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History of Collegeport

by Dorothy Franzen Merck


Collegeport is situated in southwest Matagorda County on Tres Palacios Bay. The townsite was planned by the Burton D. Hurd Land Company as a promotion scheme in selling the J. E. and A. B. Pierce lands. The company also established the Gulf Coast University of Industrial Arts. The combination of port and college town supplied the name "Collegeport."

In August and September of 1907, Abel B. Pierce had the townsite of Collegeport- 320 acres- surveyed by J. C. Carrington. It became known as the Hurd Subdivision of the A. B. Pierce Ranch.

Documents recorded October 2, 1908, in the county clerk's office in the Matagorda County courthouse show that on January 20, 1908, A. B. Pierce gave and granted to the Burton D. Hurd Land Company an option of purchase on the Ace of Club Ranch, comprising 9,000 acres of land. The land company was to pay Pierce $50,000 on or before March 20, 1908, along with certain other conditions. Failing to comply with the terms of the option, the company had to forfeit the money paid and release the tract of land from any and all claims.

Burton D. Hurd became realtor for Abel B. Pierce, and the Burton D. Hurd Land Company office was situated just east of Hotel Collegeport on Central Street. The landseekers made out their checks to the Burton D. Hurd Land Company when they purchased property. Some of the future landowners were disappointed when it took so long to get a deed to the land purchased as Pierce would not give a title to the land until he received payment.

Collegeport was founded by the Burton D. Hurd Land Company, May 25, 1908. A tract of land was deeded to W. H. Travis for the building of a college of industrial, domestic, and agricultural arts and sciences, and for the opening and development of waterways (planned to use Pilkington Slough as channel). The survey made by the government at that time reported the sites of Collegeport and Portsmouth as feasible and practical ports of entry. The grand opening of Collegeport was held May 25, 1909, in Hotel Collegeport, a two-story hotel accommodating a hundred guests and situated on the north side of Central Street, facing Tres Palacios Bay and the Collegeport pavilion. O. B. Kone was manager of the hotel.

The year 1912 found a town of 496 inhabitants; an incorporated Industrial League of ninety members; a Woman's Club of eighty-six members; the Gulf Coast University of Industrial Arts (block north of the Missouri-Pacific- "Mopac") which opened in September, 1909, with five teachers and thirty-nine students; and a Federated church of fourteen denominations (the Reverend M. A. Travis, pastor; situated south of the Presbyterian church) which was organized in the College Chapel November 30, 1909. The Grace Episcopal Church (moved to Palacios in the 1920's) was organized in the Chapel November 10, 1910.

A two-story red brick schoolhouse was built in 1912 just east of Mopac and the library. Central Street (now FM 1095) had many business houses and hotels. There was a sidewalk from Hotel Collegeport to the Missouri Pacific depot on the north side of the street. The Logan Livery Stable was north of the hotel, and the Burton D. Hurd Land Company office was east of the hotel. There was a post office with J. H. Adams as postmaster, a laundry, Sterling and Clark Grocery, D. H. Morris Store (first grocery and dry goods store), Yeamans Brothers & Company (dry goods and furniture), and the Drug Store first owned by Dr. O. E. Lipsitt, and later by Dr. Everson, F. L. Hoffman, and lastly by Hugo and Hattie Kundinger. The Avenue Hotel was owned by A. M. Weborg.

The Collegeport Chronicle, which was published by M. A. Travis, became the Collegeport New Era in 1914, published by J. J. Rodebaugh. The Collegeport State Bank had as its officers A. B. Pierce, president; Theo Smith, vice-president; and J. B. McCain, cashier. Other businesses included W. W. Wilkinson, real estate; R. K. Legg, dray service; L. E. Liggett, artesian water well driller; William Pfeiffer who advertised concrete and sidewalks; and a planing mill and wood yard run by M. A. Nelson.

G. A Duckworth was the railroad express and telegraph agent; Guy F. Fausset was a physician; and W. H. Travis was president of Gulf Coast University of Industrial Arts. Theo Smith and Son sold hardware, lumber, and implements, while John T. Price Lumber Company handled lumber and builder's hardware. Albin Drott was a carpenter and builder; C. H. Judin was the auctioneer, real estate agent, and also a carpenter and builder.

The town thrived. Residents enjoyed fairs, bands, horse racing, Washington Banquets, New Year's Day, and Collegeport Day celebrations.

Soon the agriculturists were hard hit. The canal system was not completed in time for rice irrigation in its first year, and the following year salt water was pumped from the Colorado River, ruining crops. The rice farmers suffered big losses. When watermelons were shipped across the bay on a barge to be loaded on a train in Palacios, the farmers received a freight bill instead of payment for the melons. Fruit trees froze and charbon wiped out much of the livestock in 1914. By 1914 the New Era was full of ads: "farms and livestock for sale." People began leaving Collegeport, taking their buildings with them. Doctors F. V. Bryan, G. F. Fausett, and N. P. Knight (dentist) left because they could no longer make a living in the town. The Gulf Coast University closed, and W. H. Travis moved to Arkansas. D. H. Morris moved his store, and A. M. Weborg moved the Avenue Hotel to Houston. In the 1920's Mrs. Clarence Doman purchased Hotel Collegeport and tore the building down. The launches "Ben Hur" and "Laura E" terminated service from Collegeport to Palacios.

In 1922 Turner Rice & Irrigation Company brought in rice farmers to farm the DeMoss area land and built a business center south of Collegeport on the road now known as Oyster Lake Road, north of the railroad spur. They had a large grocery and dry goods store, a rice warehouse, A. G. Hunt's blacksmith shop, Shriver's Bakery, a business office, a barber shop, and homes for the negro workmen. Mr. and Mrs. Hugo Kundinger moved their drug store from Central Street to Turnerville, which was built on the west side of the road across from the Collegeport shipping pens. From these pens 2,200 cattle were shipped by rail each year. Soon all that was left in that area were the drug store, the lunch stand, and the Bill Fitzgerald Home for Elderly Citizens, which were destroyed by Hurricane Carla. "Miss Hattie" salvaged lumber to build a small home on the drug store site.

Another disaster hit the area in December, 1924, when an ice storm killed hundreds of cattle.

Soon after the rice farmers moved out, Dr. W. W. Van Wormer purchased the vacant lots in Collegeport and some acreage outside the townsite, where fig orchards were planted. The figs thrived, but the Collegeport Packing House closed in 1929 because of the depression.

The Bay View Accredited School, which had a lunch kitchen in the Mopac House during President Harry Truman's administration, closed in the early 1950's. The pupils were transferred to Palacios schools.

On February 2, 1965, the Collegeport Volunteer Fire Department was organized and the Collegeport Fire Station was built on land leased from the Mopac House Foundation.

A few landmarks were left standing in Collegeport. The range riders' cabin built by Jonathan E. Pierce for his cowhands- long before Collegeport was founded is the red building now owned by J. Gates which can be seen a few blocks north of the road leading from FM 1095 going toward the bay.

The late Abel Pierce of Prairie Center stated that when the storm of 1886 destroyed Palacios Point, Jonathan E. Pierce had the Burkhart home and lumber salvaged from damaged buildings shipped by barge on the Tres Palacios Bay and up Pilkington Slough, loaded on oxen cart, and hauled to a site picked out by his cowboy, Robert (Bob) Murry, for his summer home, his foreman's home, and sheds. This Pilkington Slough Ranch of 2,200 acres is now owned by Frank Lewis of Bay City.

FM 1095 runs through Collegeport on what was known as Central Street in the now-empty business district. As one makes the curve leading into Collegeport, broken oyster shells can be seen on the left where the Missouri-Pacific depot (1910-1933) stood. The library building, purchased by the Woman's Club in 1923 from J. H. Adams, was moved to a lot on Block 105, which the Industrial League gave to the club. The Mopac House was attached to the west side of the library in 1935- built from lumber from the Missouri Pacific depot procured for the community house by Harry Austin Clapp, secretary of the Industrial League. The Mopac House and Volunteer Fire Station are also situated on Block 105, once the property of the Industrial League who gave the land to the Mopac House Foundation in 1935, when the League dissolved.

The First Presbyterian Church, built in 1955, can be seen south of the Mopac House. The post office (opened May 9, 1909) is on the avenue running south at the end of FM 1095; the postmaster is Lynda Lenz, granddaughter of pioneers Mr. and Mrs. Gust Franzen. The Baptists built a church on Oyster Lake Road in 1950.

A few still well-preserved homes of 1910-1911 are the Theo Smith home now owned by the Frank Canfields of Houston and the Burton D. Hurd home, owned by Mrs. R. E. Smith of Houston. Another house on Bayshore Drive, the E. A. Holsworth home, was not restored after being ravaged by Hurricane Carla.

Former residents and friends are always welcome to the annual homecoming, Collegeport Day, the last Saturday in May when the founding of Collegeport on May 25, 1908, is observed.

There are active organizations and clubs still in Collegeport: the Woman's Club which sponsors Collegeport Day, the Mopac House Foundation, the Volunteer Fire Department, the Collegeport Cemetery Association, and the 4-H Club. The Baptist church on Oyster Lake Road and the Presbyterian church, south of the Mopac House, hold regular services.

Some of the children of pioneer families of 1908-1910 living in the Collegeport area are: J. R. (Jimmy) Murry, son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert (Bob) Murry; Rosalie Ellis, daughter of Roy and Carrie Nelson; Mason Holsworth, son of Mason (Jack) and Ethel Holsworth; Mamie Wells (Mrs. Gerald Wells); Gus Franzen and Alex Franzen, children of Gust and Ellen Franzen. Coming from Oklahoma and Iowa in 1909, Dean, son of B. V. and Sadie Merck, and Dorothy Merck, daughter of Gust and Ellen Franzen, have lived in the area longer than any other resident.

Historic Matagorda County, Volume I, pp. 328-332



By Dorothy Franzen Merck


Presented to: Wednesday Club, Sadie Ellen Room ,

First Presbyterian Church of Collegeport , November 15, 1978




When Hazel asked me to give Highlights of Collegeport for your meeting this afternoon I told her I would be happy to do so. When I started collecting pictures, maps, news items, etc., I found so many Collegeport News items in the Beacon columns, I sighed, "Oh, No-those women have read all those items I sent to the Beacon"...and then I recalled the time I was asked to give a Christmas story years ago... Every time I would pause, an elderly lady, Ma Brown, who was sitting next to me filled in on all the details every time I paused for a second. She had read the story, too. Well, if you want to fill in any information, that's okay with me.


When I was in school I just hated history. As I grew older I became interested in the history of our community. Every time I found some information that I wanted, I would make a copy of it. I have heard people say, "Don't tell Dorothy, she might put the news in the Church bulletin or in the paper."


Before I start talking...I want you to see the display of pictures, directory, map, Gulf Coast University Yearbook, The First Church-Federated (14 denominations), newspapers, etc.


Some years ago, Burton D. Hurd's niece and her husband, Kay and Roy Sjoquist came to our home to ask about the Collegeport cemetery where Mr. and Mrs. Hurd are buried. When we came back from the cemetery we asked the Sjoquists to come in. She wanted to know something about Collegeport where she was born. I brought out the Club pictures and some copies of The History of the Woman's Club, M. A. Travis' Autobiography and Mrs. Hurd's History of Collegeport. Mrs. Sjoquist looked up at me and asked, "Would you trust these copies in my hands?" I guess I looked puzzled so she said, "We own a printing shop in Houston and I would love to print these in memory of Uncle Burton." So if you want some of these copies - you may have them. They are over here.


Now I am going to ramble...


We are going to Palacios Point further on so I want to digress just for a moment - Abel Pierce of Prairie Center told me that when the story of 1886 destroyed Palacios Point (Population of 1700) Jonathan or J. E. Pierce had the Burkhart home and lumber salvaged from damaged buildings barged to the bay on Slough Ranch (1889) and then hauled on oxen carts to build his summer place, which we know as the Slough Ranch home. Jimmie Murry, who lives here, is the son of Bob Murry, who was foreman on this ranch.


In August and September of 1907, Abel B. Pierce had 320 acres, the Townsite of Collegeport, surveyed by J. C. Carrington, known as the Hurd subdivision of the A. B. Pierce Ranch.


On Monday, January 8, 1908 , the Burton D. Hurd Land Company entered into a contract with the J. E. Pierce family, with Mr. A. B. Pierce as manager of the estate, for 1,000 acres comprising the two ranches, the Ace of Clubs Ranch owned by Mr. Abel Pierce and the J. E. Pierce Slough Ranch of 2,200. Purchase was made from Mr. Fred S. Robbins and Mrs. Fred S. Robbins for their 9,000 acres east of the Ace of Clubs Ranch, comprising all land between the Colorado and Tres Palacios Rivers at this point and for 12 miles southward to Old Point Palacios, at this time, took new name of Portsmouth .


Collegeport was founded by Burton D. Hurd Land Company, May 25, 1908 , at which time a tract of land was deeded to W. H. Travis for the building of a college of industrial, domestic and agricultural arts and sciences, and for the opening and development of our waterways. The Gulf Coast College of Industrial Arts was founded June 1909. The survey made by the government at that time reported the site of Collegeport and Portsmouth as feasible and practical ports of entry. The Grand Opening of Collegeport was held May 25, 1909 at Hotel Collegeport.


The year 1912 found a town of 496, a Business Men's League of 90 members, a Federated Church of 14 denominations, an Episcopal Church, a Woman's Club of 86 members, the present brick school house under construction and the first free public library in the county.


Collegeport had flourished for a spell. Professor Will Travis opened the Gulf Coast University of Industrial Arts, and made deals with the pioneer orange growers from the north to plant their orchards with student labor.


I'll say one thing about Mr. Hurd, "He was a salesman." He convinced the people in the north that it never got cold down here and that they could make a living on 10 acres of citrus trees. Freeze after freeze killed the orange trees. They tried watermelons and cantaloupes, which flourished, but the crops were fed to the cattle for want of a market. I can remember when the men shipped melons, didn't get a cent from them and had to pay the freight. Farmers started farming cotton.


The Collegeport boom fizzled about 1915. The college closed and Prof. Travis moved to Arkansas . The Weborgs moved their hotel to Houston and the D. H. Morris family tore down their store and home which they moved to Houston . The Hotel Collegeport was sold to Mrs. Doman in the early 20's and a few years later she built the home off of Highway 35 in which Mignon Doman now resides. (Papa bought bathroom fixtures that were in the hotel.) Even Burton D. Hurd moved away. But the more rugged settlers survived, acquired property left by their disillusioned neighbors and finally learned that the land was better than Burton D. Hurd had told them but not for oranges.


We, Gust, Ellen, Dorothy and Arnold Franzen, arrived in Collegeport Christmas Eve 1909 and spent our first night in the Hotel Collegeport. Mama believed Mr. Hurd when he said that it never got cold down here. She left warm clothing, etc. in Iowa . We nearly froze to death when the first blue norther blew in.


I tell you, we had a rough time. The first year Papa didn't get any water for his rice crop as they hadn't completed the Pumping Station, the second year he got salt water - he lost two crops in a row. We were too poor to move. We stuck it out and always had enough to eat and wear. I can remember when we had no roads. We drove through the Pierce pastures and forded Pilkington Slough on our way to town for groceries and mail. When the tide was high the water was so deep that it was kinda scary to cross the slough. We'd have to put our feet up on the seat. One time when Papa was delivering some live ducks to the hotel, the water was so deep that the ducks swam out of the buggy.


The town that boasted of three hotels, a City State Bank, a telephone exchange, two hardware stores, drugstore, 2 grocery stores, barber shop, planning mill, carpenters, blacksmiths, boat building shop, doctors, dentist, veterinarian, lawyer, college, high school, ice house, pavilion with boat service twice daily, Missouri Pacific Railroad and station is now strictly a rural area. And we can't blame it all on Mr. Hurd. In 1914 charbon killed hundreds of animals. Then Carla (1961) was the final blow when a number of our homes just disappeared and we lost our grocery store, the drugstore and the beer joint.


I am sure as you drove down 1095, formerly Central Street you wondered what we have left in Collegeport.


We are proud of our two churches, The First Baptist and The First Presbyterian (replaced First Church , Federated). Our Community Center, the Mopac House, was built from lumber from the Missouri Pacific depot and attached to the Library building of 1923 during the depression in 1935. It is used extensively. It is here where the Woman's Club of Collegeport sponsors the annual homecoming, Collegeport Day, the last Saturday in May. We used to celebrate May 25, but it was more convenient for former residents to come down on Saturdays so the date was changed. We also have a VFD and thank goodness a Post Office.


Oh, we have many interesting experiences, and you might enjoy hearing about them, but I don't want to keep you too long as you will want to see the display of pictures, papers and other mementoes and the fellowship hour that is to follow.


The Federated Church of 14 denominations was organized on November 30, 1909 in the college chapel, which stood one block north of the Mopac. During the warm weather the congregation met at the Pavilion. Papa wouldn't let us go there because that was where they danced on Saturday nights.


The college had a Chinaman who did the laundry, etc. for the students. He had a rough time as every time he got near a door some student would put his long queue inside a door and then pull the door shut and there he was until rescued.


When the rice canals were built after 1910, they were used not only for irrigation but waterways. The bridges were built high so that barges could travel under them. I asked Dick Corporon if they ever used the canals for transportation. He said that he could remember when oil would be shipped to the Citrus railroad station and then piped onto a barge in the canal. Then George Braden would hook two gray mules, one in front of the other, and pull the barge down the canal to the Collegeport Pumping Plant on the Colorado River . These bridges were very hard to cross with mules when it was wet and also too steep for the steam engines used to thresh rice. (A number of farmers owned the steam engine and hired an engineer to run it - that is the way they did with the one Papa had an interest in.) The navigation system didn't last long as they hadn't thought of the need for checks in the canal for irrigation. When they were put in, the canals were no longer navigable.


Abel Pierce of Prairie Center told me Shanghai Pierce, who was president of a bank in Galveston , had to sell some 17,500 acres in the Palacios area to raise money to cover the loss the bank sustained when the vice president and a cashier got away with over $1,000,000.00. He said the culprits fled to South America .


We often wondered why the train was late. Dean Merck said that when our train got to Bay City it was used to switch cars. If it got so late that our train might meet the train coming from the west, our passengers had to sit and wait.


Among the residents in Collegeport in 1978 are the sons of two rival cowboys, J. R. "Jimmy" Murry, the son of Robert "Bob" Murry, the foreman on J. E. Pierce's Slough Ranch and Fred King, the son of F. A. King, foreman on Shanghai Pierce's Mad Island Slough Ranch. Other descendants of pioneers are Dean Merck, who arrived here in September 1909 with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. B. V. Merck, Dorothy Franzen Merck who arrived with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Gus Franzen on Christmas Eve 1909 and spent the first night in the Collegeport Hotel. Other members of the Franzen family living here are: Mrs. Gerald (Mamie) Wells, Gus and Alex Franzen. Mrs. W. L. (Rosalie) Ellis, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Roy Nelson and Mason Holsworth, son of M. S. (Jack) Holsworth and grandson of Mr. and Mrs. E. A. Holsworth also reside here. Mrs. Earl (Zelphia) Hill, whose husband had a meat market here in the early days when they lived at the Savoy Hotel here, owns a home here but due to advanced years she spends most of her time with one of her children.


The Sadie Ellen Room , in which we are meeting today, was named after Dean and Dorothy Merck's pioneering mothers, Sadie Merck and Ellen Franzen. The kitchen is called "Carrie's Kitchen" in memory of Mrs. Roy Nelson, who was social chairman for many, many years.


Another gift in memory of pioneering grandparents and father is the Mopac Barbeque Building and Pit given in 1978 by John Maurice Merck in loving memory of Mr. and Mrs. B. V. Merck and his father, John Merck.


The Freight Wharf was located west of Mrs. John Merck's home.


The Collegeport Chronicle was published by M. A. Travis. His home was located in the southwest corner of Mrs. John Merck's pasture. Five copies are available. The Collegeport New Era was published by John Rodebaugh.


The Collegeport State Bank was located on the north side of Central Street , now Highway 1095, half way between the old Mowery Store and the Ledwig Dryer. Its capital was $10,000.00 with Abel B. Pierce as president and J. B. McCain as cashier.



Copyright 2005 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
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Jul. 20, 2005
Jul. 20, 2005