The romance of the road brought "the riches of history, legend, sentiment and natural beauty." That road was the Old Spanish Trail, an early coast-to-coast automobile highway that went straight through Orange on Green Avenue, then down Park Avenue at 16th Street. The description of the highway came from the 1923 "Rand McNally Automobile Road Book." The rest of the description was "And through the road are members of the Old Spanish Trail Association who will find pleasure in making your acquaintance."
The Old Spanish Trail highway started in 1915 when civic and government leaders across several states gathered to form an association to build an east to west paved roadway for the motorists, according to a history by the Old Spanish Trail Centennial based in San Antonio. The route eventually went from St. Augustine, Florida, to San Diego, California. Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles is more ingrained in 21st Century pop culture, but cities along the Old Spanish Trail have revived signage. Maybe a jazzy song will be in the future of the OST. The centennial committee in San Antonio is already finding the spots of the old stone markers in that city and remarking them to make people aware of the history. Beaumont also has placed signs where the OST went through town. The Old Spanish Trail became U.S. Highway 90, which became obsolete when Interstate 10 was built. The part of the old highway from Vidor through Rose City is still marked on maps as ‘Old Spanish Trail.’
Back in 1915 when the group gathered to organize for the construction of the major highway, the Model T Ford was only seven years old. That was the car built so that the average working family could afford an automobile, which was previously available mainly to the wealthy. The Model T had a maximum speed of 30 mph, if the road was good. The condition of the roads was the problem for travel. The first meeting was held in Mobile, Alabama, in December 1915 to begin the first leg of the roadway from the east coast of Florida to New Orleans. Orange was important enough in those days to draw one of the major annual meetings. The meeting in Orange was in 1921. Other cities through the years with the OST meetings included Pensacola, Tallahassee, Houston and San Antonio. San Antonio ended up the headquarters for the Texas leg of the OST.
The Old Spanish Trail highway got a big boost after World War I when General John J. Pershing touted good highways for a strong military and he endorsed the Old Spanish Trail. The name of the highway came because it followed some of the trails established between early Spanish missions. Part of those trails included a roadway known as the Opelousas Trail, which became a cattle trail that went through Orange County.
A 1923 pamphlet for travelers on the OST is now online at oldspanishtrailcentennial.com. The publication lists possible detours because of construction at Orange and Beaumont. Orange at the time had a population of 9,212 and the local OST officials were W.E. Lea, who served as the national group’s vice president, plus F.P. Dearborn. Tourist camps in Orange had tables, benches, ovens, toilets, shower baths and running water. The locations of the camps were not listed, but they had to be on the trail.
Information on Orange for the traveler included Sabine Battery Co., 103 Seventh St.; Gomez Cafe, Fifth and Main streets; and W.B. Roan Auto Co., Division and Sixth streets (that building became Farmer’s Mercantile a couple of years later.)
The brochure also included a message to “vote for the highway amendment” on Election Day in Texas, July 28, 1923. “This amendment is necessary to the continuance of Federal Aid to Texas and for the proper construction and maintenance of the state and interstate highways planned in the interest of the people.” The amount was not listed.
Orange ended up being the last “bottleneck” spots on the Old Spanish Trail. Motorists had to use a ferry to cross the Sabine River between Louisiana and Texas. Finally, on November 11, 1927, Gov. Ma Ferguson came to Orange to dedicate a newly-opened Sabine River Bridge. The bridge opened up the highway for easy travel. The bridge was at the end of Green Avenue and was demolished after the Interstate 10 bridge was built in the late 1950s. A concrete barrier stops Green Avenue at the river where the bridge used to be. Some modern-day explorers have found a granite marker in the wetlands for the bridge, but the metal plaque is missing.
In 1929, the cross-country highway was completed and a motorcade traveled the complete route from St. Augustine to San Diego.
-Margaret Toal, KOGT-