City History
  • The History of Our Bridges



  • 260 Rachal Avenue
    P. O. Box 846
    Bridge City, TX 77611

    Tel: (409) 735-6801
    Fax: (409) 735-3349
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    City History

    THE PROUD HISTORY OF PRAIRIE VIEW / BRIDGE CITY

    City of Bridge CityBefore 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 Liberty.

    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 stayed.

    Cow Bayou BridgePrior 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 and bayous.

    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 enjoy seafood.

    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.

    City of Bridge CityA 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 removed.

    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 stores.
    Bridge City Post OfficeThe 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.

    On 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 Grow”.

    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 were elected.

    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.

    Dedication of Rainbow BridgeThrough 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 in population.

    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 BRIDGES TOGETHER


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