator laid out a community he named “Gilmer’s First Cove Addition.” As this area sold and became inhabited he laid out a second area “Gilmer’s Second Cove Addition.” The present “Cove” basically follows Gilmer’s original plat.

Gilmer’s plan was to have a housing area for his employees and those of the other lumber mills in the Orange area. The area began to grow and by 1883 it was decided that a school was needed in the area. Mrs. David Bland had moved in with her family a year earlier and she began to teach classes in her home. In 1884, the “Adams Bayou School Community” was organized and the first school building built in 1885. Students increased as the population grew. The boom caused by the World War I ship building brought the need for another school building.

In 1920, the Cove Independent School District was established by the state legislature. In 1951, a modern brick school building was built on the corner of Campus Street and DuPont Drive. The independent district lasted until the 1965-66 school year when it merged with West Orange and became the West Orange-Cove Independent School District.

Over the years, “The Cove” has been unique in that is has almost been self sustaining. There have been various businesses from small shipyards to plumbing companies and lumber yards. Many are still there. There have been churches of various dominations. There was once a poultry processing business. There have always been grocery stores. About the only thing never in “The Cove” was a hospital.

“The Cove” may also have the distinction of being the city in Texas that was chartered for the shortest period of time. For sure it is the one that existed in Orange County for the shortest period. In 1954, the City of Orange made moves to annex “The Cove”. The residents felt that all Orange could give them would be higher taxes, so a move was made to incorporate. The incorporation vote passed and Cove City was chartered in July, 1954. Talmadge Pike was elected mayor and there was a city marshal and a dollar a year municipal judge.

Problems began when the new city went out for bids on a new water system and found though the cost was unreasonable, the citizens were afraid that they would be spending so much money that they would have to establish a high tax base. This is what they had incorporated to try to stay away from.

On January 8, 1955, the citizens voted to abolish the municipality of Cove City. Even though Cove City was unincorporated the neighborhood still remains much as it has over the years. Like most neighborhoods, the “Mom and Pop” grocery stores are gone, but many things are unchanged. The churches are still there, the homes are still well maintained and the unique character of “The Cove” remains.

The biggest change in the area is that the school campus has been razed. The school was vacant for several years until it was bought by a contracting company. After a few years, this company vacated the buildings, and they were left to the ravages of nature. Finally, the City of Orange took ownership and after attempts to sell the buildings were unsuccessful, the buildings were torn down.

Many of the people who live in “The Cove” have lived there most or all of their lives, some live in homes passed down to them by their parents. They have a sense of pride in their neighborhood that is unrivaled. Another thing making “The Cove”  unique is the streets bordering Adams Bayou which have some of the most beautiful scenery in Orange County.