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history of port isabel

A Brief HIstory of the Laguna Madre Area & Port Isabel

1523 – Spaniard Francisco Garay Sails into Brazos Santiago Pass on July 25, Saint James Day and names the pass “El Paso de los Brazos de
Santiago” (The Arms of Saint James Pass) in his honor. Brazos Island was named after the pass.
1554 – A Spanish treasure fleet left Mexico en route to Spain and was demolished by a violent hurricane. Several boats were wrecked on
Padre Island and a few survivors began to walk the beach towards Vera Cruz Mexico. Some of the survivors walked through our area, only one
reached Vera Cruz. The rest fell victim to the harsh elements and ferocious Indians.
1560-1700 – This area known as the Wild Horse Desert was unexplored and only inhabited by local Indians and wildlife. This was the last
area of the gulf coast to be settled as it was considered the harshest environment of all areas the Spaniards desired to settle.
1749 – Colonel Jose de Escondon leads a colonization party into the Rio Grande Valley area and founds the towns of Camargo, Mier, Reynosa, and Matamoros.
Ca. 1770 – A small fishing village is located at the Point Isabel area known as “El Fronton de Santa Isabel” or El Fronton for short. The
name fronton means ‘bluff’ or ‘wall’ and came from the steep face of the hill that faced the bay in the area of the fishing pier. This bluff could
easily be seen from the Brazos Santiago Pass.
1770s – 1840s – El Fronton was a popular summer “resort” area for ranching families of this area, enjoying the cool gulf breeze during the
hot summer.
1803 – Padre Nicolas Balli granted the barrier island which bears his name – Padre Island.
1829 – A Mexican fort is constructed on Brazos Island to protect the Brazos de Santiago Pass.
1836 – The Texas navy “Invincible” sinks the Mexican navy gunboat “Nicolas Bravo” in the Brazos Santiago area.
1842 – Mexican customs house for the “Port of Matamoros” at El Fronton was located near the present site of the lighthouse.
1846 – General Zachary Taylor and the U.S. Army set up Fort Polk at the present site of Lighthouse Square. General Taylor renames the town “Point Isabel.”
1846-48 – The “Mexican War” dramatically changes Point Isabel which becomes a boomtown. Many famous Americans served at Fort
Polk/Point Isabel.
1849-50 – California gold rush causes a mini-boom era at Point Isabel. Fortune seekers search for a safe route to the gold fields through Mexico. Among them, James Audubon comes through and records plants and wildlife.
1852 – Lighthouse built at Point Isabel.
1861-65 – The American Civil War impacts the Point Isabel area.
1863 – General N.P. Banks lands Union troops on Brazos Island. Confederates use the lighthouse to spy on the Union soldiers.
1864 – A small battle is fought between U.S. and Confederate soldiers at the docks by the lighthouse. Confederate Colonel John “Rip” Ford removes the light from the lighthouse so the “Yankees” can’t use it. Confederate forces attempt to blow up the lighthouse as they evacuate Point Isabel. They only damage the upper structure.
1865 – The hospital at Brazos Santiago serves over 100,000 patients during the four years of the Civil War, almost all from sickness such as
cholera, dysentery, and yellow fever. The last land battle of the American Civil War is fought 9 miles south of Point Isabel on May 15,
1865 between Union soldiers en route to Point Isabel and Confederates camped at Whites Ranch. Known as the Battle of Palmito Hill, the Confederates won the battle, and later had to surrender to their defeated foe.
1867 – One of the most powerful hurricanes to ever hit our area completely destroyed Clarksville, Texas, and Bagdad, Mexico. Brazos Santiago was underwater and Point Isabel was leveled.
1872 – The Rio Grande Railroad, from Point Isabel to Brownsville, begins service. Point Isabel begins to enjoy another prosperous era as a seaport and summer resort.
1884 – Coast Guard/Life Saving Service is established on the south end of Padre Island. U.S. Quarantine station is built on Brazos Island.
1880s-90s – Commercial fishing begins to be big business in Point Isabel. The shallow sloop improves the catch and vast quantities of
fish are shipped by train to Brownsville and Mexico. The boat is so effective at its job that it is outlawed by the Texas Legislature in the 1930s.
1898 – Troops from south Texas forts are deployed for the Spanish American War, and leave via steamers from Point Isabel.
1909 – A 12’ deep channel is cut from Brazos to the Point Isabel docks.
1916 – U.S. soldiers are deployed to the border as a result of the increased ‘bandit’ activities. Troops from Iowa and Illinois are stationed at Point Isabel.
1920s - Point Isabel gains fame as a sport fishing paradise, increasing tourism.
1928 – Point Isabel Land Company modernizes and develops the townsite and renames the town Port Isabel in hopes of a deep water port. They market the project as “Building a city where a city belongs”
1933 – A devastating hurricane hits Port Isabel and disrupts life throughout south Texas. Much of Port Isabel goes underwater.
1934 – The first Texas International Fishing Tournament is a smashing success.
1936 – The Brownsville ship channel is completed. Port Brownsville opens.
1943-45 – WW2 causes alerts at Port Isabel, U-Boats are sunk in the gulf.
1954 – 1st Queen Isabella Causeway opens. The area begins a vigorous period of growth and development.
1974 – New Queen Isabella Causeway opens.
2001 – Barge hits the Queen Isabella Causeway and a section collapses, 8 lives were lost. Renamed Queen Isabella Memorial Bridge.
  • Alta Vista Apartment Building

    Alta Vista Apartment Building

  • Bathing at Point Isabel

    Bathing at Point Isabel

  • Champion Building

    Champion Building

  • Port Isabel Lighthouse

    Port Isabel Lighthouse

  • Miss Liberty

    Miss Liberty

  • Port at Point Isabel

    Port at Point Isabel

  • Early Railroad

    Early Railroad