One of Texas’s easternmost and oldest cities is Orange (population 18,643), a border town (with Louisiana) named for the orange groves along the Sabine River. It never experienced the same gushing levels of successful oil activity as Beaumont and Port Arthur, but it was an important industrial port during the two World Wars, boasting an all-time-high population of 60,000 in the mid-1940s.
Decades earlier, Orange was infamous for its red-light district and outlaw reputation. Its respectability increased when shipbuilding kept the local economy afloat during wartime. Though many residents fled to larger cities in subsequent decades, Orange continues to draw hordes of fishermen and outdoors enthusiasts for its abundant hunting, birding, and fresh- and salt-water fishing.
Adventures 2000 Plus’s Swamp and River Tours
You’re already in the bayou, so why not really get into the bayou? If you’re game for the experience, you’ll want to check out Adventures 2000 Plus’s Swamp and River Tours (813 Lutcher Dr., 409/883-0856, www.swampandrivertours.com, several tours offered daily—call for reservations, $25 adults, $20 seniors and students, $15 children 11 and under). Adventures 2000 Plus educates locals and visitors about the fascinating biodiversity of the region, so don’t look for any high-powered, speedy water vessels here. Instead, the boats are designed for comfort and relative quiet, allowing a better chance of seeing wild alligators, eagles, rare birds, and various swamp plants and creatures.
Stark Museum of Art
On the opposite end of the cultural scale is the highbrow Stark Museum of Art (712 Green Ave., 409/886-2787, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sat., free). Named for Orange native Henry J. Lutcher Stark, a successful lumber baron and entrepreneur, the museum showcases the family’s extensive collection of art related to the American West. Paintings, prints, and sculpture depict the breathtaking landscapes and natural features of the West, along with other artistic mediums such as bronze Remington sculptures, Native-American pottery and baskets, and Steuben crystal.
W. H. Stark House
To learn more about the intriguing life of the Stark family, visit the remarkable W. H. Stark House (610 W. Main St., 409/883-0871, www.whstarkhouse.org, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. Tues.–Sat., $5 adults, $2 seniors and children 10 and older). The magnificent 1894 Queen Anne mansion contains 15 rooms of opulent furnishings, artwork, and silver and porcelain settings. The family’s financial success afforded them the rare luxury (in this part of Texas) of purchasing expensive housewares and artwork, including fancy cut glass, imported bronzes, and Asian antiques. The Stark House is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is designated a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark by the Texas Historical Commission.
Like the other apexes of the Golden Triangle, Orange is known for its top-notch Cajun food. Though the options here are slightly more limited, they’re still quality locales. Among them is the Original Cajun Cookery (2308 I-10, 409/670-1000, $9–15). The best menu items are the Cajun classics such as blackened catfish, fried alligator, and hearty gumbo. The lunch and dinner buffets are the way to go—sample the dozens of tasty options for a reasonable price. Another popular option is Crazy Jose’s (110 Strickland Dr., 409/883-6106, $6–14), a local spot that offers an eclectic mix of Mexican, Cajun, and seafood items, providing a welcome mix of tantalizing flavors, from the superb chile rellenos to the spicy seafood gumbo to the flaky catfish filets. If you’re more in the mood for turf than surf, belly up to the consistently reliable JB’s BBQ Restaurant (5750 Old Hwy. 90, 409/886-9823, closed Sun. and Mon., $7–16). JB’s doesn’t offer table service (customers place and pick up their orders at the counter), and that’s good news—it means less time to wait for the fabulous food. You can’t go wrong with any of the classics here. Ribs, brisket, sausage, and chicken are all perfectly smoked and smothered in a sweet and spicy sauce.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition