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By Roy Dunn
For the Record 

Down Life's Highway...

Decades Ago When Downtown Orange Was Special


Last updated 9/26/2023 at 7:31pm

Courtesy of JW Dalton

Sharon Amen, Sandra Amen, Thelma Vercher, George Bush, Catherine Harper, Milly Harper, Sue Vercher and Della Bonnin

A time and place where movers and shakers congregated and 'Spice Girls' waited on them...

  I came in on the tail end of the heydays of the famous Holland Hotel, where a person could get a bath and a shave for $1. Rooms had no phones, no television, no radio. It was a historic hotel in a small town, featuring a barber shop with eight chairs and two shoeshine stands. The chandeliered dining room had white linen tablecloths. The hotel was located on the exact spot that Orange's first settlers, the John Harmon family, had pitched their tent. Arriving by raft, they settled No Man's Land and what ultimately became downtown Orange, Texas. The Holland faded into history when right across the street, on the banks of the Sabine River, the new Jack Tar Hotel replaced it. It became the gathering place for locals not only at mealtimes but also during the many daily coffee breaks. The Jack Tar's hot spot, the Sugar & Spice Restaurant and Coffee Shop, was a constant buzz with the community's movers and shakers. The yacht club upstairs drew the late afternoon/evening crowd, where bartender Lloyd Gilbeaux and crew mixed and served the best drinks and live entertainment; even some acts from Vegas were featured. The large ballroom had many purposes, from banquets and big band dancing to serving as a gathering place for all state and national politicians who came to town. And many did--every governor for a 25-year-period plus U.S. senators and those who aspired to be: Joe Christi, Ben Barnes, John Tower, Waggoner Carr, Price Daniel, Preston Smith, Dolph Briscoe, John Connally and a multitude of others came.

I remember back in '66 when a young oil man named George Bush came to town seeking votes for his U.S. Senate candidacy. I'd heard him before and remember commenting about being impressed with his delivery and message and that if he was a Democrat he could be president some day. He didn't win the senate seat, but despite being a Republican, he did become vice president and later president of the United States. He was a more impressive speaker as a young man than later. He had a special charisma and good looks. Even though he was a northeast Yankee, he had settled in West Texas.

All civic organizations met at the Jack Tar--the big Lions Club, Rotary, Kiwanis and the big biscuit-throwing Optimist Club of Jimmy Conn and Ed Lovelace. But it was at the Sugar & Spice where the action really took place. The Sunday morning round table chaired by attorney Paul Owen drew local politicos, but on any given day you could run into most of the men that served as heart and breath of the community. Here political deals were cut while some men still saucered their coffee. It was commonplace to see attorneys Bill Sexton, Dub Hustmyre, Ponce Dunn, John O. Young, Jim Morris, Roy Wingate, Louis Dugas, Graham Bruce, Ward Stephenson, Judge Homer Stephenson, Marlin Thompson, Gene Hoyt, Dewitt Bennet, Judge Tullus, the Lea Brothers and others: bankers Elmer Newman, Shon Hudson, and Bennis Lee; Businessmen Raymond Selzer, Meade Graves, Tony Griffin, Ted Belile, Frank Manchac, Murry Spector, Clarence Kyte, Frank Zeto, Joe Burke, Lannie Claybar,  Benny Johnson and Alvin Keown; politicians Raymond Sanders, Joe Runnels, Judge Sid Caillavet, Charlie Grooms, James Neff, Sheriff Chester Holt and deputies W.S. Wagner and Charlie Burch, James Stringer, Judge Neal Miller, Sr., Mayor Neal Miller, Jr. and Major Inman, Sen. D. Roy Harrington. Most often Edgar Brown, Jr. gathered a bunch around him while he told stories. Joe Blanda's barber shop was located in the Orange House and was always a good place to get an argument.

Joe Dupuy later ran the travel agency with wife Dixie. Marge Roberts ran the real estate office. Gus Harris' Farmers Mercantile was across the street, where he kept peanuts roasting in winter time. The entire neighborhood had a life of its own, the law offices, courthouse crew, Albert's Inn and the Playhouse. I moved into the Sixth St. building when we started the Opportunity Valley News. We still own that special building. The Sugar & spice had the best waitresses that could be found anywhere and the Spice Girls knew more secrets and happenings going on than anyone in the county. Millie Harper, who lives in Mauriceville, recalls also the fun people and characters of the day. Joe "Fats" Molley was a frequent visitor, along with car dealers Charlie Wickersham, John Paul Gasow, Claude Brookshire, Leon Slayter, Bill Bell, Leo Brown, Bill Berry, Cecil Scales, Bill Kyser, the Harrison boys, J.T. and Willie, the Harmon brothers, Jackie, Corky and Don. Also there was the big man from Livingston Shipyard, Cecil Beeson, who had given many young men jobs. Commander Glen Poplin and Navy base employee Doug Ardoin, fire marshal Henry Stanfield and assistant police chief Alton Williams always had something going. Ed Bacon, Robert Sims, Dixie Mc-Cormick and Frenchie Longron added the color.

It's a time that can never be again, but in my bag of memories I will always treasure my lifetime friends. Daily coffee with Mr. McCorquodale, who had laid every foot of pipe under Orange. Most have gone on and depending on which direction they went, I will be joining them again some day in the not-too-distant future. The Jack Tar Orange House was a special place, just like the people who frequented it. The beautiful 'Spice Girls' made the visit special. It was the central place where deals were made on a handshake and a man's word was good, and if he earned a thousand dollars a month, he was indeed fortunate. The pace was slower, the fighters fought hard, and the jokester played the same way. Politics was serious and often pitted friend against friend, who was man enough to forget it the day after the election until the next time. Some of the original Spice Girls are still around. Some have buried their mates. Like me, that period in their lives was when they were younger, with young families and they wondered what the future held for us all. Time hasn't stood still. The families have grown and gone, and today that young senatorial candidate, is gone but not before watching his own governor son, George W. serve in the Oval Office.

Courtesy of JW Dalton

Sue Vercher, Della Bonnin, Jo Amen, Milly Harper and Catherine Harper

We can all look back into our good and bad times and recall the voyage down life's highway that has brought us to this point. In some way, we're all molded today by the friendship and surroundings of yesterday. I've been luckier than most and accumulated a lifetime of memories laced with a special breed of people and more friendships than I was ever entitled to--and that's just the boys. The Jack Tar, Sugar & Spice and the neighborhood of downtown Orange was indeed unique and the hub of activity. It was the backdrop of a special time in my life and I thank God for that experience. Some of my greatest friendships were made in the generations that followed, folks like Sharon Bearden, Wayne Peveto, Carl Parker, Jack Smith, Pete Runnels, H.D. Pate, W.T. Oliver and the list goes on to the generation that we're in today. While I have very special friends that I don't see nearly often enough I know where they're at if I need them.


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