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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Seventy years ago, some history repeats


Last updated 12/27/2022 at 8:19pm

Orange was the only incorporated city in the county seventy years ago and had a bustling downtown with two-story buildings. This photograph from the early 1950s shows Fifth Street from Division Avenue facing northward toward Green Avenue. Many of the stores donated to the "First Baby of 1953."

As Orange County went from a year ending in 2 to a year ending in 3, residents had good news about an industrial boom, bad news about epidemics, and a good turnout of Republicans at the voting boxes.

But that year was 1952 into 1953. Some of the same news could be said about 2022 and 2023.

For the New Year's edition of the daily afternoon Orange Leader, the newspaper reported the old year ended with the announcement that three new chemical companies announced they would build in Orange. The companies were Allied Chemical, Foster Grant, and Goodrich-Gulf. Plus, Starco Chemical had opened during the year and DuPont Sabine River Works, which had been in operation for five years, already announced a $50 million expansion.

Seventy years later, Orange County was ending the year celebrating the announcement of an $8.5 billion new chemical plant from Chevron Phillips QatarEntergy. Also in the pipelines is a new Enterprise plant on the Orange County side of the Neches River.

River boundaries at least in 2022 were not in dispute, except for a few fishing fanatics who got citations. In 1952, Louisiana was claiming all of the Sabine River to the west bank, while Texas was claiming the middle of the river. However, Louisiana did not appeal when a Texas oil well was drilled in the river, so there was hope boundaries could be negotiated.

As the Covid pandemic subsided in Orange County in 2022, the polio epidemic was raging through the county seventy years earlier, striking mostly children, teens, and young adults. The disease was affecting so many people the community raised $27,000 to buy a surplus government housing office and move it to the City Hospital on 20th Street between Burton Avenue and Park Avenue.

The building was remodeled to house polio patients and included the dreaded "iron lung," a medical machine that helped paralyzed polio patients breath. At the height of the epidemic, the polio ward had 30 patients.

Not only was polio a problem, a rabies outbreak hit Vidor. The newspaper reported that during the summer 25 people in Vidor were bitten by rabid animals and had to be treated.

Gulf States Utilities raised rates, but without the approval of the Orange City Council. The newspaper blamed "city fathers" for using an "antiquated 1914" city charter that allowed the company to do that.

The city was also considering how to handle sewage. The city, though, didn't own the water service. Gulf States Utilities did. It was a hold back to the days of the Orange Ice and Water Company, owned by H.J. Lutcher Stark, which ended up consolidating with Gulf States Utilities decades earlier.

Speaking of Lutcher Stark, he gave the dedication address at the new Jones Elementary School opening and talked in public about consolidation of school districts. However, another 15 years went by before the Orange Independent School District was added to the West Orange and Cove districts, which had merged earlier.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower ran as a Republican in 1952 and got record amount of votes in Orange County for a Republican. He still lost the county, though he carried the state. Local Republicans were so happy they announced they would be having Republican candidates on the local ballots.

That didn't work out as planned. It took until the late 1990s for the Republicans to win a JP seat and then in 2010, a Republican won a county commissioner seat. By 2022, all county officials were Republican and no Democrats ran for local offices.

The newspaper pointed out it was a good year for women running for office as a woman won a seat on the Orange school board. However, Mrs. Donald D. Lee was not lucky in being herself. The newspaper referred to her by her husband's name.

One thing Orange County hasn't seen in almost a decade is a "First Baby of the Year." The old Baptist Hospital in Orange stopped delivering babies in 2012, and then closed in 2015. But there's good news in 2022 as ground was broken on a new medical center with emergency room and a few in-patient rooms. No word on whether babies will be delivered there.

Back in the 1950s, the "First Baby" was celebrated across town and businesses showered the new baby and mother with gifts. The daily Orange Leader in 1953 was an afternoon paper and was able to report the first baby was born at 1 a.m. January 1 at the City Hospital.

Tommy Joe Shelton Jr. was the first baby born in Orange County in 1953 and weighed a healthy 8 pounds and 9 ounces. His parents were Mr. and Mrs. T.J. Shelton Sr.

Gifts for mom and baby included a ride home in a "custom-built, luxury ambulance" from Claybar Funeral Home. First National Bank opened an account with $5 in the baby's name. The agreement came with "twinsurance," meaning if mom had twins, two accounts would be open.

Furniture stores were all over downtown and competed for nice gifts. Conn's Furniture on Front gave a clothes hamper. Dallas-Beadle, also on Front, gave a new high chair, while Case & McGee on Main gave a bassinette.

Goldfine's Shoe Store on Fifth promised baby to fit the baby with his first pair of shoes while Green's department store, also on Fifth, gave a set of yellow crib sheets, appropriate for girl or boy.

Staudt's Jewelry in the Holland Hotel on Fifth Street gave a sterling silver baby fork and spoon. Sterling was popular as baby gifts because Gem Jewelry on Fifth presented a set of sterling silver diaper pins. Fowler Jewelers, also on Fifth, gifted a teething ring with silver.

Piggly Wiggly store at Park and 16th Street donated a case of Pet canned milk and Weingarten's on Turret Street gave a case of Carnation canned milk. Paul's Pharmacy at 1006 Park Avenue gave a set of baby bottles.

But not everything was for baby. The new mother was treated to a $25 permanent at Alice's Beauty Shop and a night gown from Franklin's on Fifth Street. Martin's Fashions gave her a new nursing bra. Henke & Pillot on Green Avenue gave the family $5 in merchandise while Reliable Cleaners on Front gave $5 in cleaning.


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