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A Little Port Isabel History


PORT ISABEL, TEXAS. Port Isabel is on the point where Texas Highway 100 meets the Laguna Madre in southeastern Cameron County, sixteen miles northeast of Brownsville. It is connected to South Padre Island by the two-mile-long Queen Isabella Causeway (Park Road 100).

The first settlement in the area, Brazos Santiago, was on nearby Brazos Island. In 1788 water sellers traveled to the area to obtain water. The site was also used as a summer resort by 1800. Jean Laffiteqv is said to have had a fifteen-foot well dug near the site of present Laguna Vista, five miles northwest of Port Isabel. Official claim to the land was not made until 1828, when it was granted to Rafael García as part of the Potrero ("Pasture") de Santa Isabel. During the 1830s a small community developed at the site, known as El Frontón de Santa Isabel.
Later that name was changed to Punta de Santa Isabel, that is, Point Isabel. A post office was established in the community under the name Point Isabel in June 1845. The name of the post office and community were changed to Brazos Santiago in 1849, when the Oblates of Mary Immaculateqv arrived in the community and established Our Lady by the Sea Church. Also that year the community suffered an outbreak of cholera, and it was several years before it recovered fully.

In 1850 Port Isabel was the second largest town in the area, which by 1859 was exporting $10 million dollars worth of cotton annually. The Port Isabel Lighthouse was built in 1853 at a cost of $7,000; it served as a lookout during the conflict with Juan M. Cortinaqv known as the Cortina War. During the first three years of the Civil War, Port Isabel was known as a haven for blockade runners due to its proximity to Mexico. All the ships in the harbor were destroyed or captured during a Union attack on May 30, 1863.

Downtown Port IsabelThe first railway in the area was the Rio Grande Valley Railway, a narrow-gauge line connecting Port Isabel to Brownsville, funded and built by Simón Celaya of Brownsville, which began operation in 1872. The name of the post office was changed from Brazos Santiago to Isabel in 1881. In 1904 the town had one school with two teachers and eighty-one students. In 1915 the community officially became Point Isabel. From 1925 to 1927 the estimated population was 200. The town was incorporated as Port Isabel on March 23, 1928. That year a shallow-draft channel was dredged around the south and west sides of the town.

Also in that year, the Rio Grande Railroad was acquired by the Port Isabel and Rio Grande Valley Railway. By 1929 the population had reached an estimated 750. In 1930 the post office changed its name to Port Isabel. The Point Isabel Press was in operation from the 1920s into the 1930s, after which it was the Port Isabel Press. On July 3, 1930, the River and Harbor Act authorized the expansion of the Port Isabel harbor through the Brazos Island harbor project. In 1933 the ship channel was dredged to a depth of twelve feet and a width of 125 feet. That year Port Isabel had an estimated population of 1,177 and forty-five businesses.

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