ORANGE AND THE HISTORY OF LEVINGSTON SHIPBUILDING

April 01, 2018

“The story of Orange, Texas, begins on the banks of the Sabine River at a location Situated a hundred miles East of Houston and thirty miles east of the fabled Spindletop oilfield. Discovered in 1901. The tri-cities of Orange, Port Arthur and Beaumont are known as the Texas Golden Triangle. Here Texas braggadocio and hospitality meet the Cajun joie de vivre.” – Paul A. Mattingly/From Orange to Singapore
The history of the development and success of the Levingston Shipbuilding Company is closely linked to that of Orange.
Samuel L. Levingston was born in 1832 and moved to the United States from Ireland in 1846 with his two brothers David and John. While in Florida, his first job was a ship carpenter. In 1852, he married Asenatha Moore. In the late 1850s, the Levingston family moved to the area near what is now the city of Orange, Texas and established a shipyard on the Sabine River. He served the Confederate forces during the Civil War as a ship carpenter.
After the war, he returned to Orange and began another shipyard, building paddle wheel boats for hauling cotton and farm products on the Sabine River between Orange and Logansport, Louisiana. Upon his retirement, his son, “Captain George” Levingston took over the business and developed it into the Levingston Shipbuilding Company. Levingston shipbuilding was incorporated in 1933. The shipyard continued to build vessels of all types for both the commercial market and the government. The first drilling barge was built in 1946 for Humble Oil & Refining. When the offshore oil and gas market developed in the 1950s, Levingston was in the forefront, developing and building many of the early designs. Levingston was the only United States builder of all types of offshore drilling rigs. In 1956 the first drilling tenders for the lake Maracaibo in Venezuela were delivered.
By the end of the 1960’s Levingston Shipbuilding had reached the pinnacle of shipbuilding success.
In 1968 Larry Baker the top salesman of the company met K.C. Lee a businessman from Singapore running a local shipyard. The two parties agreed to form a joint venture called Far East Levingston Shipbuilding. The joint venture was terminated in 1972. Keppel Corporation was founded and renamed Keppel FELS in 1996.
Levingston had made a strategic mistake in gearing their business to new rig construction and in 1972 the company reported losses. The purchase of Gulfport Shipyard helped to keep Levingston afloat for some time with number of repair contracts.
The company’s fortunes changed in 1975 when Ashland Oil purchased Levingston Shipbuilding. The change in ownership resulted in the slow decline of the company. The tragedy of the drillship Glomar Java Sea sinking in South China Sea in October 1983 tarnished the image of the company. In 1980 Ashland sold Levingston to El Paden previously running the company business. Unfortunately Levingston became debt-ridden and in 1985, the steam whistle sounded for the last time at the shipyard. Parden liquidated the company.
From May 1934 to December 1983 Levingston Shipbuilding delivered 760 vessels. The first were simple barges, the last unit was the jackup Sam Noble, today Paragon 1114.