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Ben Hur Beach Hotel and Boating Association


Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ
was a novel written by Lew Wallace and published on November 12, 1880 by Harper & Brothers. It was the best-selling American novel from the time of its release until replaced by Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind in 1935.

The popularity was bolstered by the release of a 15-minute silent film version in 1907. The focus of the short movie was the chariot race which was filmed on a beach in New Jersey. The area firemen played the charioteers and their fire horses pulled the chariots.

Watching the 1907 silent movie will make you appreciate high-definition that is available today.

Watch the movie at  Internet Archive .

The movie inspired the organizers of the Ben Hur Hotel on Matagorda Peninsula. About 1908, several families from Matagorda—the Ward McNabbs, Goodwin Sternes, Albert Wadsworths, and the Culvers; built the Ben Hur Hotel on Matagorda Beach. It was built near the mouth of the river and was constructed of beach shell and concrete. Hurricanes finally washed it away.

Buy a Lot on the Beach!


The  Ben  Hur  Beach  Hotel  and  Boating  Association

Has been organized with a capital of $20,000. The officers are J. C. Kennedy, an Indiana capitalist, president; Geo. B. Culver, former tax assessor of this county and now a leading business man of Matagorda, vice-president; Goodwin Sterne, the Matagorda banker, secretary and treasurer. These three officers together with Dr. A. A. Luther of Bay City and A. L. Gibbs of Oklahoma constitute the board of directors.

The Hotel Proposition.

The above named company has taken over the concrete Beach hotel on the Gulf front of Matagorda Peninsula, across the bay from Matagorda, together with 300 acres of adjacent land, and will renovate and greatly enlarge the building, terrace and beautify the grounds with palms and other tropical plants, shell walks and grassy lawns, etc.

The bath house will also be enlarged and improved and an adequate hack and livery service provided.

The company is now having a fine power boat constructed to convey passengers to and from the main land at Matagorda. This boat will have comfortable seats, a canopy top and adjustable side protection and will carry 100 passengers and their baggage, and is expected to make the trip of four miles across the bay in 30 to 40 minutes in any sort of weather. She is to be equipped with two gasoline engines and two propellers, so that if one balks the other will keep her going.

During the last two years this has been pronounced incomparably the finest resort on the Texas coast by all who have visited it, without a single exception. No place on a bay, where there is always a mixture of fresh water and more or less mud, is to be compared to it. Here the pure, unadulterated brine of the rolling and roaring old ocean quickens, vitalizes and invigorates. No undertow. A smooth, hard bathing beach and automobile course stretches away more than 30 miles in each direction.

The Santa Fe railroad will put on excursion rates to this resort twice a week.


Another Proposition.

Adjacent to the hotel grounds the Southwestern Land Development Co. has platted and staked off 1000 acres of the finest land on this famous peninsula--famous for its freedom from frost, its sub-irrigated, warm, early soil, loose and easy of culture, and for its adaptation to the production of tropical fruits, winter berries and vegetables, and such crops as sea island cot-ton, peanuts, sweet potatoes and melons in summer.

This 1000 acres is subdivided into lots ranging in size from one-quarter acre to five acres, and of course those who want larger tracts can select as many adjacent lots as they wish.

The quarter acre tracts are ample for those who want only a site for summer bungalow or a winter cottage; and those who wish, while renewing flagging energies or re-covering lost health, to have a healthful, delightful and profitable occupation, will want a larger lot upon which to raise oranges, lemons, figs, pineapples, etc., or on-ions, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, asparagus in winter, and cotton, melons, sweet potatoes and peanuts in summer.

Strawberries and tomatoes can, be put on the market from this peninsula in January, and melons in May, and you know what that means in the way of fancy prices.


You Are invited to the Grand Opening of These Enterprises on Wednesday, May 26th.

 When the new boat will be christened, the hotel opened for the season and an opportunity given to purchase stock in the Ben Hur Beach hotel and Boating Association entitling you to membership and special rates and privileges, and also an opportunity to select such lots or tracts as you may want out of the 1000-acre sub-division. On this occasion there will be a

Grand Barbecue, Oyster Roast and Fish Fry,

with such other diversions as oratory, bathing, boating, motoring, etc. Don't miss it. You can't afford to miss it. For further particulars call on or address the

DRAWER 595, Bay City, Texas, or GOODWIN STERNE, Matagorda, Texas.


Boats Taking
Across The Bay
To And From
Ben Hur Beach


Excursion to Ben Hur Opening On Matagorda Peninsula Tuesday, May 26th

The Sante Fe will run a special excursion train to Matagorda next Tuesday Morning, passing Bay City at 8:15 a. m. and arriving at Matagorda at 9:30. Returning will leave Matagorda at 10 p. m.

Fare for round trip only 50c from Bay City, 75c from Lane City and 95c from Wharton.

Be sure to see the races, trap shooting, bronco busting, roping contest, etc., and enjoy the barbecue, oyster roast, fish fry, bathing and sailing.

Matagorda County Tribune, May 1908


Pleasures on
Ben Hur Beach



Wednesday evening the Wadsworth house party with Mr. and Mrs. D. P. Reorban, Mr. and Mrs. A. W. McNabb went over to the Ben Hur Beach Hotel for supper and a dip in the gulf.

Galveston Daily News, July 19, 1908

A Common Sight on Ben Hur Beach


Hon. J. W. Gaines and family, Mrs. Cora Stewart, Mr. Tom Castleton and family, all from Bay City, are at the Ben Hur Hotel on Matagorda Peninsula.

Galveston Daily News, June 27, 1909


Bay City, Tex., Dec. 24.--During an altercation at Matagorda last night Drew Watkins shot and seriously wounded J. Caprion. The latter was formerly manager of the Ben Hur hotel.

El Paso Herald, December 24, 1910

Ball Game on
Ben Hur Beach



One of the most enjoyable sailing parties of the summer was given last Thursday afternoon by the young men of the town, on Capt. Frank Duffy’s “Star” sail boat. The party started about three o’clock and reached the peninsular wharf just when the sun seemed hottest, but no one appeared the least daunted by its hot rays, and in the face of a delightful breeze fresh from the gulf, started on the mile walk to the gulf beach. After reaching the Ben Hur, most of the party doned bathing suits and spent about an hour riding, jumping and being ridden-down by the high waves. About eight o’clock the march back across the peninsular was begun and upon reaching the boat a sumptuous picnic lunch was enjoyed. The sail home was grand, the moonlight adding to the pleasure. Those who are indebted to the young men for this good time are Misses Lula and Myrtle Duffie, Joe Sergeant, Carrie and Lula Belle Salley, Georgia and Robbie Stewart of El Paso, Lyla Berg, Virgie Greer of Beaumont, Reba Rugeley, Pauline Thornhill, Muta Serrill, Gertrude, Elizabeth and Helen Gilbert. The young men were Sambo Rugeley, Stewart Burkhart, John M. and Darwin Williams, Tas Thornhill, Ruge Serrill, Warner Stewart, Scott Phillips, Whitney Marquez, Arthur Gottschalk, Maynard Rugeley and Phillip Gilbert. Mesdames Thornhill and C. Rugeley and Mr. Salley also contributed to the enjoyment of the party.  Reporter.

The Matagorda News, Friday, August 22, 1912


Monday evening the young men of Matagorda announced another sail for the beach in order, and Capt. Frank Duffy’s “Star” was again chartered. This time the boat had a pretty full passenger list, even forty persons besides her captain and Whitney Marquez assisting at the wheel. The Star sailed from the wharf here at 5:30 and on favorable wind dropped anchor at the peninsular at 6:40. After an hour in the surf and a splendid basket dinner spread by the ladies, the Ben Hur dining room was cleared and the dancing enjoyed, with music furnished by Amos Duffy and Scott Phillips who were skilled in the use of the harp. The sail home was most enjoyable in the cool breeze laden with the delightful salt tang of the gulf. When the starlight succeeded moonlight and the lustre of certain bright eyes caused the Star to miss the western channel, and have to turn back for the Tiger Island channel, it seemed for awhile we were “lost at sea.” The sailor boys, however, safe mariners they are, knew “where we were at,” and after finding the Tiger Island channel had a smooth sail home, dropping anchor at the pavilion wharf at exactly 1 o’clock.

The party were Misses Carrie and Lula Belle Salley, Fannie and Bertha Lee Nolte, Reba Rugeley, Elizabeth and Helen Gilbert, Imogene Inglehart, Joe Sergeant, Lyla Berg, Myrtle Duffy, Georgia and Robbie Stewart of El Paso, Virgie Greer of Beaumont, Mrs. C. Rugeley and children and Mrs. Thornhill and daughter; Messrs. Amos Duffy, Bowie Ryamn, Tas Thornhill, Sambo Rugeley, Scott Phillips, John May and Darwin Williams, Warner Stewart, Arthur Hill, Ruge and Joe Serrill, J. C. Taylor and Lem Blair of Bay City, Capt. Salley Harlie Swagerty of Throckmorton, Arthur Gottschalk, W. C. Thornhill, and C. E. Gilbert. The party in separating unanimously voted it a most enjoyable trip.

The Matagorda News
, Friday, August 22, 1912

Enjoying the waves at Ben Hur Beach


On Monday afternoon Captain Whitney Marquez of that splendid sailing vessel, the Fearless, was host of a gladsome sailing party to the beach. The Feerless set sail at 2:30, and those aboard were Mrs. John Duffy, Misses Lula Duffy, Nellie Murdock, Bertha Lee Nolte, Beth Phillips, Vera Burke, Forest Zepprain [Zipprian], Myrtle Duffy, Inez Kain, Elizabeth and Helen Gilbert, and

Messrs. Centre board Swagerty,

Arthur Hill,                 } Who fought

Harold Swagerty      } the duel

Karo and John Bull Serrill,

Handsome Blair,

Uncle Sam Duffy,

Stuffy Rugeley

Little Captain Marquet,

Heartsmasher Phillips.

The trip was one greatly enjoyed from start to finish, with rapidly succeeding events nicknaming the boys, who took the jokes goodnaturedly. Mr. Harlie Swagerty caused a good deal of fun by undertaking to fill the centreboard with buckets of water on being told it was necessary to make the boat go faster. Then, too, Mr. Hill and Mrs. Harold Swagerty challenged each other to a duel at 4:30, the cause being a certain brunette on board; and from the amount of medicine Stuffy was fining for Mr. Hill we conclude Mr. Swagerty was victorious.

After reaching the Ben Hur, most of the crowd spent some time bathing in the limpid waters of the gulf, while rest found other amusements. Then came the excellent lunch, which was greatly enjoyed, and followed by water fights and face-washings. Here dining room was cleared and the dancing begun, Heart-smasher, Uncle Sam and Centreboard rendering dancing music on harps, and all kinds of dancing was indulged in, even the square dance led by Uncle Sam. Dancing was hard on Stuffy who had tried to hide the many chicken bones from which he had devoured the meat while at supper in his shoes, now found pricking bones interfered with the usual graceful step. I wonder who Beth was saving the candy for.

The ride back home was most delightful, the moon giving its share of the pleasure. The Fearless sailed into the wharf here at about 11 o’clock and all declared Captain Marquez a dandy host and the Fearless a splendid boat.

The Matagorda News
, Friday, August 29, 1912

Personal and Social

The first "sailing party" of the year was given Saturday by Mr. and Mrs. W. G. Thornhill to some of their many Matagorda friends. The boat carrying the jolly crowd was the Alphonsina of Port Lavaca and with the Carter boys as managers, soon landed the party on the peninsula. The day was an ideal one. Everyone seemed to forget the past and future and thought only of this one day. Upon reaching the Ben Hur Hotel, different groups scattered along the beach, some kodaking , hunting, running races and little Lila Thornhill and Master Bill were even brave enough to go into the gulf while Mr. Rugeley, Serrill and Miss Reba Rugeley chaperoned Pauline and Lila Thornhill, Glendora Shindler and Robert Smith eight miles down the beach to see the wrecked fish boat. This took four hours and some doubt their seeing it; however they had a kodak and promised to prove their expedition. Such a picnic dinner was never seen, a table the full length of the hotel dining room was laden with all kinds of good things to eat and was very greatly enjoyed by all except Johnnie May who declared he was too excited and had lost his appetite and of course this distressed some of his friends who knew his failing. Most everybody has heard of messages in bottles being thrown over board at sea and Mrs. Thornhill was lucky enough to find one on the beach and after all had read it Miss Minnie Dea Coffin was voted to do as "Nemo" requested and write him at Galveston. The return trip was begun about five o'clock and had it not been for Tas in his little tug in which he pulled the Alphonsina from a shallow place the party might have stayed stranded for some time. However the party landed at the Thornhill wharf about eight and those declaring they had the best time ever and thanking Mr. and Mrs. Thornhill for such a treat were: Prof. and Mrs. Smith and son Robert, Mrs. Goodwin Sterne, Mrs. Chester Rugeley, Misses Loula Belle Salley, Reba Rugeley, Vera Burke, Nellie Murdock, Imogene Inglehart, Minnie Dea Coffin, Myrtle Duffy, Beth and Minnie Phillips, Glendora Shindler, Bertha Boyd, Gertrude Sharkey, and Helen Gilbert, and Messrs. James Miller, Carroll Ryman, Johnnie May Williams, Tas Thornhill, Rugeley and Gober Serrill, Jakey and Frankie Smith, Roland Smith, Sidney Schindler and Harold Feather.

Matagorda News, April 11, 1913

Good Fishing—Big Devil Fish.

Mr. and Mrs. G. T. Sargent, Miss Jo, Mrs. F. J. Hamilton and Pierce came home Tuesday after spending several days at the Hotel Ben Hur on the gulf beach. Mr. Sargent reports fine luck. He caught a couple of big redfish, and each of the party caught one, but Mrs. Sargent had the help of a shark which took the lion’s share of the catch, cutting Mrs. Sargent’s fish close up behind the gills, almost getting the hook. Mr. Sargent says from the size of the head the redfish must have weighed fifteen pounds, and the shark which could make such a clean cut was no sardine. Just think of the excitement he might have caused had he taken the whole fish. Mr. Sargent says they had a good view of a giant devil fish or octopus, ten feet across the back and longer, which came close up to the beach and lay there some time watching them. He threw his line across the monster several times but failed to hook him. The octopus having looked at them till he tired turned and paddled away. Even a charge of shot from Pierce’s gun didn’t seem to phase the terror with six or eight dangerous tentacles. Mr. Sargent says he was born and raised on this shore, and has been on the gulf hundreds of times and this is the second devil fish he has seen.

Matagorda News, June 13, 1913

Front porch of Ben Hur Hotel

From Tuesday’s Daily.

Mr. E. K. McMahan and family and Mr. White and family, who have been on “Ben Hur” beach for several days, have returned home.

The Matagorda County Tribune, June 27, 1913


Copyright 2008 - Present by Carol Sue Gibbs
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Apr. 7, 2008
Mar. 22, 2012