The presence of the United States Navy in Orange dates from August 24, 1940, when the navy established the office of supervisor of shipbuilding to oversee the construction of twenty-four landing craft. Construction of other items such as destroyers, destroyer escorts, mine sweepers, and aircraft rescue boats was also planned. With the naval construction boom brought on by World War II, the Orange facility grew. The supervisor was required to build new naval facilities as well as develop civilian supports such as adequate housing. The office in Orange also supervised construction at shipyards along the entire Texas coastline. Three shipyards in Orange received military contracts from the navy. Consolidated Western Steel Corporation, Levingston Shipbuilding Company, and Weaver Shipyards produced more than 300 ships of various types during World War II, the first vessel being the USS Aulick completed on March 2, 1942. At the peak of production more than 22,000 workers were in the shipyards, and the population of Orange skyrocketed.
At the end of World War II the Navy Department announced that Orange would be one of eight locations in which reserve vessels would be stored. The area of the shipyards provided a favorable location in that the Sabine River furnished an abundant supply of fresh water to prevent saltwater corrosion. Naval base facilities as well as twelve piers in the Sabine River were constructed. In November 1945 the United States Naval Station at Orange was established with Capt. T. R. Cowie as commanding officer. The mission of the naval station was to provide logistical support and berthing space for the inactivation ("mothballing") of the Texas Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet. The station encompassed an area of 168 acres, and eventually approximately 150 vessels were moored there. In 1950 about thirty vessels were reactivated for service in the Korean War, and up to 850 military personnel worked at the station. During the following years activity and employment dropped off until 1959, when the United States naval station was deactivated.
On October 1, 1966, the Texas Group was disestablished, and the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility was commissioned with 197 ships and crafts in its custody. The duty of the new facility was identical to its predecessor. Ships were maintained, repaired, and kept in a state of ready remobilization. Inactivation and activation of ships, as well as all major overhaul work, were accomplished on a contract basis by local civilian industry. In the late 1960s and early 1970s more than 160 vessels were still in custody. The naval storage facility was closed on December 28, 1975. By 1980 all of the ships were gone; some were transferred to various branches of the navy for alternate use, and others were sold to foreign nations such as Korea, Mexico, South America, and China. United States Steel Corporation acquired some of the facilities for its continuing shipbuilding and steel programs. Lamar University at Orange used other portions of the facility. The piers and some adjacent land were sold to the Orange County navigation and port district. The navy retained 18½ acres-the site of the present United States Navy and Marine Corp Reserve Training Center.