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Early Settlers

Compiled by Charlotte Schexnider Chiasson

Some families living in the area since the 1830s include the families of John and Oliver Bland, John C. Turner, (grandfather to Lillie Warren and Roy M. Hatton) and his four sons, Ben C., George, Jack and Jep Turner. Others were brothers Bill and William (Bob) Hatton, Samuel Burgess, born January 1854, R. C. (Bob) Gravett, born August, 1837. Gravett was also called Judge Gravett since he served as justice of the peace. Others were Robert Walker, Larkin Thomas and Tom and George Foreman. Also Robert L. Kibbe, Sr., W.F. Rachal, brothers Frank and George Washington Harvey, Samuel Augustine (Gus) Smith, A.G. Stewart and Orrien Myers.

In the early 1900s, the main occupation in the area was ranch farming and cattle raising. Farmers raised their own meat, which included sheep, goats, hogs, and poultry. They also raised horses used to work the fields. 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. Ben C. Turner, Mose Hatton and John Bland grew sugar cane and operated a sugar mill. Some settlers hunted alligators and muskrat.

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. Work was available on the Lakeview Farm owned in part by Henry Bland and Monroe Coleman.

At the turn of the century John Bland and Bob Gravett bought 2,800 acres of land. When they decided to divide the property, they did so with a dirt road called Roundbunch. Gravett took the property on the north side and Bland took the property on the south side. It is said when they laid out the dividing road, they did so on horseback.

A little know tale of the reason Hoo Hoo Road is named began with stories told by Jesse McGuire and Sam and Ed Johnson families who lived off Highway 62. According to long time resident Bobbie McGuire no one could ever give a good explanation for the name. "Jesse, Same and Ed would laugh and tell people they lived on Hoo Hoo Road. It was just three old men acting like fools to make people laugh and it stuck". Over the years people just began to assume the name had something to do with owls, but it was doubted that owls were involved in the old farmers’ little inside joke.

Thomas

In 1830 the Larkin R. Thomas family settled in the Bessie Heights area where he staked a claim. He was originally from Norfolk County, Virginia. He became Orange County’s second sheriff. His descendants lived here until his great-grandson, John Oren Thomas, died in 1988. John Oren Thomas, born in 1910, was the son of Durwood and Emma Thomas. All four generations are buried in a family cemetery south of FM 1442 near Turner Road. Oren Thomas recalled how Bessie Heights got its name. The first person that drilled for oil in the Bessie Heights area was Pat O’Burns. O’Burns had a niece named Bessie and hence the name. O’Burns did not strike oil, but he was not far from a strike. In 1929 the Texas Company brought in the first successful well in the Bessie Heights marsh.

In 1838 the Larkin Thomas family ran a tannery that included 22 tanning vats valued at $12.50 each, according to an appraisal conducted in 1838. He also had a stockpile of tanning bark, 89 large hides and 52 skins.

On April 20,1839 Larkin Thomas took an oath of allegiance to the Republic of Texas. He swore to uphold and obey all laws of the Republic of Texas and to formally renounce his allegiance to the United States. Texas was an independent republic from 1836 until it joined the Unites States in 1845.

Larkin Thomas contracted with the United States government as early as 1850 to carry mail by horseback from Ballew’s Ferry (about where West Bluff is now) to Beaumont. His schedule was to leave Beaumont every Thursday at 7:00 p.m. and arrive the next day at Ballew’s Ferry at 5:00 p.m. He then traveled back to Beaumont by 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning.

Copies of deeds dated in the 1850s described some of Larkin Thomas’ slave transactions. The Thomas home place was sold to AMCO Co. in 1953 but the company allowed Oren and his mother to live on the property throughout their lifetime. Oren Thomas’ mother died in 1970 and Oren died November 28,1988. He had retired from the Orange County Drainage District in 1985.

Gravett - Turner

Ben E. Gravett, born 1871 married Mary Laura Burgess. ?????????

John O. Turner was born January, 1814 in South Carolina. In 1850 after moving to Texas, he and his spouse, Amanda Stephenson, settled near where the Gulf States Utilities Plant now stands. They later moved to the Duncan Woods settlement. Their oldest son was seven when they moved. Duncan Woods was a section of land about three miles northwest of Prairie View and stretched all the way to the Neches River. The Turners had three daughters and four sons.

In the 1880s, the Ben C. Turner family of fourteen lived about 1/2 mile north of the present First Baptist Church. In 1887 they are said to have gathered acorns from Hackberry, Louisiana and planted on their property. All live oak trees in the community are believed to be products of those original acorns. They gave away small oak saplings to area residents. Their daughter, Lillie, was born December 27, 1880 and later married John R. Warren. The Turners had 12 children. They lived about mile north of the present location of First Baptist Church on W. Roundbunch. They were farmers, raised cattle, made saddles, tanned leather and made their own syrup. After 1901 when irrigation canals were dug, they raised rice.

In the 1880s John Turner owned a gristmill where farmers ground their corn into meal with the coarser portion used for grits. Oliver Bland owned the first cotton gin in the area.

Harvey

In 1880, George Washington Harvey bought 333 acres at what was considered then to be an inflated price of $1.50 per acre. Today the land has been subdivided and is called Harvey Addition, next to Dugas Addition. Brown Farm Public Road and Roundbunch Road crossed the section of land. Before moving from Orange, he owned the James S. Harvey and Sons Freight Line. In 1892 his daughter Ruby was born. The family raised cattle and rice. Harvey fenced his grazing land but most people let their cattle roam. They also grew produce for the family and had a peach orchard that produced from May through October. He did not raise cotton as some landowners did because he felt there was not enough money for the effort. The community was mostly prairie land. The area had an orange grove and grapefruit trees and an abundance of open spaces.

The first telephone was brought in by the rice farmers and was located at the pumping station on the rice canal near the Harvey Addition. James S. Harvey paid $15 for the privilege of using the phone. Local men bought poles for the telephone lines and installed them. By the late 1930s phone service was by way of a multiple "party line."

According to Ruby Young, who was born December 5, 1892, Roundbunch Road was named for a grove of post oak or sassafras trees near the Harms Place on East Roundbunch. The trees formed a circle. These trees were not native to the area. The story was told that Indians planted the trees, ran their lariats between them and herded wild ponies into the enclosure. They held their ponies and cows there before crossing Cow Bayou to a dipping plant on the other side. Harvey Street and Young Street are named for Harvey and Young families.

Ruby married William Young in 1910 and had eight children. They lived in Beaumont until 1928 then returned to the area. East Young Drive is named after her. The Young children include Wilma, Marion, Charles R., William Jr., Jack, Katherine, Susan and Mary.

Bland - Kibbe

Robert Louis Kibbe, Sr. was born in 1888 and in 1900 moved from Abbeville, Louisiana to Prairie View. In 1915 he later Fara Bland (who was born in September 1892 in Prairie View) . She had inherited 366 acres of land, thus was a substantial landowner. Her father was John C. Bland ??? who owned 5,000 acres in the area. ????????

In 1901 a rice irrigation canal was dug by W. B. Chambers and his two sons-in-law from northern United States. They had bought a large tract of land from Judge Gravett and started commercial rice farming. The canal was important to Kibbe because he became a rice farmer. His first crop was planted in 1915 at the end of Meadowlawn Drive.

Kibbe’s property was south of Roundbunch Road and was bisected by Highway 87. The first Kibbe home was near the intersection of Texas Avenue and Ferry Drive. In 1915 they built a home at 1190 Texas Avenue, one of only eight homes in the area at that time. The families were Bland, two families of Hattons, Turner, Gravett, Harvey and St. Germaine.

The Kibbes had two sons, Robert Louis, Jr., born February 27, 1923 and John Charles. John Kibbe still lives at the original homestead that was built in 1915 (as of 2002). It is said to be the oldest home in the community. At the time Robert Jr. was born there were only six families in the area; Bland, two families of Hattons, Turner, Gravette, Harvey and St. Germaine.

In 1901 the Cow Bayou Canal Company dug a long canal and built a pumping plant on Cow Bayou near Clark’s Ranch (East Roundbunch) for irrigating the hundreds of acres of rice fields near by. A large warehouse was built on Cow Bayou near the pumping plant to store rice after it was harvested, threshed and sacked. It was hauled on horse drawn wagons to the warehouse for storage until it was sold. The rice was shipped by barge to rice mills to be cleaned and have the husk removed.

Less rice was grown for a number of years then finally abandoned in the community. The irrigation canal water had become salty. Kibbe quit farming in 1920 when the canal had become contaminated with salt water and could not be used for rice irrigation. He rented his property and moved to Jefferson County to work for the Pure Oil Company. Four years later, a canal was opened above Orangefield that provided fresh water again for the Prairie View area and Kibbe returned to rice farming. Some of the settlers had left the area. It was only when war broke out in the 1940s that people began to return to work in shipyards in the area.

Kibbe sold the majority of his property and then farmed land leased from the Browns of Orange. He also raised cattle. He retired at 72 years of age.

Parker

C.G. Parker moved his family to the "prairie" in 1935 from Port Arthur where he bought and remodeled an 80-year old house, one of the community’s first. The home was built in 1874 by Columbus Thomas and later sold to George Turner, then resold. Parker bought it from W.H. Stark in 1929 and later moved into it. Parker, a pioneer real estate man in the Sabine area, became interested in the community years before he moved. In 1919 he and H.F. Banker of Port Arthur had obtained their first option to buy 400 acres and divided it into home sites. But it was during WWII that Banker began constructing homes on the lots and that marked the visible beginning of the development of the town.

About that time a bond issue to build a bridge between Port Arthur and Prairie View was defeated, but this foresighted real estate man knew such a bridge would soon become a necessity. He bought property on Forest and Shady Drives. He took a leading part in campaigning for the bridge to replace the Dryden Ferry. At this time Port Arthurians en route to Orange or onto Louisiana sometimes had to wait as long as four or five hours for their turn on the ferry and then go around through Orangefield or the old Roundbunch Road.

After the bridge was finally completed in 1938, Parker watched school enrollment climb to over 600 pupils. He was a charter member of First Baptist Church and was the church clerk. Parker worked with the Bridge City Lions Club to create a water and sewer district for the community.

LaPointe

Joe and Rosa Ducote LaPointe were originally from Jennings, Louisiana. The came to Prairie View and were highland farmers raising corn, rice and cotton on 39 acres on LaPointe Street at the corner of W. Roundbunch. Joe LaPointe also worked for Orange County Road department. They had a son, Stanford LaPointe. Joe died in 1959.

Earnest

E.T. Earnest and his spouse Mary lived on Silver Lake on the corner of S. John and Texas Avenue. The six-acre natural lake was originally owned by the pioneer Kibbe family and sold to Earnest sometime between 1935 and 1936. They were originally from Chicago, Illinois and came to Prairie View when Earnest was transferred by the Texas Company where he was employed. Their first home was moved from the Texas Avenue location in the 1960s to Piccadilly Street.

The Silver Lake is 2-3 feet deep in most places, gets about 8 feet in some places and has two islands. The prairie type land around the original home site was used for a peanut farm at one time and an egg hatchery. A windmill was built and used to draw water from the ground and stored in a cistern. The cistern tower was later enclosed and today looks somewhat like a house for a Dutch windmill. There are three floors in the building with the bottom floor used for a washroom.

Earnest developed flow instrumentation for Texaco, which earned him patents. He was a member of Bridge City’s first city council in the early 1970s. Mary Earnest was first cousin to Charles Carroll, known as Andy, of the Amos and Andy radio show fame in the 1940s. Andy visited his cousin on many occasions. Earnest died in December 1979. His spouse preceded him in death. They had no children.

Hatton

The Hatton families settled near the present Gulf States Utilities because of the abundance of artesian wells for fresh water. The Hatton Water Well was 704 feet deep and was drilled in 1905 for irrigating rice fields and livestock use. The deep well was sold in 1915 to Texas Company and water was piped across the Neches River to the Port Arthur refinery for cooling purposes. A second well was dug in 1932.

On June 15,1893 Roy Moses Hatton was born. His father was John Moses Hatton and his mother was the former Abigail Turner. Roy’s two brothers were Frank and Edgar and two sisters, Ethel and Ophelia. Ophelia was born in 1895. On December 1,1897 his mother died. John Moses Hatton then hired housekeeper and nurse, Amanda Singleton, to tend to his motherless children. She became his spouse but died four years later. The couple had two sons, Clyde and Truett.

Again John Moses Hatton hired a housekeeper and nurse, Sarah Jan Colburn of Orange. She eventually married Hatton. She had six children, Naomi, Ruby, Hazel, Joe, Helen, and Alvin, making thirteen children in the Hatton household.

Hatton was a farmer and rancher who raised pigs, rice and sugar cane and did highland farming. He owned a sugar mill.

In 1899 young Roy Moses Hatton had begun his educational lessons at Prairie View School. He quit in the eighth grade to help around the house. A year later he left home to work for Jesse T. Turner to harvest rice and maintain county roads. Turner’s farm was located near the present site of Palm Ridge Subdivision. At the age of twenty on January 22, 1913, Roy married Lois Faulk who was seventeen years old. They were married in Winfree Community. They continued to live and work on the J.T. Turner farm in exchange for room and board. . Roy also worked in Orange for a soda pop company making a drink known as "tak-a-pop".

In 1917 Roy, Lois and daughter Abbie Don moved back to the old family homestead near the present Gulf States Utilities Plant. He went to work for the Texas Company (Texaco). Roy served on the Prairie View and Orange County School boards. In 1919 they had a son, Roy Melvin and in 1922 son Frank was born. He had served on the local school boards. In April 1936 Roy Hatton resigned from the local board to take a place on the Orange County School Board. He served twenty-four years on April 14, 1960 Roy retired from Texaco and from serving on the school board. His oldest son, Roy Melvin, who was elected by the voters of Precinct 3, replaced him.

Justice of the Peace Bob Gravett married Samuel "Sam" Hatton and the former Jay Thomas, known as "Cousin Jay". Jay Thomas’ grandparents were Larkin and Annie Thomas, who lived near Bessie Heights Road. The Hattons worked on the John Bland farm. Enterprising Sam Hatton was not satisfied to work long for someone else and he bought 150 acres from Bland for 50 cents an acre across from the old Prairie View School site. He worked his land for 150 days since was paid 50 cents per day for his labor. They had three children Virgil, Earl and Percy. Samuel Hatton died in 1941.

Winfree

In 1830-1831 Abraham Winfree came from Louisiana to the area along Cow Bayou at the place known as Winfree’s Crossing. The land was primarily purchased from men like Claiborne West. He could have applied for Mexican land grants, but apparently didn’t. For a promise of allegiance, Mexico was willing to give out huge tracts of land. Black’s Ferry was later located at the crossing, also known as the Opelousas Trail. That meant cowboys and rovers herding great numbers of cattle from Central Texas had to cross Cow Bayou over the Winfree property to reach lucrative markets in New Orleans. The family brand, a double-3, back to back, was registered in what was then Jefferson County in 1836. He brought his family to the area in 1833.

Around 1850, the Winfrees started a school near the old homestead. About 1893 it was rebuilt on Hoo Hoo Road near Highway 62 on land owned by Benjamin Winfree, son of Abraham Winfree. It had one teacher and seven grades. The teacher was also the janitor and made a few dollars per month. The Winfree School was equipped with removable partitions for use in community entertainments. The school was moved to the last location about 1917-1918 on the northeast corner of the intersection of Hoo Hoo Road and Orange Oil Field Road, or the corner of Hwy. 62 and FM 105. The district had a total of 8,483 acres. By 1941 the Winfree and Prairie View Schools consolidated and became the Bridge City Common School District. On August 29,1915 the Winfree Baptist Church was established on Hwy. 62 just a few miles from FM 105.

Scales

The Scales family has been in Orange County living on part of 900 acres purchased in 1857 by Modes (or Moise) Leblue. He later sold or transferred the property to Treville Granger, Sr. who married Modesti Leblue. Treville Granger, Sr. was the father of Tresmond Granger. The Scales property consisting of just less than 100 acres is accessed from Hwy. 408 via Scales Lane. After 1951, the land was divided between nine children.

James Albert Scales and Mary Eva Granger were married in 1902. James’ parents were James Pinkney Scales and Mary’s parents were Tresimond Granger and Elva Chiasson. Their 10 children were Elmer Roy, Grover Allen, James "Burlie", Ausbon "Jiggs", Georgia Bradshaw, Iona Dailey, Geneva Frazer and Cecil Cleborn. They had an infant that died at birth.

James Albert Scales was a native of Milam County and moved to Orange County after 1900. He farmed, ran a cotton gin, delivered mail and grocery man. Mary Eva Granger Scales was a native of Orangefield, the fifth of seven children. We was a storyteller and would recant to her children and grandchildren the story of the Galveston Floods of 1900 and 1915, the great freeze of the 1890s where Sabine Lake froze over solid. Her father drove a team and wagon across the lake near the vicinity of what later was to become the ferry landing near Fred Bailey’s Fish Camp. James and Mary are buried side by side at the Mose Granger Cemetery near Orangefield.

This information courtesy of the Bridge City Chamber of Commerce for use on the TXGenWeb Orange County website.

Copyright 2011 -present  Kaye Slover All Rights Reserved.