Heritage, Volume 7, Number 4, Fall 1989 Page: 22
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Gateway to Texas, The
History of Orange and
Gateway to Texas, The History of Orange
and Orange County. Edited by Dr. Howard
C. Williams, The Heritage House Museum
Reviewed by John Peterson
History is gossip, whether it's about
kings and queens or the common man. If
the gossip is about your grandparents or the
historic personalities of your community,
then it has an uncommon interest for you.
Local histories usually exploit genealogies
and family snapshots and depend on local
folks for distribution. Occasionally, however,
a local history comes along that
enchants and informs a larger audience.
Gateway to Texas is such a book. Winner
of a T.R. Fehrenbach prize for County
History, this fine volume is an excellent
introduction to the local history of Orange,
Texas. David Holman of the Wind River
Press deserves special praise for the high
production qualities of this book. His task
was made easier by the generally high
quality of editing and writing. Dr. Howard
C. Williams served as editor and contributed
several excellent chapters on
industrial and social history of the community.
He was joined in the project by
individual and corporate authors sponsored
by the Heritage House Museum of
Orange. The contributions of Jeanette
Robinson stand out as carefully researched
and often poignant sketches of the social
history of the community. Her chapter on
social violence is an unabashed glimpse of
a raw frontier town. She pulls no punches
on racism, bootlegging, corruption and
murder as these punctuated the boom and
bust cycles of the area.
Orange has been jolted by five major
booms since its sleepy awakening at the
turn of the century. First logging, then
shipbuilding during World War I, followed
by an explosion of oil drilling in the 1920s,
shipbuilding again during World War II,
have in recent years abated in favor of the
more regular economy based on petro
chemicals, shipbuilding and general
industry. This book ably documents these
economic trends and integrates the social
and anecdotal life of Orange into the general
picture. On oilfield development, we
learn about Oscar Chesson, who "turned
down an offer of $500,000 for his 46 acre
tract...because he did not want to leave
two sick pigs and a herd of 15 goats." He is
reputed to have said, "I would not disturb
the goats for all the oil in the field." His
one-eighth royalties may have been an
equally compelling reason for hanging on
to his land.
The quality and abundance of historic
photographs in Gateway to Texas helps to
make this a magnificent document of the
community. A lengthy section of full-page
photographs of harbor scenes is a very satisfying
presentation of shipping history
along the Texas Gulf Coast. A scene of
Adams Bayou with a horse-drawn carriage
clattering across a wooden bridge, bathed
in soft light that leaks through the Spanish
moss of bayou country, evokes a vision of
the natural and historic landscape.
Weaknesses? A few. Themes and chapter
boundaries are often disjointed. Black
history is treated fairly in several chapters
but never from an integrated perspective.
Separate contributions sometimes cover
the same ground without reference to each
other. The chapter on the prehistory and
historic Indian settlement of the region
relies on mostly anecdotal accounts. As
with many chapters, a set of footnotes or
source documentation would be helpful for
the reader and for further research. Lastly,
a set of maps in the beginning of the volume
would contribute a regional and local
orientation that would inform subsequent
discussions. But these are not major flaws
in what is otherwise a delightful and insightful
treatment of local history.
This book is a fine introduction to the
history of the community and the region of
Orange, Texas. Let's hope that the Heritage
Museum will undertake to produce
more volumes of special interest on the
area. As Orangians search their attics,
much more may come to light on the local
history of ethnic groups, special industries,
The WPA Guide to 1930s
The WPA Guide to 1930s
The WPA Guide to 1930s New Mexico; The
WPA Guide to 1930s Arizona; University of
Arizona Press, 1989, $16.95 paperback.
Reviewed by John Peterson
The Work Projects Administration
(WPA) garnered a lot of criticism during
the Depression from those with regular jobs
as make-work for the unemployed. But it
left a legacy of public works in the form of
parks and roadways and water control
projects that wouldn't have graced the
The WPA also provided an opportunity
for writers and photographers, who created
an artistic and encyclopedic record of our
nation in the depths of the Great Depression.
The photographs of Dorothea Lange,
Walker Evans, and others are a brilliant
and humanistic document of the era.
The guides to these states, published
originally as part of the American Guide
Series, provide further glimpses of the way
our nation perceived and portrayed itself in
the 1930s. The Guides contain informative
essays along with road tours of New
Mexico and Arizona. These guides had a
unique Southwest stamp that distinguished
them from those of other states.
As Marc Simmons writes in the introduction:
"Marta Weigle, in her splendid
book New Mexicans in Cameo and Camera,
a compendium of New Deal documentation,
notes that in New Mexico the pronunciation
of WPA sounded, to Spanish
ears, very much like El Diablo a pie, meaning
"the Devil on foot." So that's what the
federal program came to be popularly
called, "The Devil on foot." While it may
have been a devilish task to produce New
Mexico: A Guide to the Colorful State, the
original goal of creating a work of lasting
significance was admirably achieved.
22 HERITAGE * FALL 1989
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 7, Number 4, Fall 1989, periodical, Autumn 1989; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45433/m1/22/: accessed July 26, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.