In a time in Texas history when the founders of Matagorda could have chosen any site on the coast of Texas they chose the area at the mouth of the Colorado River as their home. The following description of the townsite was submitted to Stephen F. Austin on August 2, 1826, by H. H. League, James C. Ludlow, Elias Wightman, and Richard Matson.
We discovered to our admiration and surprise-one of the most beautiful situations for the building a large commodious and tasty commercial town that our utmost imagination could conceive a large amphitheatre, a semicircular bluff of about six or eight feet above a high-water mark of very permanent dry soil, and ascending back to an extensive and beautiful prairie, about 2000 bars in diameter, making a very regular curve-resting one end on the Rio Colorado and the other on the bay the margin of both being remarkably straight and regular-in the front of this amphitheatre is a rich low marsh prairie though no stagnant waters the beauty of the whole and particularly the Colorado is past description.
Moses Austin had originally planned a town at the mouth of the Colorado, but his son, Stephen, decided to settle inland at San Felipe. Because of restrictions imposed by Mexico, no settlement was to occur within ten leagues inland along the coast. Stephen F. Austin appealed to Mexico on behalf of his settlers who had already settled within the restricted ten-league area. He convinced the Mexican government that a military post was needed to protect incoming settlers, and the town of Matagorda was born.
1827 the owners
and Elias R.
of one fourth."
Elias Wightman and a few men from the group left the schooner in a skiff to locate those on shore who were to meet them. They were unsure as to whether or not they would be met by their friends or hostile Indians. The friends and family remaining on the ship waited anxiously until two skiffs were observed returning. After locating the few residents already at the Matagorda stockade, the travelers stayed one more night on the Little Zoe. Fresh food and milk were sent out to them from the people on shore. Mary Wightman, the wife of Elias, was given the honor of being the first woman to ascend the river.
When the new settlers arrived on shore the next day, they were met by the first inhabitants of the stockade: James Cummins; his widowed daughter, Mrs. Maria Ross; her four-year-old daughter, Bessy; and Mrs. Parker, the grandmother of Mrs. Wilbarger. The militiamen were James Cook, Daniel Decrow, Andrew Jackson, a Kentucky youth named Helm, and about six others."
The only houses in the area of the townsite were a double log cabin being built by James Cummins near the river and a log cabin on the bluff owned by Jesse Burnham. The small stockade, fifty feet square and ten feet tall, served as shelter for the new citizens and militiamen until they could build their own homes. "Apparently one aspect of Matagorda's fame had spread, because it is reported that the stockade had mosquito netting!"
The new citizens set to work building their town. One of the first structures erected, was a log schoolhouse with a dirt floor. A house was also built for the teacher Josiah P. Wilbarger. Mary Wightman assisted Wilbarger for the next two and one-half years. She also taught a Sunday School. It is unrecorded as to what religion was taught in the Sunday School. The Mexican government required all settlers to agree to be members of the Catholic church, even though few who had
immigrated actually remained loyal to the Catholic church once Texas became a republic.
On June 20, 1830, the first death among the colonists was that of the mother of Matagorda's founder. Esther Randall Wightman died of fever, and six weeks later her husband, Benjamin, died on August 6. Their graves were the first recorded burials in Matagorda Cemetery. The site was marked only by a mesquite bush at that time, since the proprietors did not designate the area officially until August 1, 1833. One of the colonists had the foresight to plan for the time that deaths inevitably would occur in the town. "A quantity of plank was thoughtfully taken on board at New Orleans on purpose for coffins, though no one knew the motive. Daniel Decrow made both coffins, a yoke of oxen and a cart did the office of a hearse, kind friends dug the graves." There was no physician to help the sick before the deaths and no minister to preside at the funeral service, "but all that sympathizing friends could do to soften the melancholy surroundings was done."
In the days that followed, many more vessels arrived in Matagorda loaded with immigrants who were to build new houses and expand the town. "By 1832, the Town of Matagorda could boast of several large business enterprises, among which were two salt factories." Mary Wightman reported that at one time she and her husband traded five cows and calves for hewed logs, 16 feet long, to use for a house. An accepted medium of exchange at that time was one cow and calf for $10.
There was often little need for currency in a place so far from other inhabited areas. Bartering goods and services met the needs of the residents much better than currency. Within the next ten years, Matagorda's use as an avenue of trade was to increase. D. E. E. Braman wrote of the frontier town: "Mexicans came in with large caravans of horses and mules and brought their wares, blankets, saddles, scarves, leggins and bags which they traded for American goods.
In 1835, as the Texas Revolution approached, Matagorda gave many of her men to serve for Texas. Major George Morse Collinsworth was commander of the Texans at the capture of Goliad on October 9, 1835. Ira Ingram and Phillip Dimitt drafted the Goliad Declaration. It was written by Ingram on December 20, 1835. Thirty of the 92 signers were from Matagorda. In anticipation of future problems "a Committee of Safety was organized in 1835. It was Matagorda's boast that some of her sons fought in every battle that was fought for Texas independence.
Compared to the accounts of the Texas army activities during the Revolution, the exploits of the Texas navy have been ignored. When the General Council of the provisional government realized the need to protect the supply lines between Texas and New Orleans, it passed a bill on November 25,1835, to purchase four schooners and create a navy. Commodore Charles E. Hawkins was named as its first commander; Robert Potter was elected ad interim Secretary of the Texas Navy."
Early in January of 1836, the Texas navy purchased the former privateer William Robbins from its owners, the Matagorda Committee of Safety, and renamed it the Liberty. The William Robbins, under the command of Captain William A. Hurd, had won fame as a privateer when it captured a Mexican prize crew from the warship Bravo, which had boarded the Hannah Elizabeth, an American schooner carrying cannons and ammunition for the Texas army. The small 70- to 80-ton schooner Liberty was sent to New Orleans for repairs, the Texas government had no money to pay for the repairs, and the ship was sold there, ending its service to the Texas navy. The Liberty, Independence (former U. S. Revenue Cutter Ingham), the Brutus, and the Invincible comprised the first four-ship Texas navy.
To protect the flank of Sam Houston's retreating troops and to observe better the enemy movements, Commodore Hawkins chose to keep his fleet headquartered in Matagorda Bay, thus Matagorda became the first fleet base of the Texas navy.
The fleet base was moved to Galveston when the Mexican troops threatened Matagorda, and the provisional government needed its protection in the Galveston area in April, 1836.
Edwin Ward Moore, who became commodore of the Texas navy, surveyed the Gulf Coast in 1841, paying special attention to Matagorda Bay, which, in Moore's opinion, was capable of harboring a thousand ships in its anchorage. The fleet base, however, remained in Galveston during the days of the Republic.
Matagorda played another important role in the affairs of the Texas navy, when one of its illustrious citizens, Samuel Rhoads Fisher, was confirmed as Secretary of the Navy on October 28, 1836.
On March 2, 1836, when Texas leaders met for the convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Matagorda was again represented. Two of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence were Samuel Rhoads Fisher and Bailey Hardeman, both of the Matagorda district. In addition to Fisher, several men from Matagorda gave service to the Texas Republic. Bailey Hardeman was the first Secretary of the Treasury in Texas. Ira Ingram served as the first Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Republic. Many years later, Albert C. Horton served as the first Lieutenant-Governor of the State of Texas. He was trustee of Baylor University and later served as president of Baylor. During a leave of absence by Governor James P. Henderson to fight in the Mexican War, Horton served as governor from May 19, 1846, to December 13, 1846. Two Texas counties were named for Fisher and Hardeman in honor of their service to Texas.
The influence of Matagorda's men was such that Matagorda was only three votes shy of becoming the state capital in 1836. When the Congress of Texas met at Columbia in 1836, the problem of selecting a more permanent capital arose. The House and Senate could not agree on a site because they each favored a different area and several towns had presented petitions. One of the petitions was from the town of Matagorda which was nominated by a Mr. Archer as the next capital of Texas. The two houses met in joint session on November 30, 1836, for a vote. In the first ballot Matagorda received 8 votes to Houston's 11. By the fourth ballot Matagorda's votes had dropped to 4 while Houston won with 21.
Prior to the selection of Austin as capital in 1839, Albert C. Horton had "built a three-story building in Matagorda for the purpose of tendering it to the state for the capitol building, if the state would select Matagorda as the capital. Fearing an outcry of conflict of interests, Horton withdrew his bid when he was appointed to the selection committee for the new capital.
When the Republic of Texas established the first Texas counties, the town of Matagorda became the county seat of the new county of Matagorda. On January 28, 1840, Matagorda, along with Houston, was granted a charter creating a Chamber of Commerce. Just a few days later on February 5, by an act of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the incorporation of the City of Matagorda was approved. Harvey Kendrick was elected as the first mayor."
During the days of the Republic, Matagorda's public institutions took root. Matagorda Masonic Lodge No. 7 was formed as well as the Odd Fellows Lodge No. 1. Matagorda Methodist Church was organized January 6, 1839, and Christ Episcopal Church was organized January 27 of the same year. Christ Episcopal Church was the first Episcopal Church in Texas. Rev. Caleb S. Ives arrived in Matagorda as a foreign missionary of the Episcopal church in the United States.
Several newspapers were founded and printed in Matagorda during the years of the Republic and beyond. The first, the Matagorda Bulletin, began publication on August 2,1837. J. W. J. Niles published the weekly paper until November, 1837, at which time it was sold to James S. Jones. John G. Davenport was editor from the summer of 1837, until he died October, 1838. W. Donaldson then took over the reins as editor. The annual subscription rate for the four-page newspaper was $5. Publication continued until 1839.
Following closely was the Colorado Gazette and Advertiser. Publication began May 16, 1839. The Weekly Dispatch began publication at Matagorda in December, 1843. James M. Dallum established a weekly newspaper in July, 1846, called the Colorado Herald.
Several years later the Matagorda Gazette, owned and operated by Galen Hodges, was founded in 1858. After one year of operation, Hodges announced the end of publication in the July 30, 1859, issue. E. J. Lipsey, former editor for Hodges, became the new proprietor and editor. His first issue, Volume II, No. 1, was published September 10, 1859 The Matagorda Gazette has preserved a record of the life of Matagorda in the 1850's as many copies of the original issues are still in existence.
A customhouse served the Port of Matagorda. Incoming merchandise and cargo from the many ships were recorded by the customhouse official. Lists of passengers on board each of the ships that docked at Matagorda were recorded as well. The September 6, 1837, issue of the Matagorda Bulletin publicized the prices for much needed items, from those ships, that were available in Matagorda. It also revealed what products were unavailable at that time.
Flour-Superfine, $25, Fine, $20.
Coffee-Havanna green, 20 to 23 cents. Rio, 22 to 25 cents.
Sugar-New Orleans, 20 to 25. Brown Havanna, 16 to 20.
Lump, 25. Loaf, 33 to 38.
Bacon-Hams, canvassed, 25c; hams, 25c, scarce.
Middlings, 20. Shoulders, 183/4.
Molasses-Orleans, 80 to 90. Syrup, 90c to $1.00
Pork-Mess, 30 to $35. Prime, 28 to 32.
Beef-Mess, none. Prime, none.
Lard-18 3/4 to 22c.
Whiskey-Rectified, $1.25 to $1.5 per gallon. Common,
Common, $1.00 to $1.25
Salt- Turk's Island, per bushel, $2.00.
Lead-12 per lb. to 15c.
Rice-IO to 12 1/2c.
Rope-Kentucky, 18 to 20c.
Lumber-$40 per M. scarce.
Bricks-$25 to $35 per M.
Shingles-$13 per M. scarce.
Nails-25c per lb. in demand.
of Matagorda children during this time period and continuing through
the Civil War era was carried out by private academies. Henry M.
Shaw posted notice in the Matagorda Bulletin in May, 1838, of
his intention of opening the Matagorda Academy.
"A state University was planned for Matagorda County during
President Mirabeau B. Lamar's administration (1838-41)," but the
university never materialized.
Wright conducted a Young Ladies school in
The April 9, 1859, issue of the Matagorda Gazette describes
Mrs. Wright's school in
Mr. Barber's School was also opened and operating in 1859. Many area plantation owners either moved to Matagorda or bought second homes in town so that their children could be educated. Public schools were operating during the 1850's, but they did not emerge as the primary form of education until after the Civil War. Mail service had been operating in the Matagorda area even before the town was actually founded. Mail came from New Orleans by boat in the early 1820's. In 1837 the area's first mail line from Matagorda to Columbus was established. Some of the local plantation owners raised $500 so that the route could be extended to San Antonio. Two mail routes, one weekly and one bi-weekly, passed through Matagorda by 1840. Mail left Matagorda each Friday at 7 A.M. and arrived 8 P.M. in Columbus, on route No. 18. The route wound around to all the smaller settlements and outposts for 95 miles. The bi-weekly route, No. 26, ran from Brazoria to Matagorda. Many years later, 1889-1964, the post office was operated out of John Clauder's store. Amos Duffy owned the store for a portion of that time and served as postmaster for twenty-two years.
formation of many
of the first
Bales Cotton 6,264
Barrells molasses 795
Hdds. sugar 390
During the same period the year before, there were 4,439 bales of cotton shipped, which shows an increase for last year of 1,825 bales.
William Bollaert, in his writings taken from the book William Bollaert's Texas, noted that "Mr. Power gives a silver cup for the first lot of cotton coming into Matagorda." Later during the 1850 's, Sea Island cotton was raised on the peninsula. Bollaert also made the following observations of the town of Matagorda on April 23, 1842:
In speaking of the want of depth of water before the town
of Matagorda--a gentleman observed: "We cannot have all
we wish and want; our wars we pray will soon be over,
emigration must and will flock to our country. We have all
good health here in Matagorda, a fine climate, game, fish,
turtle, cattle, and poultry in abundance. I, who seldom ride
now, have a score in the prairie who take care of themselves."
I took a ride into the prairie with the said gentleman; in the
distance, ridges of timber were seen; nearer to us, horses and
cattle grazing, and although late in the spring, the prairie was
covered with flowers. The shores of the Bay skirted with
shady groves that were fanned by the southern breezes, that
swept over the flowery plains, excelled the choicest Parisian
Matagorda was quite the center of culture for the area. As early as 1838, "both Houston and Matagorda boasted theaters before the completion of their first church buildings." "The Matagorda Thespians, reached their highest point of activity in 1840 and 1841." They were encouraged by one commentator who wrote "the Thespian institution is not only harmless, but in fact may be considered a beneficial establishment for useful mirth and salutary woe," William Bollaert commented several times about the cultural activities in and around Matagorda.
April 19th, 1842: I passed the evening at Dr. Hunter's,
who amongst other attainments is a great music-violinist as
well as harpist, but above all, I subsequently found him a
kind friend, a good man and excellent companion. The
society I met at his house, both ladies and gentlemen, left
nothing to be desired. Beauty, talent, and friendship.
April 22nd, 1842: A musical party given at Col. L---,
when Dr. H[unter] afforded all a great treat by his performance
on the harp. Taking the toute ensemble on this
party-the music, dancing, and elegance, I could hardly
believe that a few years since the name of Texas was scarcely
Tuesday, May 24th, 1842: Went to Matagorda. This night
the Thespian Company of Matagorda played the "Two
Thompsons" and "When Shall I Dine"-very well indeed in
their pretty little theatre.
The "Social Library Tax for 1847" lists the names and contributions of the shareholders. The list includes prominent first families of the era.
NO. SHAREHOLDERS NO. SHAREHOLDERS
1. Axon A. Forester 31. A. M. Levy $2.00 Paid
2. James Attwell 32. Eliza L. Lewis
3. George Burkhart 33. Ira A. Lewis
4. Sam B. Brigham 34. Rob!. Ludington
5. Chas. A. Bower 35. James W. Lonn
6. D. E. E. Braman $3.00 Paid 36. H. B. Mitchell
7. John W. Carter 37. Wm. 1. Maynard
8. John Culver 38. McCamey
9. H. L. Cook 39. Jas. F. Martin $2.00 Paid
10. Thom. M. Dennis 40. John Mackey $2.00 Paid
11. John Duncan 41. M. A. Pledger
12. Jas. T. Donaldson $2.00 Paid 42. John Plunkett $2.00 Paid
13. James Denison $2.00 Paid 43. Wm. Prissick $2.00 Paid
14. William L. Delap 44. Dudley J. Parks $2.00 Paid
15. Jas. L. Dawson 45. Saml. G. Power $2.00 Paid
16. Dallam, Jas. W. 46. Chas. Powelr
17. Sam W. Fisher $2.00 Paid 47. Wm. Russell $2.00 Paid
18. Henry Gibson $2.00 Paid 48. Wm. B. Royalll $2.00 Paid
19. Henry Gibson $2.00 Paid 49. John S. Royall $2.00 Paid
20. John G. Griham 50. John Rugeley
21. Joseph T. Hefford $2.00 Paid 51. Jas. H. Selkirk $2.00 Paid
22. P. W. Herbert 52. Thos. Stewart $2.00 Paid
23. J. F. Huttner 53. Somerville
24. Wm. Hillard $2.00 Paid 54. W. W. Stewart
25. A. C. Horton $2.00 Paid 55. Joseph Smith
26. E. Harvey $2.00 Paid 56. Matthew Talbot $2.00 Paid
27. Galen Hodges 57. F. Waldman $2.00 Paid
28. Caleb S. Ives $2.00 Paid 58. A. Wadsworth $2.00 Paid
29. Seth Ingram 59. Geo. W. Ward
30. Henry Jones 60. Thos. Ward
The hub of the social events of the 1850's was the Colorado House, Matagorda's "fashionable hotel." It was built in 1852 and was owned and operated by Galen Hodges. At times the fourteen guest rooms were filled, and the Hodges had to take personal friends into their own homes. One of the four surviving registers of the hotel contains the signature of General Andrew Jackson who arrived there Sunday, May 3, 1857. The Colorado House was the site of Christmas balls and
soirees. The following excerpt from the Matagorda Gazette of July 9, 1859, further illustrates the importance of the hotel:
at this place, but the hearts of the people were still with the
heroes of '76. The day was ushered in with a salute of33 guns.
From the towering flag pole of the Colorado House, waved
in magnificant grandeur our national flag, and the whole
premises there abouts was decorated with small ensigns,
some of them bearing appropriate and patriotic mottoes.
In the midst of Matagorda's "golden days," a hurricane struck in 1854. Even though it devastated the town, the Matagordans, undaunted, rebuilt and continued to thrive. The city boasted a gristmill by 1859, and the largest sugar mill in the state by 1860.
At the onset of the Civil War, the men of Matagorda once again answered the call to service. After receiving authorization on July 26, 1860, Dr. E. A. Peareson organized a military company which was mustered into Confederate service in Victoria in October. Matagorda's men were members of Company D, 6th Texas Infantry. The men fought hard in defense of the Confederacy both at home and in other states.
During the war, yellow fever struck Matagorda and claimed the lives of 45 of the 150 inhabitants who were still in the town. Among those who died were: the postmaster, the county clerk, a teacher, the sheriff and his entire family, and the widow of Samuel Rhoads Fisher. Matagorda was again visited by tragedy in 1863, when 22 men from Captain E. S. Rugeley's Company drowned or froze to death while attempting to defend the town against an attack by Northern troops.
After the Civil War, Matagorda again flourished as life began to take on a semblance of order. The town, though far away from most of the fighting of the war, still had problems adjusting during reconstruction. "In 1865, two companies of negro soldiers, officered by white men, were stationed in Matagorda." The uniforms of the Northern soldiers were an ever-present reminder of the loss of loved ones. Cotton farming and ranching were the mainstays of the economy during
this period. The Stabler Patent Beef Packing Plant was situated in Matagorda in 1866. The town also had a hide and tallow factory before 1870.
Matagorda was visited once again by damaging hurricanes in 1875 and 1886. After the storm of 1886, the town was infested with rattlesnakes. The residents of the town had to rebuild and salvage what was left of their possessions.
The threat of hurricanes, as well as a desire for a more centralized county seat, prompted a move of the county seat from Matagorda to Bay City. At that time most of the population of the county, 3,985, lived in the interior part of the county. "Elections and county affairs made citizens ride many weary miles by horseback to participate. It is still said in Matagorda today that "the citizens of Matagorda went fishing one day and Bay City stole the courthouse" while they were gone.
As other Texas ports grew up along the coast, much of Matagorda's commerce was drawn away to new areas. That, along with the removal of the county seat, helped bring an end to Matagorda's "golden years."
The onset of the twentieth century did not find Matagorda dead by any means. The August 28, 1901, issue of the Matagorda County Tribune included the following list in an article about the city of Matagorda.
A drug store
No lawyers nor saloons
A good lumber yard
A fleet of oyster boats
A fleet of pleasure boats
Three good churches
An Odd Fellows Hall
A splendid public school building
An oyster packery
A public warehouse
A bay front
A river front
Three grocery stores
Three dry goods stores
A hardware store
A good hotel
Many elegant bay front homes
A host of good people
The article also included the following statement about real estate near Matagorda. "Property is now low in Matagorda, and there is no finer investment offered to the public than this same property. Every investor and every tourist visiting Matagorda County should include Matagorda City on his itinerary. In 1908 several investors did choose to buy land on Matagorda Peninsula and they formed the Ben Hur Beach Hotel and Boating Association. The officers were:
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 capital of the company was $20,000, and the company renovated a concrete hotel on the peninsula as well as the area around the hotel building. There was a power boat "to convey passengers to and from the main land at Matagorda. One thousand acres around the hotel were platted and staked off for sale by the Southwestern Land Development Company. A special grand opening was held May 26, 1908, and the following article provided information on the days festivities.
Excursion to Ben Hur Opening
On Matagorda Peninsula.
Tuesday, May 26th
The Santa 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 50(1: from Bay City, 75(1: from Lane
City and 95(1: 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.
Carroll Ryman recorded her impressions
in the early
In 1913 when I married and came to Matagorda the town
edged the bay. Bluff Street ran across town at the edge of the
bay. Stately homes were all along the street, and the big hotel
also faced the bay. Two fish houses in east part oft own where
big boats brought fish and oysters. The fish houses were
A pavilion built out in the bay ... was connected with the
town by a board walk. Benches were built in a very short
distance of one another.
gatherings. All around the pavilion were big pleasure boats
owned by town men and at this place they went aboard their
boats to sail on bay and over to Matagorda peninsula where
they walked across to bathe in the Gulf of Mexico.
Public schools were firmly established in Matagorda by this time. A school building erected on the corner of Cedar and Lewis in 1888 still served the higher grades after a duplicate wing had been added in 1909. From 1904 to 1908, a one-room school building near the Odd Fellows Hall housed the primary grades. Rooms in the Baptist church were also used for the primary classes. Private schools still educated some Matagorda children. The old Thompson building housed a private school taught by Cora Bullard. Angela McNabb operated a school at Big Hill.
The next seventy years were to see many changes in the Matagorda school system. December of 1914 saw the completion of a brick and concrete school building constructed on the public square at the intersection of Wightman and Market Streets. Bertha Funk, Bertha Lloyd, O. L. Bateman, and Lula Belle Salley were some of the early teachers that educated children in that school.
From 1920 until 1938, Matagorda and Gulf shared educational responsibilities. Primary classes were taught in Matagorda, and secondary students attended the high school at Gulf. When the Gulf school was closed, the secondary grades from Matagorda were transferred to Bay City. The building constructed in 1914 was razed in 1970, and classes were conducted in the fire station, and in the Episcopal rectory until January 4, 1971, when a new modern brick building was completed.
By 1914 many new businesses had begun operation in Matagorda. The Texas State Gazettee for that year included the following entry for Matagorda:
Population 1000. On the G. C. & S. F. Ry. and on the
Intercoastal Canal, in Matagorda County, near where the
Colorado river empties into Matagorda Bay, 22 miles south
of Bay City, the county seat and 95 southwest of Houston. It
dates its settlement from 1822, being one of the oldest
American settlements in Texas. Its location makes it one of
the most important fish and oyster points on the coast. It also
has 2 producing oil wells near by and sulphur mines are being
developed. Has Baptist, Episcopal, and Methodist churches,
a bank, ice plant, fish, oysters, mud shells for road building
and farm produce are shipped. Tel., W. U. Exp., W., F. &
Co. Telephone connection. Amos E. Duffy, postmaster.
Baer, A. G., cattle breeder.
Bank of Matagorda The (unincorporated), Goodwin Sterne
pres., Albert W. McNabb cashr.
Bankston, Louis, cattle breeder.
Bay City and Matagorda Telephone Co. (capital $5.000),
A. W. McNabb pres. and mngr., J. F. McNabb vice-pres., W.
E. McNabb sec. and treas.
Bay View Hotel, Mrs. J. H. Berg propr.
Berg, Samuel J., grocer and hardware.
Culver, G. B. cattle breeder.
Davis, Charles A., r.r., tel. and exp agt.
Duffy, Amos E., postmaster.
Duffy, A. A. & Co., (Amos E. Duffy), dry goods.
Ellis & Baxter (Clyde Ellis, Collins Baxter), restaurant.
Gulf Sulphur Co. (St. Louis, Mo.), P. W. Billingsley mngr,
5 mi east.
Lorino Bros., Antonio B. Lorino, Mngr., Wholesale Fish
and Oysters, Ice Mnfrs., Grocers and Ship Chandlers.
McNabb, Albert W., insurance.
Magnolia Petroleum Co, W. G. Thornhill, agt.
Mahavier, Charles, meats.
Matagorda Lumber Co. (Walter S. Stewart, Charles Nolte).
Matagorda Realty Co. (Albert H. Wadsworth, George B.
Moberley Bros. (Elbert S. and Oscar R.) General Machinists
and Auto Garage, Mnfrs ofMoberley Acetylene Gas Light
Norton Oil Co. (Houston), C. H. Rugeley, mngr., 5 mi east.
Phillips, Benjamin A., physician.
Phillips, Wm. J., grocer.
Sargent, George T., cattle breeder.
Sterne, Goodwin, lawyer and fire ins.
Stewart, Arthur c., dry goods, etc.
Stewart Bros., cattle breeders.
Stribling, Clem, confr, and blksmith.
Thornhill, Wm. G., Wholesale Fish and Oysters, Grocer and
Matagorda's economy was boosted in the 1920's by the establishment of the Texas Gulf Sulphur Company at Big Hill. The sulphur operations provided employment for many of the Matagorda residents. The two towns shared schools as well as jobs and each benefited from the other.
During the years preceding the Depression, the citizens of Matagorda functioned as a family. Many activities centered around the churches. There were carnivals, ice cream socials, and plays. The opera house provided musical productions staged by local talent. Mothers and children visited with neighbors during the heat of the afternoon. One could not walk the main street of Matagorda around three o'clock in the afternoon without smelling coffee brewing in preparation for an afternoon of visiting. After supper was also a time for neighboring adults to gather and visit while the children played games in the yard.
both river and bay, was a gathering place for the entire town. The
Colorado River swimming hole on hot summer evenings was the favorite
gathering spot for everyone. Parents tied ropes around the young
children while they were learning to swim. The young people
demonstrated their expertise on the high diving board. The bay
provided a place to crab and sail small boats.
Due to lack of refrigeration, the seafood industry got off to a late start in Matagorda. In 1890 a steamboat made two trips a week from Matagorda to Galveston, marketing oysters in the shell. Soon after this, oysters were marketed in Port Lavaca, Texas, where they had a railroad and ice plant sooner than in Matagorda.
In 1902, the Cane Belt Railroad came to Matagorda and A. B. Lorino opened up a fish and oyster house about the same time, Morgan Smith & Edward Bell opened up another. W. G. Thornhill, who was depot agent for the railroad company, gave up his job and opened a fish and oyster house also. This gave Matagorda three seafood places all located out in the bay in front of the town. Oyster shell was used to make roads to the seafood houses and islands of shell around them. Oysters and fish were shipped to all parts of the United States, and the famous Tiger Island oyster became known in all parts of the country. Although the bay had an abundance of shrimp, crab, and fish, these industries did not get off to a good start until the 1920's.
The installation of electricity in 1926 provided the stimulus for the further development of the seafood industry. With the addition of freezers the industry developed to gigantic proportions which continued to escalate.
The depression years struck hard in Matagorda and the seafood industry suffered a relapse. There was no market for the seafood in the immediate area. Fish and oysters were trucked to Houston and sold to cafes bringing one dollar a gallon at best.
period in Matagorda's history was one of continual change. After the
depression and World War II, Matagorda was once again struck by
disaster. The hurricane of 1942 left the town devastated. Almost
all of the houses in the eastern portion of the town were destroyed.
Most residents evacuated to Bay City, but others "rode out" the
storm in Matagorda. The Red Cross set up headquarters after the
storm and fed the people. They were without electricity and drinking
water for many days. Mrs. Carroll Ryman wrote in her journal:
The wind and water destroyed all of the east end of town
but a few houses. Many of our town men went to Bay City. A
few stayed to ride the storm out. My family was among those
who stayed ... The water started to come in the house. We all
gathered in the west bed room huddled close together, fear in
our hearts and plans to what to do if water reached up stairs
or the logs beat the house down. The high wind abated about
five o'clock a.m. The water went down slowly. When
daylight came, we looked out and saw what the high wind
and water had done to our town. A sad sight and all homes
had much damage. It was a task to get things livable again.
But we did.
Some families decided they could not face the inevitability of future storms. Many sold their homes and moved to Bay City or farther inland. Others chose to move their houses and live a greater distance from the water.
A protective levee was built around the town in the 1940's to help diminish the threat of storms like the one in 1942. Because funds were depleted, the levee was not built as high as originally planned. In 1961 the addition to the top of the levee was completed. Before the contractor could remove his equipment from the site of the completed levee, Hurricane Carla hit Matagorda. The townspeople were unsure whether the levee could withstand the burden of water because it was "green" and had not had time to settle and weather. The storm ravaged the area, tearing down fences, uprooting trees, and damaging homes, but the levee held and saved the town from flood waters. Once again the residents began the slow process of restoring their homes and town.
Water was a problem again when Brown and Root was hired to build flood gates or locks on the Colorado River and Intracoastal Canal. The continual silting of the river caused problems which were remedied in 1944. After eighteen months of construction the locks were completed and water traffic was "turned back into the main channel Monday, August 7, at 12:00 noon.
The World War II post-war prosperity caused many "second homes" to spring up along the river road that connected Matagorda with the peninsula. The town became a weekend retreat for fishermen and beachgoers. Cafes, bait camps, and convenience stores were built to accommodate the weekend and summer visitors.
The primary industries operating in Matagorda in the 1970's and 80's are centered around the water - Matagorda's life-blood. Fish, oyster, crab and shrimp are sold wholesale and trucked out of Matagorda daily in season. Bait camps are inundated by fishermen during the warm months, and guide services provide deep-sea fishing as well. On weekends and holidays a
steady stream of vehicles is seen taking visitors to the beach to enjoy the wind, sand, and surf.
At this writing, a project has been undertaken by the Corps of Engineers of the State of Texas to build a jetty system at the mouth of the Colorado River. This will provide better access to the river, improve the fishing areas, and make the beach a safer place to swim.
During one hundred and fifty years, Matagorda has experienced prosperity, depression, war, peace, tragedy, disaster, and triumph. Matagorda has survived and overcome experiences which have caused other towns such as Indianola to become extinct. Descendants of the original founders still make Matagorda their home. The more recent citizens are doing their part to add to the heritage of Matagorda as it marches into the future.
Historic Matagorda County, Volume I, pp. 350-361
Submitted by Gale French