Sabine Pass: A Little Piece of Cajun Paradise

Sabine Pass is a Border Town

As Port Arthur celebrates our designation as the official Cajun Capital of Texas, we’re sharing some area history. Sabine Pass is a coastal area of Port Arthur on the west Bank of the Sabine Neches Waterway. This water border between Texas and Louisiana and is often referred to as a Sportsman’s Paradise. I

Incorporated in 1861, Port Arthur formally annexed the area in 1978. Sabine Pass has its own school district, post office and Port Authority. Here’s a little more about the history, community and how you can experience a piece of the paradise for yourself.

A Little Bit Cajun

the windsor hotel sabine pass

Sabine Pass is spittin’ close to the Louisiana border and Cameron Parish. It’s no wonder they’re “a little Cajun.”  Make that “a lot Cajun.” In addition to a fierce independent nature, not to mention a love of seafood gleaned from local waters, Sabine Pass residents are known for helping neighbors and family ties. They’re described as “determined.” Here’s a part of why:

Hurricanes, Again and Again

hurricane ike flooding in sabine pass texas
Sabine Pass, TX, USA, September 14, 2008 — FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Indiana Task Force 1 conducts searches in neighborhoods impacted by Hurricane Ike. Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA

Sabine Pass residents have survived. They’ve been hit and built back strong. They’re not going anywhere. The infamous Hurricane Rita dealt a devastating blow on Sept. 24, 2005. Just three years later, on Sept. 12-13 of 2008, Hurricane Ike struck Sabine Pass and Galveston, generating a surge of 22 feet. That’s the highest surge recorded at Sabine Pass.

Previously, the Texas-Louisiana Hurricane of 1886 nearly wiped out Sabine Pass and Johnson Bayou in Cameron Parish, with at least 196 deaths in the wake.

Sabine Pass Battleground State Historic Site

Sabine Pass Battlegrounds. Courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission.

This waterside, historic Civil War battlefield site features a statue of Dick Dowling, an interpretive pavilion, bunkers from WWI, an RV Park, picnic areas and a boat launch. It’s also a frequent stop for birders. Visit the site seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for a fee of $5 a car. Summer hours are extended to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and they are closed Christmas and New Year.

The Texas Historical Commission reports that Sabine Pass was a key entry point into a river system flowing through East Texas and western Louisiana. Texas Confederate activity focused on defending blockade running vessels moving supplies into and out of the area. A fort near Sabine Pass became a Confederate bulkhead. There Capt. Dick Dowling and the men of the Davis Guard successfully defeated a much larger Union invasion force in the 1863 Battle of Sabine Pass.  Interested in touring? Investigate here.

Birthplace of Barbecued Crabs

A plate full of crabs and a cold beer

Barbecued crabs? What’s that? It’s the saucy seasoning flavors cooked into whole, fresh crabs. Taste the garlic and pepper as you crack open their legs. It’s messy. We don’t care. You’ll love ’em too.  Just make sure your servers leave the roll of paper towels on the table. Juicy but good.

Some credit Granger’s Seafood as the very first presentation. Some credit Sartin’s. Both were in Sabine Pass and are no longer around. But you can get the legendary barbecue crabs at other Port Arthur area restaurants. A local says Mr. Sartin himself would have told you it was Granger’s, which burned down long before Sartin’s started their take-out stand a block or so north of the Granger’s site.

Where to get BBQ crabs in the Port Arthur area? See if they’re in season at these restaurants.

Bowl of Gumbo

But remember there’s gumbo, crawfish and boudain to try as well. Check out our other area Cajun listings here.

Fishing is a Way of Life

men fishing off a boat in keith lake

Sabine Lake is a 90,000-acre saltwater estuary on the Texas-Louisiana border. The lake, some 14 miles long and 7 miles wide, is formed by the confluence of the Neches and Sabine rivers. The lake borders Jefferson County, Texas, Orange County, Texas, Cameron Parish, Louisiana, and the city of Port Arthur, Texas.

Keith Lake, on Highway 87 between Port Arthur and Sabine Pass, is a chain of lakes boasting some of the best redfishing opportunities on the Gulf Coast. Keith Lake is one of the few locations on the upper coast where fishermen can sight and cast to tailing redfish. Working the birds during spring and fall months is often exceptional.

Sabine Pass Lighthouse

sabine pass lighthouse
The Sabine Pass Lighthouse. Photo courtesy of Jim LaBove.

U.S. Coast Guard called this Sabine Pass Light and it’s actually in Louisiana. First lighted in 1857, this was one of three U.S.-built buttress houses of similar design. Meant to stand tall on marshy ground, it has survived Civil War battle, storms, floods, marsh fire, vandalism and neglect. The structure protected a keeper and his wife in an 1886 hurricane that destroyed their dwelling. It was a Civil War look-out post. Louisiana school children used to get on a boat each morning where the Sabine, and later Sabine Pass, school bus would pick them up. Learn more about Sabine Pass Lighthouse.

How to get a view of this legendary lighthouse:

  • Once you pass that 4-Way Stop in Sabine Pass, head toward the water and go right at South First Avenue.  It’s across the water and the Texas-Louisiana border will be between you and this historic structure.

Cities of the Dead

Sabine Pass Cemetery has graves for veterans from every war, except the Revolutionary War.  Many unmarked graves from the Civil War are commemorated by a marker area.  A Texas Historical Marker there notes burial of Kate Dorman, dubbed “The Heroine of Sabine Pass” and an unmarked grave of a man born into slavery who died at age 108. The earliest documented grave is for a 12-year-old boy who died in 1847.

Stomping Ground in Austin

sabine pass floor at the texas state capitol

Sabine Pass is recognized at the Texas State Capitol building. The words are inlaid in the floor at the main entrance. Thousands of visitors walk this way daily to conduct business in the Lone Star State.

World Class Birding Sites

cedar waxwinngs on the drip at Sabine Woods in Port Arthur, Texas
Cedar Waxwings rest and refresh on Sabine Woods Drip in Sabine Pass. Photo courtesy of Dana Nelson.

Positioned on two migratory flyways and a protected resting place for migratory birds, Sabine Pass is home to to world-famous Sabine Woods. This oak mott is the first land many birds see as they fly in from South America. They land and dine and rest. And let birders admire them. Scan the code at the entrance for admission to this site.

Texas Point offers a stroll through a canopy of trees that draws colorful migrants in spring.

Free Birding Book

Sea Rim State Park and McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge

boarwalk leading to the ocean in port arthur texas
Photo courtesy of Tim Sudela

Sabine Pass is on the way to Sea Rim State Park and McFaddin National Wildlife Refuge. The natural beach offers 5 plus miles of scenic beauty. Look for shells, stroll the Gambusia boardwalk and consider the paddling trails in the Marsh Unit. Feeling extra ambitious? Your Sabine Pass adventure could include paddling out and spending the night at Sea Rim’s floating campsite. Now that’s a memory.

Thousands of ducks are said to visit this Texas Chenier Plain Refuge Complex. Drive through the refuge for 5 miles of interior roads provide wildlife viewing and access to boat ramps, fishing piers and observation platforms. Visit the adjacent Gulf side park, McFaddin Beach

Sabine Pass Port Authority and Marina

Marina Boat Launch Sabine Pass

The Sabine Pass Port Authority is photogenic marina close to Sabine Lake and just 6 miles from the Gulf of Mexico jetties. With 87 slips, there is liveaboard availability. Dock here and you’ll get to visit us in Port Arthur all the time.

Cajun Lifestyle

jim labove showing off his crab catch on keith lake in port arthur texas
Jim LaBove of Cotton’s Seafood crabs at Keith Lake. Photo courtesy of Jim LaBove.

Do it yourself, help others and let the good times roll. Dance a lot and eat well. These are some aspects to living a good Cajun lifestyle. Jim LaBove has written several books and creates artwork of pelicans, crabs, boats, etc. that reflect his childhood in Sabine Pass. To experience LaBove’s Cajun culture, read here.

Sabine Pass is synonymous with Gulf Coast history. Plan your visit and share your snaps using #loveportarthurtx

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