By Colleen Claybourn
Palacios is in the southwest portion of Matagorda County on Tres Palacios Bay, an inlet of Matagorda Bay off the Gulf of Mexico. The name, Palacios, comes from the bay on which it is situated, Tres Palacios Bay, Spanish for “three palaces.” It has always been pronounced in rhyme with “splashes,” although the Spanish pronunciation should be Pah-LAH-see-ose.
There was a legend that a Spanish ship sailing into the Gulf was carried into Matagorda Bay and wrecked. The sailors thought they saw palaces on the shoreline in the distance and so swam toward the shore. As they neared the shore, the “palaces” disappeared (trees, clouds or mirages?). In any case, the legend is just that, a good story. The bay and creek were named Tres-palacios (Tres Palacios) for Jose Felix Trespalacios, Spanish governor during the years 1822 and 1823.
In 1901 a large tract of land known as the “Bull Pasture” north and west of Tres Palacios Bay was offered for sale by the estate of A. H. “Shanghai” Pierce. W. C. Moore, a Houston real estate man, obtained an option on the land. He, with a group of men from Louisiana, formed the Texas Rice Development Company (TRDC), purchased the land, and subdivided it into 160-acre tracts. The mile-square tract on Tres Palacios Bay at Hamilton Point, was sold by a subsidiary of the TRDC called Palacios City Townsite Company.
The town, “Trespalacios,” was surveyed into lots in 1902 by J. F. Hervey. There was a post office up on Tres Palacios Creek named Tres Palacios, which made it necessary to change the name of the new town, so “Tres” was dropped and it became “Palacios.” North-south streets were numbered and east-west streets were named for the townsite developers. Additional five-acre tracts were available for purchase to the north and west of the townsite. The first lots were sold to James W. Powell ($100 for two) in December, 1902. Early deeds stated that no intoxicating liquor could be sold on the premises, although later this provision was omitted.
Perhaps the one thing that decided whether or not Palacios would ever develop as a town was the railroad. The Townsite Company paid a bonus to Southern Pacific Railroad to extend its line to Palacios and the first train arrived June 29, 1903, with Jake Wilkerson as engineer. Trains enabled excursions to bring would-be settlers from the midwestern states, and some of the visitors stayed to become the city fathers and matrons of Palacios.
The Townsite Company in 1903 built Hotel Palacios to accommodate visitors (and possible settlers). In 1904 a lovely pavilion was constructed on a T-head pier over the water at the south end of Fourth Street (then known as Pavilion Street) and next to the hotel. The Pavilion afforded bathhouses, swimming, dancing, fishing, picnicking, skating, dominoes and other entertainment, and entire families could enjoy the recreation.
Besides the pleasures of living in the mild climate and on the water, settlers came to use the bay as a source of income. Just after the townsite was laid out, fish and oyster businesses opened. In October, 1903, Duncan Ruthven and A. R. Hillyer opened a packing company. Joe Deutsch moved to Palacios in 1903 and operated the Liberty Fish and Oyster Company. Fishing, whether fish, oysters, or, later, shrimp and crab, remained one of the more important businesses of the area.
Promotional material for Palacios and the area consistently touted the climate as favorable for raising peaches, figs, oranges, and other fruits, as well as truck farm products. In the early years cotton was the important crop. By 1910 rice was being farmed.
In the years when LaSalle first explored the area, cattle were roaming free. Ranchers came into the area and ran cattle on open ranges, later fenced with barbed wire or McCartney Rose hedges. These farmers and ranchers shopped and transacted business in Palacios and some built homes in town.
The climate, lovely surroundings, soils, pasture, all were advantages to living in the area, plus the advantage of starting one's life over in a new place, leaving old ills and sins, poverty and rumors behind, and becoming the city fathers, the entrepreneurs of a new town.
The disadvantages: well, while climate might be, and was, an advantage, at times it simply wasn't! It rained. It poured. Mud. Mud to farm and mud to build on. Hurricanes – they did happen, not often, but sometimes devastatingly.
Dirt (mud) roads, few and far between, early transportation was across open prairie by horse, wagon or foot, or by water. Boats plied the coast from the early days of Texas, calling at ports, most of which were too small to be called so pretentious a name as “port.” They hauled passengers, pigs, lumber, seeds, flour, salt, cloth, furniture, tools, horses – all the necessities of life. If a piano was wanted, one ordered it by mail from somewhere far away, like New York, had it shipped by boat to Galveston, and then brought by small boat to Matagorda, Palacios Point, Portsmouth, or Port Lavaca, where it would be hauled by wagon overland to the house or church. Lumber for building houses came the same way, as did the nails and hammers needed. Newcomers settled right on the water so they would have ready access to water travel.
Good water was a must. After boring a successful artesian well north of town, a well was bored on the hotel land in Palacios. These wells were about 300 feet deep and the water from them would be called pure for decades to come.
In Palacios City, as it was sometimes called, people were beginning to settle. They traded garden vegetables, used sailboats to oyster, went to church in homes, stores or in the schoolhouse, picked berries, fenced, worked on boats, went to town to see the excursion trains arrive, farmed, quilted, had babies, milked cows, baled hay, fished, grew flowers, and, besides this, they danced, visited, hunted, swam, and otherwise enjoyed themselves. Children attended school, played marbles, jacks and dolls, Ring Around the Rosie, Red Rover Come Over, and kicked cans down the dusty streets.
In 1903 the first church in town was organized. The Reverend H. W. Nelson organized the Methodist church, and they soon planned a building so they would not have to meet in the school.
The Townsite Company gave thirteen acres on Hamilton Point to the Baptists on the condition that the Baptist Young People's Union (BYPU) Encampment would be held at Palacios instead of LaPorte. The first encampment was held in 1906 and drew thousands of visitors to Palacios each year thereafter, with due thanks to railroad connections.
The first newspaper, the Palacios Times, was in operation in 1906. By 1909 the paper was the Palacios Beacon, showing a lighthouse on its masthead, and it has served Palacios citizens well ever since.
In 1909 the citizens of Palacios held an election and voted to incorporate the city. The first mayor was Duncan Ruthven. Many “firsts” had come about in the little City-By-The-Sea. There were schools, churches, businesses, ways of transportation, and a variety of ways to be entertained. The years of beginnings, of “firsts,” were over, and the years of growth had begun.
In 1910 the Palacios Land and Investment Company published a promotional booklet in the shape of an orange, stating, Try This Orange – It May Start You Going South. In the booklet were photos of new brick buildings, homes, fish houses, orange and fig trees, fishing and hunting scenes, the Pavilion, bathing and sailing scenes, the BYPU grounds and Hotel Palacios.
The Palacios Beacon in March, 1911, stated:
The immigration movement towards Texas is assuming larger proportions every day … A pleasing feature of our immigration is that it is composed of a class of prosperous, substantial men and women who are turning their faces toward Texas with the view of making permanent homes in the state.
Certainly those from the north and those already situated in the area were making Palacios the center for their business and entertainment need
A Townsite Company letter of 1912 states that Palacios has 2,000 residents, elevation of about fifteen feet, was in prohibition territory, had prospects of a railroad (referring to a move to obtain a second railroad into town), many blocks of cement sidewalk in business and residential districts, and cattle were excluded now from town, so people were setting out trees. Regular train runs brought in mail, grocery goods, lumber, passengers and necessities, and took out mail, oysters, fish, figs, butter and passengers. J. J. Harrison was elected mayor in 1914. Businesses included two banks, newspaper, mercantile and groceries, a telephone company, machine shops, a livery and transfer (“We Meet All Trains”), wood and coal sellers, dairy, tailor, drugstores, “racket” stores, lumber yards, laundry, restaurants, watchmaker and jewelers, photographer, water well drillers, nursery, roofer, surveyor, feed store, broom factory, planing mill, lawyers, tin shop, undertaking and embalming, millinery, opticians, confectionery, and, of course, realtors. The oyster business was considered the most important in town. There was a fleet of about thirty boats, with over eighty men employed at a payroll of about $300 a day. The Beacon stated, “You can still watch Palacios grow.”
This was the decade in which the people became a town. Churches were organized – Christian, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran and a Mexican Mission before the decade ended. Organizations formed – Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), Farmers' Institute, Masonic Lodge, I.O.O.F. Lodge, Knights of Pythias, Modern Brotherhood of America, Ladies Aid Societies, Eastern Star, Palacios Library Association and Woodmen of the World were some of them.
Mrs. J. E. McGuire had a preparatory school (student tuition was $2 a month). Palacios College enrollment was one hundred. “Girls who have catarrh or similar troubles can come to Palacios and have good health and get a good education at the same time.” East Bay Schoolhouse was almost too small when built, and by 1912 temporary classrooms, called “The Cow Sheds,” were added. A red brick high school was constructed.
The Beacon kept people informed with articles each week from the surrounding communities and schools, and concerning topics of interest to the readers. Turtle Mott Tips, Farm Facts, International Sunday School Lessons, Carancahua Clippings, Midfield Minutes, Dunbar Dots, and on and on went the topic titles. The first bale of cotton each year was a big event to the farming community. The farmer, gin where baled, weight of bale, price and name of the farm on which it was raised were reported annually.
Boats were still very much a part of everyday life. The schooner Margaret brought in a load of 1,500 feet of 4” drill stem and 1,000 feet of 6” casing for the Port Alto Oil Company, carried a load of rice to Galveston, and took school children to the Gulf for an outing. The launch Eagle was commissioned for twice weekly sailings between Palacios, Collegeport and Port Lavaca. The launch Alamo, owned by W. H. Clements, Sr., carried passengers and freight in the area water (including a trip to the Gulf where all enjoyed the trip, “even those who fed the fish”). The J. T. Hicks sailed to Oliver's Point for a moonlight sail and midnight picnic.
Other entertainment included vaudeville shows, dramas given by local groups, the Box Ball Alley, tennis, croquet, dancing and box suppers. A Gambler's Sweetheart played at the Hill Building Opera House. The comic opera Penelope or the Milkman's Bride was given to benefit the library, beginning decades of entertainments given to raise funds for worthy causes.
The post office was the romance spot – everybody waited until the mail was up, and that meant seeing nearly everybody in town. On Sundays the young people met the train and then, as usual, went to the post office. July Fourth was an annual and big event and usually included ball games, concerts and a dance. The Palacios Marine Band played frequently – marches, waltzes, medleys and cakewalks – in the park, on the corner of Fifth and Haber (now Commerce) or on the porch of the Palacios Hotel.
There were piano playing contests. In those days of no air conditioning and few automobiles, the sounds of piano playing drifted out of open windows and down the quiet streets.
The Pavilion was open all year long, but a band was usually hired just for the summer. The BYPU Encampment highlighted the summer. Special trains brought participants to be educated and inspired. In 1911 a train with seven coaches brought 1,000 people, who, with about 6,000 from the area, heard George W. Truitt as the main speaker.
The Equal Suffrage League was formed in 1916. Farmers' Institute meetings featured discussions on a drainage district, herd law and other farming matters. The citizens kept themselves informed and modern in many ways, it being obvious from their many activities and organizations that they wished to be educated and “up with the times.”
In 1911 the Intracoastal Canal contract was awarded and dredging began. The Inland Waterways League met in Palacios in 1912 and pledged to work for complete fulfillment of the dream of the canal. Other dredging in the area was of oyster shells, used for roads and building sites. In 1919 the Palacios Shell Company reported that the bays “have [an] inexhaustible supply of mud shell.”
Hurricanes occasionally messed up things in Palacios. In 1915 a letter states that the fish and oyster wharves, BYPU wharf, and Pavilion T-head had been washed away. A later hurricane washed away oyster houses, wharves, shipyards, houses, the Pavilion floor and scattered small craft. An eighty-foot signal tower, built on the bayshore, with lights and a wind vane was secured. Red and white lights indicated weather conditions at night.
The War to End All Wars began in 1917 for the United States and Palacios furnished her share of men. In 1917 a Palacios Homeguard was organized, with W. C. Gray as captain and 120 on the muster roll, their duties including the apprehension of spies. Windows of homes of soldiers carried a small flag with a star in the middle. If the star was gold, it meant the soldier had given his life for his country. “Peace” was the prevalent theme at church and other meetings.
The war ended and “Johnny” came marching home. In Palacios he found things much as usual. There were 325 enrolled in school, Ben Ehlers had purchased the Palacios Hotel, an orchestra was playing “Who Will Be Your Sweetheart Then?” at the Pavilion and the Fourth of July was its usual day of celebration.
Hemlines were higher, women voted, and prohibition was “in.” James Sartwelle was mayor and Guy A. Salisbury was county commissioner in 1920. The city each year sponsored a cleanup week. Oil news was now reported each week in the Beacon. In 1920 “Over the Top” for the sewer system was fully subscribed, and the populace was so happy about it that there was a big bonfire and celebration. It would be a while, however, before the “scavenger” was no longer needed.
In the early days settlers depended for light on kerosene lamps and candles. “All day” electrical current became available in 1921. New street lights were placed in parts of town. “Good Roads Our Greatest Need” was mentioned frequently; the Hug-the-Coast Highway Association was formed to keep the public informed and to lobby for better roads.
In 1922 P. F. Campbell was elected mayor. That same year Crawford Fig Company opened, canning Magnolia and Little Blue Figs. “The immense cauldrons were filled with figs and set bubbling ...” Other plants canned shrimp, oysters and tamales. Products being shipped by boat or rail were shrimp (fresh and canned), cream, butter, fat, eggs, fryers, fish and figs.
Ben Ehlers was the new mayor in 1926. Palacios activities included kite flying contests, the usual boat trips, speakers, parades, rodeos, ball games, dancing and movies. Or, “You could Spend the Evening at Blue Bonnet with Our Radio,” as an ad in the Beacon put it. In 1925 the new RCA Super-Heterodyne, “The Last Word in Radio,” had arrived at Foley's shop. He and D. M. Green played their radios with outdoor speakers so citizens could hear the World Series, play by play.
In 1923 the Palacios Campsite Association was formed to raise funds, purchase lands and coax the railroad to add trackage, all to obtain the site for the new Texas National Guard camp. General John A. Hulen, commanding officer, wished to have a permanent training camp with good climate and water and close to the coast. Thirteen hundred acres were purchased, and the first camp was held in 1924. By 1927 twenty trains were bringing in soldiers, horses, guns and supplies. Governor Moody reviewed the division, and General Hulen praised “Camp Palacios” and the work done to it. Seven thousand officers and soldiers came for training. Many wives came too, renting rooms around town and enjoying the local activities. Parades and military bands added to the town's martial air.
Prohibition made those “for” it feel righteous and those “against” it find ways of circumvention. One instance reported was the arrest of bootleggers with a Ford truck loaded with two tubs of beer and more than one hundred pints of whiskey.
The Pavilion opened each year for summer trade. Bands such as Amos Ayala's Rhythm Kings and Foot Warmers and Ed Bradford's Radio Orchestra were engaged. Al Jolson's “Mammy” and “Somebody Loves Me” were popular.
What memories are stirred at the thought of the sound of music coming over the water, with the lights of the Pavilion making golden and shimmering paths on the gentle waves. Who now remembers the sounds of band concerts in the park, or army bands on parade, and, not only the sounds, but what the sounds stood for?
Linnie Wolfe was superintendent of schools. In 1920 Palacios carried off more honors than all contestants in the county interscholastic meet; a train filled with enthusiastic Palacios rooters urged them on. In 1922 school was postponed due to no money and the trustees did not want to sign a note for the financial needs. School opened finally to 361 students. In 1929 the Sharks lost to Rosenberg 31-6. Rosenberg sent a special train with their boys, pep squad and boosters; all were entertained with an oyster supper after the game. There were no lighted fields, so games were played during daylight hours. Many children started school late each fall after the cotton was picked. Sallie Smith taught a kindergarten class.
County School Superintendent Pollard in May, 1924, conceived the idea of having all Matagorda County schools unite for exercises preceding the giving of promotional certificates. The program, depicting the history and industry of the county, was held at the BYPU grounds. The first part of the pageant was a water scene portraying the land of LaSalle. The friendly Indians came round the bluff and met LaSalle and his followers; the priest dropped to his knees and gave thanks. The remainder of the program was held in the auditorium and featured “Texas,” “Miss Matagorda,” others representing the county under different flags, and still others representing the towns and industries of the county.
Businesses changed during this decade. Gradually the “horse” went its way; livery stables gave way to auto repair shops and auto sales. Freight was carried by train or truck instead of boat. Excursion trains ceased: the “northerners” became the city fathers and matrons, the settlers were the townspeople, and life slowed at it moved toward the 1930's.
The decade closed with the Chamber of Commerce ladies sponsoring a Tree of Light at Christmas. The population was about 1,500. There were 50 businesses, 6 hotels, 3 restaurants, 2 schools, 545 students, 2 gins, an ice plant and power plant, laundry, no blocks of paving, 397 water connections, 250 light connections, 243 sewer connections and 200 telephones.
Duncan Ruthven was mayor as the decade began. Hot water became a possibility because a gas line had been laid to Palacios. Also, to commemorate the arrival of gas, Mayor Ruthven lighted a large “gas” torch and the city celebrated with fireworks. The “square” was paved – the first paving in Palacios.
In 1932 Texas was deep into the depression. For those in the Palacios area, life went on much as usual, planting crops, oystering, raising cotton and kids and shipping shrimp. Farmers in 1934 could get loans from El Campo Production Credit Association. Cotton was still king. School children went home for lunch or ate from a lunch bucket; most walked to school. There were still a few buggies, but most citizens owned a Ford. Farmers came to town on Saturdays and bought feed, fuel, food and a few frills. Feed came in 100-pound cloth sacks, as did flour, and this material made into dresses, skirts, blouses, curtains and sheets.
People, in town and out, raised chickens for meat and eggs, kept a cow for milk, and had a garden for vegetables. There were still a few outhouses on the alleys, although most had sewer connections. Many in rural areas did not have electricity, so continued to depend on coal oil for light, screened windowbox refrigerators, and ironed with hand irons heated on the stove or with a new-fangled iron heated with coal oil.
In 1933 a Sea Wall Commission was formed and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) granted funds for a seawall and a new pavilion. The old Pavilion, storm damaged, was torn down and a new one built in 1935, 180 feet in diameter, with a 60'x80' dance floor, and seated six hundred. J. L. Deutsch was mayor in 1934. Commissioner George Harrison was named to the State Centennial Commission in 1936 – Texas was 100 and Palacios was 27.
The seafood industry was very active. About 600 persons were connected with the industry. In 1938 a channel to Palacios was approved by the River and Harbors Committee and $73,000 allotted for the channel from Palacios to the Intracoastal Canal.
Oil activity in the 1930's was reported almost weekly in the Beacon. Gas wells, test wells in the Palacios Field, oil wells, oil wells also in the bays and oil rumors were topics of much discussion.
Five hundred twenty-five pupils were enrolled in 1934, and the schools were to receive $16 per capita of State funds. A new high school was built in 1936. The Palacios High School (PHS) alumni association held a banquet at the Encampment grounds in 1937. Guy R. Claybourn was president of the school board that year. The school was to have an orchestra and band, and the school was to receive oil lease money on 11.88 acres from McCarthy Oil, all of which was to be used on permanent improvements. Work was started on all-weather roads for bus routes in 1939, and the football team was to have new uniforms, scarlet with white trim. They would play the first game on a lighted field.
Palacios saw many traveling entertainments in those days: tap dancers, ladies cut in two, circuses, stereopticon shows, operas, plays, medicine shows and trained dogs. The Queen Theatre showed movies such as Will Rogers in Mr. Sketch. The theater was used as a meeting hall, also. The library was housed in the old Box Ball Alley. During the summer Nancy Drew and Zane Grey books were checked out daily, brought back the next day and more checked out. The odor of musty books and quietness can be conjured up merely at the thought of the old building.
And then there were the dances. Steve Gardner and the Gardner Brothers Band were at the Pavilion in 1935 and later. A 1933 ordinance was passed against carnivals, minstrels, medicine shows or vaudeville within 1,000 feet of a residence. The problem of noisy entertainment was as old as the town and would persist into the 1980's, through jazz, “big band” sounds, Elvis, the Beatles and on, with equipment becoming more sophisticated and loud through the years.
The summer encampment at Camp Palacios continued to be a big event. In 1933 it was reported that the 144th Infantry Band gave a concert on Commerce street, the guardsmen were “playing” war, and the name, Camp Palacios, was changed to Camp Hulen to honor Major General John A. Hulen. The first flying field in the county was at Camp Palacios. In its early days it was just north of the campsite and was truly a flying “field,” an area of smooth pasture kept groomed for landings. The Texas governor usually reviewed the guard at the conclusion of each summer's encampment. In 1926 Governor Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson and party came in by train, backed out to Camp Palacios and were met by General Hulen, airplanes and bands. By 1939 the guard began to believe that they might have to wage war on other than mosquitoes, rattlesnakes and mud. The heavy burden of the depression was lifting, only to reveal trouble in Europe. What next for the camp full of soldier boys?
Population in Palacios in 1940 was 2,281, and A. G. Skinner was mayor. Streets were marked and houses numbered. A full-time garbage collector was hired. The City State Bank was formed.
In May, 1940, the Matagorda County Navigation District Number One was created to provide channel and dock facilities for Palacios. The early 1940's were the last years to see working sailboats in the bay.
War was the talk everywhere. In 1940 the government leased Camp Hulen for Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft Training and began building new barracks, mess halls, vehicle maintenance buildings and a hospital. Camp Hulen was full of soldiers and Palacios swarmed with them and their families. A Civilian Defense Council was organized in 1941. One of its duties was to provide against sabotage, especially since Palacios was on the coast and had an army camp nearby. A military access road was built on the north side of town so convoys could by-pass the downtown business district; “mock” air raids using real searchlights were held. A USO was opened on the bayfront just east of the Pavilion. Posters and newspapers were admonishing citizens, “Don't repeat rumors.”
December 7, 1941, seemed an ordinary Sunday. But that afternoon as many people sat listening to the radio, they heard the announcement of the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor. The United States was at war. Before the week was over, troops from Camp Hulen entrained for unannounced destinations. Citizens, patriotism beating in each breast and tears in most eyes, waved to the men disappearing up the track.
In January, 1942, blackouts were held throughout the county. A twenty-four hour air raid alert was instituted and volunteers were requested to stand by their phones at night. Palacios bought $15,518 in defense bonds. “Save Scrap for Uncle Sam” was on posters; five tons of rubber was turned in and the Boy Scouts helped with the collection of scrap. The Easter Sunrise Service was held at the Presbyterian church and “peace” was, of course, the theme. “V” Mail stationery was for sale at the post office and citizens began their years of writing to “the boys.” Eating right was stated to be a patriotic duty and “Victory Garden” tips were in the news.
In 1942 everything habitable, even chicken houses and back porches, was being rented to wives and sweethearts of soldiers, and rents were high. New businesses appeared – tailors, tattoo parlors, movie houses, quick photos, pool halls, beer joints, shooting galleries and liquor stores.
Gas rationing was explained at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. A Community Canning Kitchen opened. Blackouts continued to be held. Windows were covered with blankets or light-proof materials, while families huddled inside and tried to imagine what it must be like in Europe when the sirens blew for real air raids. A total of 5,393 registered for ration books. Rationing included sugar, coffee, shoes, processed foods, passenger car gasoline, motorcycles, trucks and tires.
The Sunrise Service in 1943 featured an Easter message by Chaplain Wolfe from Camp Hulen. Jewish soldiers took over duties so Christian soldiers could attend the Easter services, then celebrated Passover with a seder at the USO. Dr. John L. Hill was to lead vespers as usual at the 42nd Baptist Encampment.
Stars were showing up in windows again, including a few gold stars, as KIA (Killed In Action) notices were received. Camp Hulen was to have a Texas Thanksgiving – turkey and all the trimmings. The USO had activities every day, including bingo, movies and dances.
By the end of 1943 one Axis leader, Mussolini, was down. The army was preparing to rule occupied countries. The Presbyterian church was discussing funds to re-open missions in China, Japan and Korea, and the Chamber of Commerce was discussing post war plans. The city continued to salvage tin cans, fats (for drugs), scrap and metal. The channel to the Intracoastal Canal was being deepened and widened.
Glenn Claybourn was elected mayor in 1944. The Prisoners of War portion of Camp Hulen became active. Prisoners were seen marching around town and at work on the bay or in the fields. The 4th War Bond drive got underway and Palacios went “over the top” again. William Lloyd Queen was KIA in Italy, and a Veterans of Foreign Wars post was organized and named after him. Reports came constantly of those killed or wounded in action, missing in action or prisoners of war. The Tres Palacios Garden Club planted palms on the bayshore as memorials to the servicemen.
This Is Worth Fighting For was presented by the elementary school children. The performance ended with a church scene with a choir that sang “Lead On, O King Eternal,” and the hearts of singers and audience swelled with that mixture of patriotism and Christianity so typical of the times. Of course we could win the war: We were the best and most democratic and strongest nation and we had God on our side!
The war years seemed always to be wet. In January, 1940, the town suffered under a cover of ice, sleet and snow. In 1941 a hurricane passed near Palacios, causing damage. Again in 1942, a hurricane damaged the Green Lantern Inn, shrimp boats were swept onto land, two soldiers drowned, businesses had broken store windows, and many homes suffered damage. In 1945 another hurricane hit, causing considerable damage to crops, plate glass, the telephone system and piers.
The city certainly united during the war. They sold War Bonds, gathered scrap, learned to bake War Cake without sugar, and stayed at home instead of using precious gasoline to travel. They invited soldiers to Sunday dinner, wives were entertained, young girls danced at the USO, children saved stamps to fill a War Bond book. All cooperated with blackouts, scared one another with stories of U-boats in the Bay, waved good byes as troop trains left, and wept as "V" Mail letters were returned. In April, 1945, the war in Europe was over In August the war was officially over everywhere and a holiday was declared by the mayor. The townspeople gathered in the park for a Victory Program of songs, scriptures, readings and preachings.
The town began to return to normal. Charles Luther attended the advance showing of the 1946 Chevrolet--a new car, after years of cars from pre-war days. Joe B. Feather spoke at Rotary concerning jobs for returning servicemen, and Dr J R. Wagner spoke on a new miracle drug, penicillin. The army air base was declared surplus and the city applied for it. The USO building was made available to the town for a hospital and the health building was purchased by the city for a city hall.
The Chamber of Commerce gave an account of its accomplishments and goals. $100,000 hospital and $3.5 million airport; increased tonnage at the port; school system enlarged by adding Turtle Bay; stadium built on the athletic field, new tabernacle at the Encampment grounds; picnic pavilions and playground equipment on South Bay; a National Guard unit at
Camp Hulen, palms planted on the bayshore and the East Bay pier rebuilt; a VFW baseball team organized, and a new freezing plant. Only one goal was not met--the National Guard unit at Camp Hulen. No troops ever trained there again and only caretakers lived there until all buildings were sold and moved.
Entertainment revolved around civic clubs and sports. The Alapha Club presented Cornzapoppin 'for the benefit of shrubbery for the hospital grounds. July Fourth was its old self- baseball, rodeo, and a dance on the Pavilion with Red Cornelson and Orchestra on
Friday and the Legionnaires on Saturday
The Bay View Hospital opened and a drive was held for funds to purchase equipment. In April, 1947, the Southern Pacific Railroad halted daily train service to Palacios.
In May, 1948, the Aluminum Company of American (Alcoa) broke ground for a thirty-million dollar plant at Point Comfort. Four hundred fifty-eight tons of steel arrived by barge, the first intra-state shipment by the local port, scheduled for the new plant. Citizens worked on construction at Alcoa, and, later, in the plant.
Guy Johnson was president of the school board. In September schools opened short two teachers--a coach and a Bible teacher There were four school buses. Band Mothers had a food sale and raised $153.40 for band uniforms. A class in vocational agriculture resumed after long absence. Enrollment was over 900, plus 40 in the colored school.
Oil activity was picking up. Gulf Oil applied to drill in Matagorda and Tres Palacios Bays. In June, 1949, the Intracoastal Canal was completed, extending from Brownsville to the Atlantic. DDT was being sprayed by the city for mosquito control.
The decade closed with a feeling of optimism in the air. The war was over, there were jobs for all, and Palacios was looking forward to the new era of peace.
The 1950's began with J. L. Koerber as mayor and population at 2,913. Aluminum production began at Alcoa. A geophysical party was surveying Matagorda County; and the dial telephone system went into effect.
It was a time of drought. The Chamber of Commerce discussed the serious water shortage and the city oiled the streets to keep down the shell dust. Boll weevils threatened the cotton crop.
Revised laws were discussed to assist in oyster production increase; seven to ten years before, good harvests were possible, but now harvests were not good due to oyster dredging, overfarming, and pollution. Guy Johnson was commissioner of Precinct #3. The first sacked maize was dried in the new Palacios Feed and Milling Company plant, and they planned to
handle seed rice, also. In 1951 the city said, cleanup time again. Higher utility rates were forecast by city fathers. In February temperatures dipped to 12.9°, the city was isolated by ice and without water, lights, or communication for over two days.
Charles Luther was elected mayor in 1952. Voters were favorable to $90,000 in streets and $35,000 in drainage bonds. Americans, including Palacios, said, "I like Ike" and prepared for war again. The county judge called a meeting on home defense and draft registration continued due to the Korean "police action." This war was to be different, or so it was feared. The American Red Cross held first aid courses in atomic burns, the American Legion Auxiliary
studied Survival Under Atomic Attack, a nice little yellow booklet. Reports arrived of "our boys" killed or wounded in action, and Korea became more than a spot on the globe.
In 1954 the Texas Mid-Coast Water Development Association was formed to keep the public informed and to lobby concerning important water concerns of the area. The BJDL Corporation bought 291 city lots and built housing on some of them. The Chamber of Commerce studied the possibility of forming an industrial foundation. Crawford Packing Company was planning a shipyard north of its plant. John Bowden was the new mayor
In 1957 voters were favorable to a hospital bond election and a federal grant assured that Palacios would be able to build a thirty-bed hospital, to be called Wagner General in honor of Dr. J. R. Wagner
Schools in the 1950's went through trying times. Segregation or desegregation was a big issue all over the United States. Facilities needed upgrading. September, 1951, there were 530 students at East Side and 55 at the colored school, 196 at Junior High, 134 at Senior High, and 90 at West Side Elementary. The old Red Brick School was torn down and a new junior high and elementary school was built. School colors changed from maroon and white to red and white. In 1955 a citizens committee was formed to study desegregation. J. B. Kimball, secretary of the school board, said, "This problem can be solved by clear thinking, and a little reason." And it was.
In 1951 the Second Annual Lions Carnival on the Fourth of July was held on South Bay. Mary Ruth Halliday was named Miss Palacios. A barbecue and boat races were enjoyed by all. At night the reflections of the carnival lights danced over the quiet waves, while dancing was being enjoyed in the Pavilion. The "Tex" Beneke Orchestra was a featured band at the Pavilion that year, and the place was packed. Those too young to be allowed to go to the dance sat on blankets on the shore and listened. Another time Harry James and his Music Makers provided the music. Liquor by the drink was not lawful in Texas during those times. A bottle, in plain paper sack, was kept under the seat of the jalopy and swigs from it impressed young ladies on the way to movies or dances. Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB) was added to dance posters or taken for granted at barbecues and other events.
The decade had been a quiet one. Even the Korean War and desegregation did not ripple the waves very much in Palacios. It was a time of longer skirts, with full petticoats, the music of Elvis Presley, and automobiles with pointed and upturned rear fins. It was a quiet, easy time for the people of Palacios, with no inkling of what the next decade would bring.
The decade began with population at 3,676 and A. H. Petersen as mayor 1060 was a busy year in the petroleum field. Work began on a gas processing plant for Tennessee Oil Refining. City lots were leased for oil and gas. In 1961 a new City State Bank building was begun. Beacon subscriptions were upped to $2.50. Marvin Curtis was elected mayor
It should be noted that Carla affected Palacios in many ways for many years to come. With homes and possessions destroyed and businesses ruined, residents felt the affect of Carla as
they worked to get their personal lives and businesses back to normal. It was an exhausting experience for all of Palacios.
In January, 1962, the Pavilion was dismantled, and the end of an era disappeared with it. A new East Bay pier was built. New homes appeared. Businesses were renovated. Life went on, although still not, and never, back to the old Palacios.
E. F Wehmeyer was the new mayor in 1964 and one of his first acts was to declare (wouldn't you know it!) a cleanup day. Camp Hulen was sold for $249.95 an acre, with the city to receive a portion of the sales price.
In 1966 Herman Bond was the mayor and a city administrator was hired . Fifty-three city blocks were repaired and a higher tax levy was set. In 1967 the city purchased the old City State Bank building and remodeled it for a city hall. Also purchased was the Nester building for fires trucks. The channel to Palacios was to be widened to 125 feet and deepened to 12.5 feet. Breakwaters were to be constructed at the Port and granite arrived at the railroad yard to be hauled to the turning basins. According to Hydrographic Bulletin of the Corps of Engineers, Palacios had the best little harbor on the coast.
Hurricane Beulah spawned a tornado which hit town, killing three, dumping 15 inches of rain, damaging streets, and taking the T-head off the East Bay Pier The city received disaster funds to clear debris and for repairs.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department built an experimental station on Matagorda Bay near Well Point. It had a salt water pond for experiments on marine food, fish and shellfish.
The city passed a sales tax in 1968. Ed Dumas was appointed mayor when Herman Bond resigned, and cleanup time was here again.
School enrollment at the beginning of the decade was 1,433. A new senior and junior high was completed. Ralph Newsom, after many years as superintendent, resigned, and Joe W. Ward was hired. Worship in schools was a PT A topic. The Sharks did well, winning
District, Bi-District, and on and on to State, defeating the Marlin Bulldogs 12-0.
In January, 1966, the district received accreditation for the 38th year. Federal grants were received for educationally deprived children and Head Start that summer had 287 students. In July, 1966, Joe Ward resigned and George Holst was hired as superintendent. In 1968 the district annexed 280 square miles of offshore lands.
Norman Runyon was president of the Chamber of Commerce when the decade began. The Jokers was the featured band at the Pavilion. The Fourth of July was declared the best ever (said nearly every year). Wagner General held an open house. The first annual Shrimporee
and Blessing of the Fleet was held. A Labor Day celebration, with a Trail Riders Parade, barbecue, boat races and kiddie rides, was held. It ended with a dance on the Pavilion, now, after Carla, only a dance floor under the stars.
The usual club events went on during those years. Lions Club Fourth of July celebration, Halloween candy sales, and Santa Claus at Christmas time. The Harmonie Club had its Valentine Sweetheart contest and dance. A golf association was formed and a course
laid out at the airport grounds. Trail Riders trekked to the county fair each March. A new library was built.
For the fourth time in Palacios history citizens were concerned about war, and, as in the other times, local boys went "over there" and came back, or did not. Vietnam seemed so far away, too. Several local boys were wounded or killed in action. In July, 1967, flags were at halfmast in memory of W L. Hamlin. The VFW Post added his name to the Post name and it became the Queen-Hamlin Post.
The decade had not been an easy one. Carla, the aftermath and cleanup and rebuilding of lives and properties, Beulah, and the Vietnam War were difficult events for the people of Palacios, and the war was not over yet.
The 1970's began with a population of 3,346 and Ed Dumas as mayor. City Manager Dick Brown emphasized giving travelers to Palacios a good impression by cutting weeds, painting, and a general cleanup of town. George Holst was elected mayor in April. The city budget called for a raise of 5% for employees, assistance for the library, a fire truck, and replacement of water lines; it was also noted that parents needed to keep their children from following the mosquito-fogging trucks. The midsection of the Beacon office had a fire but it was brought under control. "Neither hurricane [Carla] nor fire has kept the Beacon from being on time."
The Vietnam War continued, in January, 1971, flags again flew at halfmast for Michael Abel Pierce. W. C. Jackson was elected mayor. Radar units were approved for city police cars, and Palacios received $7,578 in sales tax collections during one quarter There was a public hearing concerning dredging oyster shell. The Port of Palacios showed an increase to 98,284 tons and the army engineers completed a Texas coast shoreline study. A new migration from the midwest began: "Snow Birds" coming south for the winter. Many rented rooms for the winter or arrived in their motorhomes.
The STNP was approved, and construction began about fifteen miles east of town, many local people were hired and the town began to fill up with others who moved to Palacios looking for jobs at the site. Energy was big news and gas was scarce. Farms and ranches received a fuel priority. Cars waited in line for gas. There would be no Yule Season lights in order to save energy. Police were busy with thefts, fights, and marijuana raids. A brighter and more attractive city was the goal of the cleanup operation designated, "paint up and fix up" month by Dale Porter, president of the Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber was seeking jobs for as many as one hundred Vietnamese refugees.
The United States celebrated its Bicentennial in July, 1976. The Bicentennial project for Palacios was the YMCA World Peace Conference in November. Bypassing metropolitan centers, the World Alliance of YMCAs picked Palacios as the site for its conference. The town took to the idea and began to plan its part. The participants represented sixty-three countries and their average age was twenty-six. The week began with a sunrise service at the Baptist Encampment Grounds. Delegates spoke at many churches.
The conference dealt with issues such as human rights, disarmament, international programs, and the Christian response to Third World problems. The delegates met each day in the Methodist church, interpreters were provided.
The delegates also had fun. They were entertained with a fish fry, wiener roast, Mexican fiesta, barbecue, and barn dance. Dan Tucker, one of the local planners, said, "We found out what the international language is. It's country and western music, and a lot of the African
delegates showed us how it should be done." One delegate reflected that perhaps what the world needed was one big Texas barbecue and barn dance. Delegates were also asked into the homes, toured ranches, farms, gas processing plants, a game preserve, and the docks
and port. They saw rattlesnakes, rode tractors, had boat rides in the Bay and visited schools. They played basketball, attended a football game, and roamed around town. Saturday night was International Night. The delegates entertained the townspeople with dances and songs; some wore native costume. The Texans entertained with a rock band, and all, answering the
world-wide call of rhythm and song, got out on the dance floor and danced together The evening ended with all holding hands and singing, "Let There Be Peace On Earth, and Let It Begin With Me," tears running down many cheeks.
Mayor W. C. Jackson resigned in 1977 and Cliff Elliott was appointed mayor. There was good news for the city folks: no new taxes.
The decade ended with funds being raised for a community swimming pool. The Vietnam War was over The Bicentennial was over. The 1970's were over. The 1980's sounded awfully close to the end of the century; what would they bring?
The 1980's began in Palacios with a population of 4,667 Two factors had contributed to the increased population: the building of the STNP, and the retirees or Snow Birds who moved out of big cities, decided to own second homes on the coast, or came south for the winter New apartments sprung up, as did mobile home parks. The Serendipity Resort constructed a marina and recreational vehicle (R. V.) park on south bay The city fathers struggled with a mobile home ordinance, torn between wanting the population and a dislike for Palacios to turn into a mobile home village.
In the late 1970's as a result of the Vietnam War, a number of Vietnamese refugee families moved into Palacios. Some of the men worked at the nuclear project but most made their living on the bay, shrimping or crabbing. They were industrious, built many boats, and helped one another get started in business. The local fishermen began to be alarmed concerning the
number of Vietnamese in the fishing industry. Mayor Leonard Lamar organized a local task force, a community council, to improve communication between local citizens, especially fishermen, and the Vietnamese people. Where other communities had reacted with violence to the refugees, Palacios chose to take a different tact and peace prevailed.
The city was busy with many projects. A new landfill, "Operation Fresh Start" clean up campaign, sewer system upgraded, a new water well, storage tank and water system pipes, and a computer for city hall. City streets were upgraded.
The winters of 1983-84 and 1984-85 were severely cold. In January, 1984, there were nine days when the temperature stayed below freezing most of the time; many water lines froze and broke. The palm trees along the bayshore and around town froze, and oleanders and trees froze or were badly damaged.
In 1984 the City State Bank celebrated its 25th anniversary. Turning Basin #3 was opened. The Seawall Commission was reactivated to control erosion along the bays. George L. "Billy" Harrison retired after many years as commissioner of Precinct #3 and Frank P "Sonny" Brhlik was elected to the job. Some of the STNP generators and large equipment for the plant was brought in by train to Palacios and trucked to the site. Road materials were also brought in by train. The track, however, was not in good condition and the cost to repair it too great, so in 1983 the Southern Pacific "s piked" the track and all rail traffic ceased.
Offshore oil crews changed by helicopter came and went at the airport. The airport continued its fueling of local planes, Life Flight helicopters from Houston, and passing traffic.
In the 1980's rice and milo [maize] remain the "big" crops, with others such as soybeans and wheat also being grown. Grass farms proliferated in the coastal counties. Cotton is no longer "king," but is still being grown. Fishing is still one of the big industries. Shrimp and crab are brought into a number of fish houses at the turning basins. A tour of the Palacios port area,
with its many colorful boats, is always picturesque.
As early as there were settlers in Palacios, there were churches, or at least groups meeting for worship and Bible study, and churches still play an important part in the social structure of the town. The mainline Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic church and many smaller sects are represented in the 1980's. Ecumenical services are still held at Easter and Thanksgiving. And at Christmastime people still go from church to church to hear the cantatas, carols, or to see Christmas plays. In June, 1982, the First Presbyterian Church celebrated its 75th anniversary with a homecoming. In 1983 St. Anthony of Padua Catholic
Church was holding mass in three languages, English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. In 1985 work began on a Christian Life Center at the First Baptist Church.
In 1981, much as back in 1910, the city was advertised as "City-by-the-Sea the BEST PLACE to be!" A brochure mentions the Texas Parks and Wildlife Research Station, good hunting, boats and products, 24-hour municipal airport with three 5,000-foot paved and lighted runways, year-round climate, a nine-hole golf course, excellent educational facilities, and good emergency fire and first aid service.
A group of citizens formed the Friends of Elder Citizens and raised funds for a senior center; noon meals are served and painting lessons, exercise classes, crafts and dances are featured at the center
Bathing, jogging, and swimming continue to be enjoyed. Walking or jogging the bayshore is popular. The Pavilion (floor only, of course) is being used for occasional open air dances, and the sounds of "Take the Ribbon From Your Hair" or "Blue Eyes Crying In the Rain" drift across the water much as "String of Pearls" did in the 1940's or "Somebody Loves Me" in the 1920's. The City Parks system was being upgraded and new picnic pavilions, playground equipment and ball courts were added.
In 1979, after several years of fund raising for a city swimming pool, the town cooperated in organizing and enjoying the first Bay Fest. Craft booths, kiddie rides, barbecue, fish dinners, Vietnamese egg rolls, tacos, and other foods , were featured, as well as auctions and a
street dance. The tradition has continued, even after the pool was completed, with the funds now raised going to some worthy community project each year
The school district benefited from extra tax money generated by the STNP and many new buildings were constructed. The district celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1981. In 1985 George Holst retired and Dr. William E. Reaves was chosen as the new superintendent.
The years of 1984 and 1985 were special for the town. Palacios celebrated its 75th anniversary (dating from its incorporation as a town in 1909), with a huge birthday cake cut at the Fourth of July celebration. A time capsule was presented by the Palacios Area Historical Association to Mayor Lamar to be opened one day in the far future. Items in the capsule included flags of the United States, Texas, and Palacios, a Bible, a booklet on the history of Palacios, a cookbook, sheath of rice, roll of 1984 pennies, local postcards, digital watch, shrimp de-veiner, oyster shell, bumper stickers, beer can, soda bottle, cigarettes, toothbrush,
maps, and other souvenirs of the times. The Historical Book Committee for the county's Texas Sesquicentennial project requested everyone to get the past on paper; a history of the county was being prepared for publication in 1986. A Diamond Jubilee Parade was held at the annual Bay Fest.
As the deadline for copy for the history nears, Palacios has been officially sanctioned as a Texas Independence Community for the Sesquicentennial. Trevor and Pam Gowling and children, Melissa and Andrew, visitors from Yankalilla, South Australia, Sister City to Palacios, enjoyed a few days in Palacios, bringing gifts of books and photographs and greetings. On Memorial Day the local VFW Post #2467 placed American flags on the graves of all its sons buried at the local cemeteries, bringing to mind not only the history of the nation, but the history of the town and its people going on and on into the future.
Historic Matagorda County
– Volume 1 – pages 367-384
Typed for this page by Bonnie Benson