South Padre Island, TX Home   Search   Contact

Welcome to
South Padre Island
Welcome to South Padre Island Real Estate


Click Here for SpanishHaga clic aquí para español

Port Isabel

Port Isabel, Historic Port Isabel, the “Point” of the Laguna Madre Bay, land of history, legend and lore was originally inhabited by the Coahilitecan Indians prior to European settlements. This quaint fishing village’s strategic location, once having a 25-foot bluff in the area where the Point Isabel Lighthouse now stands, was a natural lookout for viewing both the Laguna Madre Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. This natural formation was instrumental in the settlement and development of this area and was an important force during the U.S./Mexican War, Civil War, and maritime commerce.

At the beginning, Port Isabel was a cattle ranch owned by Don Raphael Garcia, the first recorded owner of the area, having claimed it in 1821. Then known as El Froton de Santa Isabel, early settlers described the native dwellings as straw huts covered with “raw cattle hides and then recovered with “sacahuiste” grass.” During the early 1800’s, the Texas coast gained importance to Mexico, the United States, and smugglers from both countries. Local ranchers formed business alliances with pirates who sailed their contraband between the Rio Grande and Corpus Christi. El Fronton de Santa Isabel (Point Isabel) became the base for the growing Port of Matamoros and the privateer fleet.

Port Isabel Real EstateIn 1846, when General Zachary Taylor established Fort Polk, a military encampment named in honor of President Polk during the U.S./Mexican War, many of the villagers, following orders from the Mexican Government, set fire to their houses. Only a few of the structures, most likely Jacales, huts made from mesquite and mud, were saved. The fort included one of the largest military hospitals in the United States. Famous individuals including Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, and other notable men were stationed at this fort. Around the fort, camp followers occupied some of the remaining homes and built some crude sheds and houses. A year later in 1847, with the growth of the fort and its surroundings, Simon Mussina attempted to establish the city of Point Isabel along the Laguna Madre west of the fort. In 1850, the United States Army evacuated the fort, and by 1851, Mussina’s attempts failed.

However, in 1850, the U.S. government appropriated $15,000 for construction of a beacon and lighthouse at Brazos Santiago. Through much controversy, Point Isabel was selected for the lighthouse location rather than Brazos Santiago. By 1851, the customhouse was situated in the former commanding officer’s quarters of Fort Polk, and the site selected for the lighthouse was the interior of the main earthen bastion of the Fort. John E. Garey of Brownsville was contracted for the building of the lighthouse. The Point Isabel lighthouse was completed and lighted on April 20, 1853 along with the beacon at Brazos Santiago on Padre Island, a square wooden tower painted black. In 1855, Charles Stewart of Galveston was contracted to build a one-story, four-room-and-a-wall wooden house at a price of $1,400. The workmen and materials were sent from Galveston. The Lighthouse served as a valuable function as a lookout tower during the Mexican insurrections and the Civil War. Confederate soldiers attempted to blow up the lighthouse as Union boats approached Point Isabel on May 28, 1863, but did not succeed, only slightly damaging it. In 1864, Union soldiers destroyed the Catholic Church and took the bell to Brazos Island.

In 1865, Point Isabel lost its importance as a port due to a military bridge having beenBeautiful Port Isabel built from Boca Chica to Bagdad, Mexico, a prosperous shipping town that had a population of 15,000. In 1866 and 1867, bad weather destroyed Bagdad and once again Point Isabel prospered as a port. In the late 1860’s the lighthouse was in good repair, part of the lighthouse keeper’s house served as an office for the customs collector and some of the remaining houses from the early Point Isabel settlement were said to be occupied by families of the soldiers of the Civil War.

In the 1870’s, with the new Rio Grande Railroad track, businesses were established south of the lighthouse and in 1875, a new town plat was developed and the streets were named by the daughters of Don Rafael Garcia east of the original town site. In the 1880’s, the lighthouse lantern was modernized and harbor improvements to deepen the channel across the bar began. After the lighthouse was decommissioned, its structure was used as a tourist attraction. During this time, Point Isabel’s population was 500 to 700. In the 1890’s, the lighthouse was repaired and again relighted. Charles Champion built a brick Victorian style building to be used as a dry goods store. In the early 1900’s, a new railroad linking Corpus Christi to Brownsville along with the sinking of the lighter Luzon at the railroad wharf led to a decline in shipping traffic, and in 1905 the lighthouse was permanently closed.

By 1915, the population of Point Isabel declined to 300. At this time, the Wireless Station, one of the largest radio stations used for the military, was set up east of the lighthouse on 22 acres. In the early 1920’s, a new vision for Point Isabel was realized. The Port Isabel Company purchased the lighthouse from J.S. Ford of Brownsville, made necessary repairs, and opened it as a tourist attraction. In 1928, the City was incorporated and the slogan “Building a City where a City belongs” set the premises of changing this small fishing village into a tourist mecca. Streets were paved, canals were constructed, electric lights installed and industry and mercantile businesses established.

Today, Port Isabel has blossomed once again with many unique shops, restaurants, historic hotels, and museums that make up this historic and colorful area. Spend a day discovering Port Isabel, and take advantage of the many places that are within walking distance of each other. We hope you enjoy your visit to Port Isabel.

If your vacation plans bring you to the Laguna Madre area during the winter months, check with the Port Isabel Chamber of Commerce at (956) 943-2262 about the World Championship Shrimp Cook-Off in November and the Longest Causeway Run held in January. The Shrimp Cook-Off features dozens of amateur and professional chef teams competing for the title of “World Champion”. Thousands of spectators’ line up to taste competing recipes of delicious Texas gulf shrimp. There is also a folk arts festival with many area artists and artisans displaying a wide variety of original art and custom crafts. The Longest Causeway Run is a 6.2 miles race that starts at the Port Isabel Community Center, takes participants across the Queen Isabella Causeway and ends on South Padre Island. There is also a 3 mile wellness walk which provides a casual stroll across the Causeway.


Page 1     Page 2      Page 3      Page 4      Page 5     Port Isabel Profile