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A Little Port Isabel History - 2


Bridge to South Padre IslandIn 1934 the first annual Texas International Fishing Tournament was held in Port Isabel by the International Game and Fish Association. The first modern use of Port Isabel as a seaport occurred on July 27, 1935. In 1937 a six-foot channel was dredged from Port Isabel to a point two miles east of Harlingen. In 1941 the Port Isabel and Rio Grande sold its track connecting Port Isabel to Brownsville to the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway. The channel connecting Port Isabel to Harlingen was full of silt by 1942 and was no longer in use.

In 1952 the community had a population estimated at 2,372 and seventy businesses. By 1956 Port Isabel was served by the Missouri Pacific Railroad. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, completed during the 1950s, increased trade and improved the economic health of Port Isabel, but it also caused problems. A spoil bank from its construction polluted the community, and the city's board sought the assistance of the United States government to solve the dust problem. The Queen Isabella Causeway, with a swing bridge across the ship channel between Port Isabel and South Padre Island, was completed in February 1954 at a cost of $2.2 million. The causeway drew tourists to the area. The Naval Auxiliary Air Station was commissioned on April 1, 1957. The estimated population of Port Isabel was 5,300 in 1958. The shrimping industry, contributes significantly to the local economy. In 1960 Port Isabel harvested 7,136,000 pounds of shrimp and served as a gateway into South Texas and northern Mexico.

Port Isabel ShrimperThe port, equipped for all types of export and import tonnage, handled 444,627 short tons that year. In 1966 Hurricane Beulah devastated 15 to 20 percent of the town, and another 25 percent required major repairs. That year Port Isabel had an estimated population of 4,000 and 122 businesses. During the 1960s, forty-one million pounds of shrimp annually, 65 percent of the state's production, came from the area. At the annual Shrimp Fiesta held in Port Isabel, among the many ceremonies is a Blessing of the Fleet. The area is also supported by other commercial fishing, tourism, and the petroleum industry.

Among the larger businesses in the 1960s were a chemical refinery, a pipeline-service company, shipyards, and a frozen-food company. In 1978 the Port Isabel Ship Channel had been dredged to thirty-six feet in depth and 200 feet in bottom width. It was 7,144 feet long and had a turning basin thirty-six-feet deep by 1,000 feet wide. During the middle to late 1970s the population fluctuated between an estimated 3,067 and 3,740. The new Queen Isabella Causeway was constructed in 1974 and replaced the original Queen Isabella Causeway, which became known as the Old Fishing Pier.

Port Isabel ShopIn 1980 Port Isabel had an estimated population of 3,603 and 155 businesses. During the 1980s the town continued to attract tourists. Recreational opportunities included fishing, boating, and hunting. In 1989 the port handled 263,335 short tons of cargo. In 1990 Port Isabel had a population of 4,622 and a school, although the number of businesses had declined. The town continued to support itself from the shrimping and fishing industry as well as the tourist industry.

 BIBLIOGRAPHY: Corpus Christi Caller, August 21, 1955. Dallas Times Herald, October 6, 1967. Kate Adele Hill, Lon C. Hill, 1862-1935: Lower Rio Grande Valley Pioneer (San Antonio: Naylor, 1973). Leonard King, Port of Drifting Men: A Saga of a Texas Seacoast Town and Its People (San Antonio: Naylor, 1945). Port Isabel Yearbook (Port Isabel, Texas, Chamber of Commerce, 1960). The Ports of Freeport, Port Lavaca, Port Isabel and Brownsville, Texas (Port Series 26, Fort Belvoir, Virginia: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1980). Valley By-Liners, Roots by the River: A Story of Texas Tropical Borderland (Mission, Texas: Border Kingdom Press, 1978). Vertical Files, Barker Texas History Center, University of Texas at Austin. Alicia A. Garza The Handbook of Texas, Online.

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