of Orange County
The Jimmy Ochiltree Sims home was built in 1902 and was originally located at 809 Front Street. (1) The house remained in his ownership until his death in 1961, when it passed to his four heirs (2) until 1977, when the property was acquired by the City of Orange. The original site of the home was purchased for relocation of major streets and development of the Central Plaza. The house was given by contract to the Heritage House Association of Orange County, with the provision the house would be moved and renovated as a historical museum for Orange County. It is now located at 905 Division Street, approximately one block south and west of its original location on property owned by Orange County and leased to the Heritage House Association. The house has been restored as it was in 1919, when the major modifications were made to the original six-room two-story structure. It abuts the proposed historical preservation district and is adjacent to the Central Plaza on its southern boundary.
In order to understand and appreciate this truly remarkable home constructed by Jimmy Ochiltree Sims, it is necessary to have a general understanding of the history of Orange, particularly during the period the house stood in its original location and to know something of the man who built and lived in this house through these years.
Orange County and the City of Orange were settled relatively recently, when compared to the age of the Eastern Seaboard settlement and even to areas in West Texas. The first settlers arrived in this area in the 1820’s, (3) and received land grants from the Mexican government who then owned and controlled Texas. These early settlers came down the Neches and Sabine Rivers on rafts and barges. Others arrived by wagons from the North and West. Initially Orange was settled along the Sabine River, in what was called Green’s Bluff (now down-town Orange) (4) and along Cow Bayou in the central part of the county. The area was heavily timbered and had many natural waterways. Initially this was a farming community, but soon early logging and timbering interests developed. Initially the prime use of the timber was for making shingles. (5) Up to the Civil War, this was the only industry in the area. After the Civil War, Orange was practically deserted because of lack of manpower and money. In the late 1870’s and early 1880’s, investors and speculators moved in from the East and began buying large tracts of timbered land and establishing large sawmills. (6) Logs were floated down the great rivers to the Orange area, where the timber was cut into rough lumber and loaded on schooners and shipped primarily to Galveston and New Orleans. Because of the tremendous amount of timbered acreage, many large sawmills were established, (7) and many fortunes were made. During this same period the Texas and New Orleans railroad system was extended into Orange County. (8)
In the 1890’s and early 1900’s, many large homes were built along Green Avenue, (9) which was the main street in Orange. These homes were magnificent, even by modern day standards, and were occupied by the newly timbered rich. At the same time, the upper middle class began building very respectable homes in the adjacent areas. Orange continued to boom due to its timber and sawmills and through associated and dependent businesses. In 1913 oil was discovered in the central part of the county, further increasing the prosperity of the county. (10) Because of the coastal plain type geography of the county, rice (11) was early farmed in the area, along with cattle ranching. Orange continued its financial development until World War I, at which time because of the recently completed deep sea canal going into the Gulf, (12) its large amount of timber, its skilled artisans and the presence of a small shipyard, (13) a large wartime contract was let for the building of wooden merchant sailing ships. The initial philosophy was that these ships would have to make only a few trips to pay for themselves. However, before the ships were completed the war ended, and there was no demand for wooden vessels. Only one or two were ever used. The remainder were dry-docked and burned over a period of years. During World War I, Orange’s population soared to almost fifty thousand. Because of the cutting of all the easily accessible timber, the reduced demand for lumber, and the onset of the great depression of the early 1930’s, Orange slowly lost all of its great sawmills. In the early 1930’s no major mills were in operation.. Most were sold, closed burned or otherwise lost forever. Orange’s economy was quite depressed throughout the 1930’s until the early 1940’s, when World War II began. At that time, large contracts were let for various types of warships and merchant vessels. (14) Orange’s population again boomed to seventy thousand. At the end of this war, because of careful planning, Orange was able to attract large industries and developed a stable economy, based on oil, chemicals, shipbuilding and steel fabrication.
Jimmy Ochiltree Sims was born February 5, 1874, in Orange Texas. His father was James Oscar Sims, who moved to Orange from central Texas and married Jennie Ochiltree, daughter of Colonel Hugh Ochiltree, (15) on June 27, 1872. They reared five children in the family home at Fourth and Elm where a medical clinic is currently located. Jimmy began his banking career in 1889 at the age of 15. He was hired by the newly formed First National Bank (16) as a runner or collection clerk.
On April 22, 1899, Jimmy Ochiltree Sims married Alberta Spooner, (15) the daughter of Benjamin F. Spooner, of New York, and Lydia Allen, of Canada. Mr. Spooner was a skilled craftsman who had been imported to Orange to work in one of the large sawmills. After Jimmy and Mary Alberta were married, they lived in a small house in back of the Presbyterian Church on Water Street. In 1902, they moved to their new home at 809 Front Street. Through the years they had four children (2) who received their early education in Orange and their higher education in well-known universities.
Jimmy Ochiltree Sims continued working at the First National Bank. Through 72 years he rose to bookkeeper, teller, vice-president, and finally chairman of the board. He was involved in many activities in the community. He was a charter member of the Rotary Club. He belonged to the Orange Band and played a cornet. He was a member of the Masonic Madison Lodge. (17) He was a member of the Presbyterian Church. He was on the board of the Pinehurst Country Club. He was treasurer of the Orange Rice Milling Company in 1912. Because of his position in the bank he was a member of many boards, both business and social. He died at the age of 87, (18) four years after retiring from the First National Bank.
When Jimmy Ochiltree Sims was ready to build his home, he planned it very carefully. This man had worked in a bank for twelve years, and by this time was advancing at an impressive rate. He wanted a simple, attractive, well designed home that could be easily added to when necessary. He wanted the house to reflect his station inboth business and society. He carefully picked the location. It was within two blocks of his place of employment. It was near his church. It was only one block from the courthouse, which was the center of community activity, and was near the school for his children. The location was also adjacent to the prestigious homes on Green Avenue and was away from the laboring class homes along the river.
The home was built with prime lumber by a contractor unknown to us at this time. The architecture of the two-story plus attic home is plain and simple, depicting the upper middle class status of the owner and the era. The Sims house is without ornate embellishment or gingerbread which was characteristic of the mansions which were built contemporarily along Green Avenue. The horizontal siding lines and balustrade porches with simple decorative shingle along the sides are also indicative of the period and status of the family. The structure is the only one of its type being preserved in Orange. Almost all buildings of historical significance in Orange have razed to permit commercial development along the main streets of Orange and in the so-called historical Plaza area.
The original two-story wood-frame house consisted of six rooms, three located on the first floor, three on the second, and a finished attic. The cement asbestos shingled roof was gabled, and the attic contained small windows. The house, which was constructed entirely of native pine, rested on a foundation of the pier and beam type. A two-story wood cistern was at the rear of the home and furnished water. An outhouse was located on the back corner of the lot. The house was painted dark brown with white trim. In 1919, a major addition was made to the rear of the home, consisting of a kitchen, pantry, bathroom, east sun porch, and an open carport with a two-story detached garage. The second floor addition contained a bedroom with fireplace, bath, sun porch, and extended the attic. At the same time the cistern was removed and indoor sanitary plumbing was installed. It was painted gray with maroon and white trim. Shortly thereafter, a lawn tennis court was built and is believed to have been one of the few residential courts in the city. The house contains five fireplaces with mantles of wood and brick. The corner fireplace in the dinning is made of paint sculptured brick.
The house plan is rectangular, with the upstairs rooms connected by a long hallway. Each upstairs bedroom connects to a porch, either on the front or side of the house. A large stairwell is centrally located, with a handsome pine railing and post. Ceilings are ten feet high on the first floor and nine feet on the second floor, with large windows placed to catch the cool breezes. Door and window facings, baseboards and moldings are of fine varnished longleaf pine wood.
A set of seven foot sliding wooden doors separate the dining and living rooms. The Dutch doors lead from each of the front bedrooms to small porches on the east and west sides of the house. The house contains two separate French doors and two beveled glass doors. The floors are engrained pine and hardwood finished. Both sun porches are lined with inward swing French windows and contain ceiling fans for comfort. A wide porch encircles the parlor and serves the front entry. Both the entry porch and the two smaller upstairs porches have spindle balustrades with wooden columns and Doric capitals.
The Jimmy Ochiltree Sims home is now owned by The Heritage House Association of Orange County, Inc., and is commonly called the “Heritage House”. Restoration was done with the help of a CETA grant and voluntary contributions of labor, money and ideas from the general public. Consultants for the project have been David Hoffman, Architecture and Restoration Consultant, of Dallas, Texas.
The Heritage House will be used as a historic museum for Orange County and will have a special emphasis for teaching the area youth about Orange’s past history, culture, and architecture. This report has stressed Orange history and is heavily footnoted, because it will be used as an outline for this teaching project.
Compiled by: Howard C. Williams
Twelve Bayou Bend
Orange TX 77630
Ph. (409) 886-1312
FOOTNOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY
1. See attached abstract of property.
2. His four children were his heirs, in that his wife had June 20, 1948. See attached genealogy for their names.
3. John Harmon landed at Green’s Bluff on January 1, 1827. He lived until 1840, when he moved to the west bank of Adams Bayou: Las Sabinas, p.12, Volume I, No. 1 1975.
4. The first community in the present area was the Cow Bayou settlement on the east bank of the bayou. It was renamed Jefferson when it became the seat of government of the municipality of Jefferson organized between the Neches and Sabine Rivers in the fall of 1835. Orange County was created from Jefferson County on January 5, 1852: The Handbook of Texas, Vol. II, the Texas State Historical association, Austin, 1952.
5. In 1949, Marvin Delano at Green’s Bluff owned a hand operated shingle mill, which produced 576,000 shingles valued at $1,152 that year. John Merriman owned the first steam operated sawmill at Green’s Bluff. In 1851, the year it opened, it produced shingles, barrel staves and spokes: W.T. Block, A History of Jefferson County, Texas, from Wilderness to Reconstruction, p.58.
6. Lumber speculators of this period were Henry Jacob Lutcher, G. Bedell Moore, Dr. E.W. Brown, George Bancroft, W.H. Stark, F.H. Farwell, and John Dilbert: Las Sabinas, Vol. II, No. 1, p. 8, 1976.
7. Orange in 1901 had six sawmills, six planning mills, two shingle mills, and one each ice plant, iron foundry electric light and power plant, water work, brick yard and rice mill: Orange, Texas, The Gate City of the Great State of Texas, published by the Board of Trade, Orange, Texas 1901.
8. The Sabine, a locomotive built by the Niles Locomotive Works in 1854, began operating out of New Orleans in 1855. It was in regular service from New Orleans, Morgan City, and the Sabine River north of Orange. By 1861, the Texas and New Orleans Railroad extended from Houston into Orange County from the west. The railroad was not complete and workable across Orange County during the Civil War. It was 1881 before one could travel from Houston to New Orleans entirely by rail. Reed-History of the Texas Railroads’, p.29-30. Fredick C. Chabot, McFarland’s Journal, Yanaguana Society, San Antonio, 1842, p. 77.
9. Some of the prestigious homes along Green Avenue were built by J.T. Har, Dr. J.C. Seastrunk, John W. Link, Harry Ortmeyer, Dr. E.W. Brown, George Bancroft, W. H. Stard L. Miller, and Dr. Sholars: Personal History Collection, Dr. Howard C. Williams, Orange Texas.
10. The first OIL discovery in this county was near Orangefield in 1913. Over 105 million barrels of oil were produced between 1913 and 1973 in Orange County. RICE was the principal source of agricultural income during this period: Handbook of Texas, Vol. 3, Texas State Historical Association, Austin, 1976.
11. In 1899, a farmer named Catron constructed the first irrigation canal from Cow Bayou. It irrigated 200 acres of land and he made a very good rice crop that year. By 1905, many irrigation canals criss-crossed the county: Where the Port of Orange, Texas, is located on the World Map, 1916, p. 14.
12. The Port of Orange was opened in 1916. This was when the twenty-five foot deep canal was completed to the Gulf of Mexico. To celebrate this occasion the Lutcher & Moore Lumber Company loaded five of its large sailing ships with lumber and sailed to the Gulf as a fleet: Ibit 11.
13. In 1917, the F.H. Swails shipyard constructed three wooden sailing vessels, The City of Orange, The City of Houston, and The City of Pensacola. Later, the International Shipbuilding Company owned by Henry Piaggio, took over this company and completed the contract: Las Sabinas, Vol. III, No. 1, p. 29, 1977.
14. The large shipyards that operated in Orange County during World War II were Consolidated Western Steel; Levingston Shipbuilding Company, Weaver Shipyard, Harms-Smailhall Shipyard: From the personal Collection of Howard C. Williams, Orange, Texas.
15. See attached genealogy.
16. The First National Bank was founded in September, 1889, by H.J. Lutcher, Leopold Miller, D.R. Wingate, Alexander Gilmer, and others. It was initially located in the Lutcher Building on Fifth Street where the Southern Printers are currently located. This building burned in 1912. However, the new bank had been relocated to Front and Fifth Streets in 1902. Until this bank was organized in1889, there were no public banks in Orange. All banking business was conducted with Hutchings and Sealy & Company or W.L. Moody and Company in Galveston. This was a great hardship to a prospering community of almost 1,000. Dennis Call and Son opened a small private bank in connection with their extensive mercantile business in the 1880’s, but this was not adequate for the needs of the community. Ibid 11.
17. Madison Masonic Lodge No. 126 was organized in Orange on April 30, 1853, and was named for the town of Madison, which was later changed to Orange which was later changed to Orange: LasSabinas, Vol. III, Book 4, 1977, p.6.
18. J.O. Sims was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Orange, Texas, next to his wife, Mary Alberta Spooner Sims: Family records of his daughter, Josephine Janet Sims, Orange, Texas.
ABSTRACT OF PROPERTY OWNERSHIPS
809 FRONT STREET
BLOCK 6, UPPER SURVEY OF TOWN OF ORANGE
NOW BLOCK 11, AMENDED SHELDON SURVEY
LOTS 5,6,7 AND 8
GRANTOR GRANTEE TRANSACTION DATE
Republic of Texas Nathan Cordrey 12-11-1841
Nathan Cordrey William H. Cordrey
Heirs at Law
Wm H. Cordrey John B. Woods 10-1-1872