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  • History Friday: Ghost Town on the Gulf

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on March 1st, 2013 (All posts by )

    Once there was a town on the Texas Gulf Coast, which during its hey-day – which lasted barely a half-century from start to finish – rivaled Galveston, a hundred and fifty miles east. It started as a stretch of beach along Matagorda Bay called Indian Point, selected for no other reason than it was not Galveston by a German nobleman with plans to settle a large colony of German immigrants. Prince Karl of Solms-Braunfels was a leading light of an organization called the Mainzer Adelsverein; a company of well-meaning nobles whose ambitions exceeded their business sense by a factor of at least three to one. They had secured – or thought they had secured – a large tract of land between the Llano and Colorado rivers approximately a hundred miles west of Austin. The truth of it was, all they had secured was the right to induce people to come and settle on it. So many settlers farming so many acres, and the backers of the Adelsverein would profit through being entitled to so many acres for themselves.

    That this tract of land was unfit for traditional farming, and moreover was the stomping grounds of the Comanche and Apache tribes – peoples not generally noted in the 19th century for devotion to multi-cultural tolerance and desire to live in peace with their neighbors – these things seem to have struck Prince Karl as a mere bagatelle, an afterthought, a petty little detail that other people would take care of. The Adelsverein would earn a tidy profit by inducing people to settle on such lands as they held a license for; so no fair for other entrepreneurs to poach their immigrants as they passed through the fleshpots of Galveston. With a fair bit of the old Teutonic spirit of organization, Prince Karl decided that the Adelsverein settlers, who had signed contracts and sailed on Adelsverein chartered-ships would not be contaminated by crass mercantile interests or distractions; best to come straight off the trans-Atlantic transports, through a port of his own choosing, comfortably close to the most direct route north, and the way-station he had himself established to feed settlers into the Adelsverein land grant. So it was that his choice fell on Indian Point, soon to be christened Karlshaven.

    Three years later, it was called Indianola, the major deep-water port and entry-point for thousands of European immigrants to Texas, as well as a couple of shipments of camels (told a couple of weeks ago). Indianola was also the major port for supplying the US Army in the West. A great road – the Cart Road ran north towards San Antonio, and south of the contentious border to Chihuahua, Mexico, supplying the mercantile needs of two nations. By the mid 1850s, the town relocated to a location slightly lower in elevation, but one which would let it take advantage of deeper water and a navigation route which would favor major maritime traffic. The Morgan Lines established regular service to Indianola, which boasted two long wharves, with the Morgan ticket-office at the very end of one of them. It was called the Queen City of the West, shipping – among other things – rice to Europe. In the cattle glut after the Civil War, local entrepeneurs experimented with shipping refrigerated beef and canned oysters. For those five decades, Indianola gave Galveston and New Orleans a run for the money. It changed hands a couple times during the Civil War, when life turned out to be a lot more interesting than most inhabitants of Texas had bargained for. Upon the end of that unpleasantness, Indianola looked fair to taking a rightful place in the list of great ports of the world.

    But in September of 1875 – September being a fateful month in those parts – a great hurricane slammed Indianola, and it’s low-laying situation left it vulnerable to storm surge. Water piled up in the bayou back of the newer part of town, pushed by the storm – and when the storm winds changed direction, all the water poured forth and carried much of the new downtown out into Matagorda Bay. Still, there was enough left after the storm, and it was a fine deep-water port and a good strategic location. This was not something to be casually abandoned, so the city stalwarts rebuilt in the spirit of optimism. Eleven years later, Indianola was slammed again. To add to the horror of the second storm, an upset oil lamp set fire to the structure it was in. At the height of the hurricane a number of people taking shelter in that building were burned to death, and several nearby structures also burned. The rebuilt town was obliterated; the remnants of those long docks built for the Morgan Lines are still lying at the bottom of the bay. The city fathers sadly accepted the inevitable. There is still a bit of Indianola left; a few builtings, but mostly monuments and relics, bottles and doll heads, doorknobs and Minie balls, sad tattered reminders of what was once the Queen City of the West. Galveston inherited that place, with queenly grace; but only for a couple of decades, until that city itself took the full force of a hurricane in 1900.

     

    4 Responses to “History Friday: Ghost Town on the Gulf”

    1. Whitehall Says:

      The best seafood dinner I’ve ever eaten was at a Vietnamese place in Palacio, not far from Indianola.

      Which reminds me a Mark Twain line – “Texas – where else can one see so far and see so little?” That describes the Matagorda area especially well.

    2. Sgt. Mom Says:

      Not surprised, Whitehall – there are all sorts of litle towns up and down Matagorda Bay, offering Gulf seafood…
      I think that the astonishing thing to me about Indianola is how little there is left of it … that is, practically nothing at all. There is a pink granite block near where the courthouse used to be – but much of the town is underwater. There are some seaside vacation homes, most of them up on tall stilts – but of the second biggest port city in Texas? That’s it. Of the city blocks of warehouses and businesses, the Morgan docks, the start of the railroad to San Antonio … nothing. There was a huge municipal ice-house, which after the second storm was floated across the bay and made into a residence. Other business owners moved their houses, or those salvagable parts of them to Cuero or Victoria.

    3. Smock Puppet, 10th Dan Snark Master and Gender Bïgǒt Says:

      You should tell the story of Galveston and the 1900 Storm, too. After the 1900 Hurricane, They filled in the entire town by a story — that is, the first floor of the town became the basements, and the second floor became the first floors by which people entered. They raised the entire island by 10-15 feet. Texans don’t think small, not even back then.

      Also, to put the loss of life in context, consider that it cost the lives of 6000 to 12000 people, in a nation of 76 million. To suffer the same percentages of loss today, the storm would have to kill 25000 to 50000 people.

    4. Smock Puppet, 10th Dan Snark Master and Gender Bïgǒt Says:

      }}} but much of the town is underwater.

      GASP !!! Proof of Global Warming!!!

      LOLZ.