History Blog: Joe Orr, Inc., helped make College Station into what it is today

City of College Station's 75th AnniversaryNOTE: 2013 marks the City of College Station’s 75th year as an incorporated city. In recognition, we’ve highlighted some interesting moments from our past.

The following message was authored by Henry Mayo, a surveyor and long-time resident of the Bryan-College Station area. As a surveyor and historian, Henry retrieves information from local, state and national resources to assemble history-themed messages for email subscribers in a series titled “This Week in Brazos County History.” To subscribe to Henry’s email series, click here.




LicenseThis history topic is more important to me than most others, but I’ll try to make it interesting and demonstrate its strong connection to our local history.

After receiving his degree in civil engineering from Texas A&M in 1922, Joseph A. Orr worked on railroad projects in South America before joining the A&M faculty in 1928. He taught civil engineering for the next 40 years, and served on the College Station City Council for more than 25 years (1939-1966). He later served on the planning and zoning commission.

He also ran a surveying business, laying out many of the subdivisions in Bryan and College Station, as well as projects in adjoining counties. In fact, when College Station incorporated in 1938, Joe Orr prepared the original city limits survey.

Before establishing Joe Orr, Inc., in October 1963, he had worked in partnership with other engineers and surveyors such as Bill Kling, Spencer Buchanan and Holland Winder. When my father, David Mayo, returned from the Army in 1960 to finish his civil engineering degree at A&M, he began working for Joe Orr. At first, their office was upstairs in the Burgess Building, above the Southside grocery on Jersey Street.

They soon moved their office to the former servant’s cottage behind the Orr home at 506 W. Dexter. Mrs. Orr had been the widow of J.T.L. McNew, who was also a civil engineering professor. Mr. Orr and his first wife had lived one block away on the same street.

BuildingThe next office location was 819 Highway 6 in College Station, where T-Mobile is today, at the corner of Texas Avenue and Lincoln Avenue. I took the photo at the right in 1997 and hope to find a better one someday.

The house-style building had originally been the coffee shop for the Blue Top tourist courts, which were located behind it where the parking lot for Best Buy is today. In the early 1970s, this was the real estate office of Dorothy McCoy and later Richard Smith Realty. According to my father, Joe Orr, Inc., shared the building with W.D. Fitch’s offices.

orr clipThe biography at the left, published during campaign season in March 1965, shows that Mr. Orr was instrumental in the planning and implementation of projects that took many more years to come to fruition, such as F.M. 2818, the Highway 6 bypass and Jersey Street (now George Bush Drive). In the early 1960s, Orr was a staunch proponent of the Millican Dam project.

Millican damDavid Mayo, C. Ben Thomson, William F. Koehler and a handful of other civil engineering students worked steadily to grow the surveying business. They built strong relationships with land developers such as W.D. Fitch, Woodson Lumber and later J.A. Skrivanek, Tom Borski, D.R. Cain, B.B. Scasta and others.  By 1967, they moved to the M&N Building on Old College Road, directly across the street from Triangle Bowling Alley. By this time, Mr. Orr had turned the reigns of the company and most of the ownership over to David Mayo.

While in the M&N building (pictured below), Joe Orr, Inc., rented additional office space and set up a photographic darkroom for the reproduction of survey plats and aerial photographs. Within a few years, Mayo and Koehler purchased the former College Station National Guard Armory on West Luther Street and moved Joe Orr, Inc. into the spacious 4,800 sq. ft. building. The darkroom was greatly expanded, and soon Koehler began a separate business for photographic and diazo (blueline) reproduction that was located within the same building and called International Reproduction Service.

Orr Building

Joe Orr passed away at the age of 70 while on a Saturday walk in April 1971. By the mid-1970s, Willie Koehler left to become city planner for College Station and the number of survey crews and part-time A&M student workers was greatly reduced. New technology increased the quality and efficiency of survey work, and W.D. Fitch’s Southwood Valley development had become Joe Orr, Inc.’s main project.

David Mayo believed in new technology and invested in one of the first few infrared distance meters (Wild DI-10) in the United States in 1969. He also stayed up with programmable calculators and then small computers, writing surveying computation software that won praise from Hewlett-Packard.

The business moved into Fitch’s new office building at 2108 Southwood Dr. and remained there until the early 1980s. The Luther Street property was rented to Brazos Concrete Service. By this time, all of Joe Orr, Inc.’s employees were Mayo relatives and the next office move was to a building next to David Mayo’s home off of Rock Prairie Road.

The location remained the same for the next 25 years, but the address and phone numbers changed a few times due to the phone company and postal service. The mailing address even changed from Bryan to College Station.

Since 2008, Joe Orr, Inc.’s surveying office has been located on Mayo Drive off of Rock Prairie Road West. David Mayo remains the President, and sons Kim and Henry are the only employees. Among these three are two professional engineers and two registered land surveyors. With GPS and the latest surveying instruments, the company remains very active and works almost exclusively on City of College Station projects. The 50+ years of survey records are relied upon for almost every project.

Side note to last week’s blog

Willie NelsonAs a follow-up to my previous blog about the passing of liquor-by-the-drink in College Station, I read an interesting article in the current issue of Lone Star Music Magazine. Michael Martin Murphy, the father of Austin’s Cosmic Cowboy music revolution of the very early 1970s, said in a recent interview, “long about 1970, something big time happened in Texas that people overlook: Almost all the counties in Texas adopted liquor by the drink. Virtually every county in Texas was dry up until 1970, and if you wanted to have a drink, you had to join a private club.”

He explained that when towns allowed liquor, like College Station did in 1971, the new nightclubs all wanted bands and musicians with unique music and songs. When Willie Nelson first came to Austin, he and his drummer, Paul English, opened shows for Murphy, but soon Willie’s music begat the Outlaw Music genre in Austin.

I had never heard anyone tie the liquor-by-the-drink elections to the birth of the Austin music scene. A Bryan Stephen F. Austin High School class of 1953 grad, Bill Arhos, also had something to do with Austin’s music popularity, but I am saving the rest of that story for another time.

Have a great week!

Henry Mayo
Henry Mayo
Surveyor and Historian | email

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