Local History

1554 Shipwreck.

Port Isabel and the Laguna Madre area have a storied history that makes for exciting discoveries. The oldest shipwreck found in the U.S. is just 30 miles north, and Pineda’s 1519 visit purportedly happened at the mouth of the Rio Grande River just 7 miles south. In between, Port Isabel served as a site for a custom house and post office early in the 19th century. Mid-19th century found the bluffs of Point Isabel useful as the site of Fort Polk, a depot used during the U.S.-Mexican War. In 1853, on that same site, Port Isabel found itself the proud home of a Lighthouse.

1890's view of the Rio Grande R.R. Depot in Port Isabel.

Moving into the early 20th century, developers began efforts to market the area as it was conveniently located near water and had a shortline railroad to Brownsville. Port Isabel incorporated, endured hurricanes, grew and struggled, but always persevered. By the mid-20th century, Port Isabel was known as the “Shrimping Capitol of the World”. Development continued, the Lighthouse was renovated and opened as a Texas State Park and the first Queen Isabella Causeway was constructed to connect South Padre Island with Port Isabel.

Today Port Isabel retains its quaint coastal charm with signs of our historical roots still visible. The Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Site sits in the center of downtown, 1/2 block from the Laguna Madre Bay. It is open to the public. A visitor center is housed in the reproduction Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage.

From the top of the Lighthouse, looking over the Laguna Madre Bay towards South Padre Island.

The Port Isabel Historical Museum is just 1/2 block off Highway 100 and is housed in the historic Charles Champion building. Numerous historical markers dot the landscape and memorialize the stories we still tell. See stories below…

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Late 1970s Downtown Port IsabelDowntown Port Isabel in the early-1980s. The 2nd Queen Isabella Causeway opened for traffic in September 1974. The traffic pattern through Port Isabel changed as a result of the new route. Garcia Street (the last street before crossing the causeway) was less traveled and Maxan Street, one block north of …Causeway, Lighthouse, Local Life, , 2022-08-01 03:28:20
Port Isabel in the Gold Rush EraWord of the discovery of gold in California comes late in January 1848, mere days before the Treaty of Guadalupe is signed officially ending the U.S. Mexican War. Point Isabel was profoundly affected by those two events. The arrival of General Zachary Taylor and some 4,500 troops in 1846 swelled …Gold Rush, U.S. Mexican War, , , , , , , , , , , 2022-04-17 03:11:46
It Grew EpidemicThis is a reprint from an 1875 Detroit Free Press article about an event that happened in Point Isabel. There are a couple of subtitles that draw the reader in. “The Curious Mania Which Swept Over a Texas Town.” And this one, “Sane People Organized to Subdue the Craze Created …History, Local Life, , , 2022-04-16 21:51:42
Port Isabel Man, 120, Is Probably Oldest In TexasInocencio Rosales, Known As ‘Don Chencho’ Helped Build Lighthouse; Recalls Early Valley History The following is an article reprinted from the Brownsville Herald (August 15, 1943) by Clarence LaRoche about Don Chencho. He was a remarkable individual that embodied the spirit of what it takes to pioneer on the south …History, Lighthouse, Local Life, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 2022-04-16 04:11:11
William Egly, Unsung Hero of the Lower Laguna MadreWilliam Egly, Lighthouse Keeper [1895 – 1921] In 1895, William Egly transferred from the Lydia Ann (Aransas Pass) to take over the role as Principal Lighthouse Keeper at the Port Isabel Lighthouse. The Egly’s had relatives in the Rio Grande Valley. There is a record of at least one visit …History, Lighthouse, , , , , 2022-04-16 02:57:57
Capture Giant Sea-CowMonster Taken by Fishermen Weights 3,000 Pounds and is Twelve Feet Long. This story is one of those tales from the sea that fed the traveler’s imagination! The capture of the Manatee nearly caused the death of one local angler in the fray. Reprinted from an article in a Baxter …History, Marine LIfe, , , , , , , , , , , 2022-04-16 02:08:28
Port Isabel Road Work Will Open (1930)First Piling Here For Construction Of Causeway.Reprinted from: Brownsville Herald August 12, 1930, Brownsville, TX, US. Construction work on the state highway to Port Isabel will open either Wednesday or Thursday, it has been announced by R. W. Briggs, whose company holds the contract. If unhampered by bad weather, Briggs …Causeway, History, , , , 2022-03-31 13:48:03
The Killer Storm of August 12, 1880The recollection of Judge Pierce, of Brownsville, of a storm that took the lives of two people as recalled 30 years later. Boats were ripped from wharves, high winds and rains forced a search for better shelter and higher ground. Survivors ate pumpkins soaked in Vermouth while waiting for help …History, Hurricanes, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , 2022-03-31 03:07:43
1912: Hurricane Hits Our CoastOctober 15 & 16, 1912 high winds and rain hit the area. Eye witnesses, including an employee of the U. S. Weather Bureau to the train conductor on the R.G.R.R. share their observations. The following two articles were transcribed from files in a private collection. HURRICANE OF 1912 AT POINT …History, Hurricanes, , , , , , , 2022-03-31 02:51:18