Heritage House Museum pays tribute to water sports
Last updated 5/30/2023 at 7:01pm
The two major rivers, along with Sabine Lake, and several bayous have provided centuries of indigenous people and settlers a way to travel, eat, and relax.
Orange County's waterways are now drawing national attention through professional fishing tournaments, but fishing has always been important to residents. The indigenous Attakapa ate fish, shellfish, and alligators, along with lotus and cattail roots.
To pay tribute to the waterways and the long history of fishing and water sports, the Heritage House Museum has a small exhibit featuring old photographs and fishing memorabilia on display.
The exhibit includes a collection from the late fishing guide Dickie Colburn, plus photos and artifacts from the Aqua Demons and Debs, an acrobatic ski team. Also a display has information and photos of the Bailey family of Bridge City and their fish camps.
Vintage fishing poles and lures are part of the exhibit, that also includes an old boat motor and 1950s pair of water skies.
Adam Conrad, president of the Heritage House board of directors, said the museum wants to showcase the long history of the county's love, and dependence on the waterways.
Richard 'Dickie' Colburn was a descendant of a longtime Orange family and grew up fishing along the waterways. He was a football star at Stark High School and then McNeese State University.
After spending time as a teacher-coach, he returned to Orange in 1977, when he and his wife, Karen, opened The Fishing Hole tackle shop. He became a fishing guide and boat captain, renowned for his expertise in knowing the biting patterns of various fish and what baits or lures to use.
He shared his knowledge in newspaper columns in The Record newspapers and magazines. Roy Dunn, owner of The Record newspapers, said people from Jefferson County would drive to Orange County to pick up the paper just to read Colburn's column. He was that renowned among avid anglers.
In addition, Colburn was an accomplished artist. The exhibit features a pen and watercolor work he did of an old fishing camp shack along the East Pass.
Colburn died at the age of 75 in 2021.
The Aqua Demons and Debs trick skiing group was formed in the early 1950s by Hubert Spradling and Charles Webb after they handmade a pair of water skis after seeing a pattern in Popular Mechanics magazine. Their wives, Margaret Spradling and Joette Webb, along with some other local residents formed the team that became renounced across the region.
The crescent of the Sabine River in downtown Orange for many years had a ski ramp in the middle for the team to display their trick jumps. A pyramid formation of the women riding on the top of the shoulders of the men on skis was a big stunt.
The Aqua Demons and Debs would often put on shows in the river downtown with crowds of people lining the riverbanks to watch.
The Bailey family in what is now Bridge City played an important role in the fishing history of Orange County.
Back in 1926, when the area was known as Prairie View, Henry and Mary Bailey opened a roadhouse-bait shop at the end of Ferry Road, where a ferry was the only way across the Neches River to Jefferson County. Henry and Mary were survivors of the 1900 Galveston hurricane and had 10 children.
Their business served fried fish, gumbo, and other foods to people waiting for the ferry. They also sold gasoline, beer, and bait for people wanting to fish along the waterways.
After the Rainbow Bridge opened in 1938, the Baileys continued with their roadhouse and added an upstairs dancehall. Eventually, son Rob Bailey opened his own fish camp with boat launches at the end of the road, and son Fred Bailey ran a bar and a fishing pier. Rob didn't sell beer, and Fred didn't sell bait. However, their brother, Joe Bailey, sold both beer and bait from his fish camp on Cow Bayou. Though he was in the same town, he was too far away to compete with his brothers.
The exhibit is on display in the Heritage House Museum's Williams Building, behind the 1902 Sims house. Heritage House Museum complex is at 901 West Division Avenue, west of the Orange County Courthouse.
The exhibit will be open during regular operating hours of 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays through the end of June. Visitors should check in to the administration building in the back. For more information or to arrange a tour, call 409-886-5385. With an advance reservation for groups, the board can open the exhibit during non-regular hours. The museum has a small fee to tour the historic 1902 house.