Annals of Texas City
Port of Opportunity
By GRANT WHEATON
Texas City is a deep-water port with a landlocked harbor, on the sheltered western short of Galveston Bay. It is on the mainland of Texas, eleven miles from the Gulf of Mexico and about ten miles northwest and across the Bay from Galveston. Nautically speaking, it is at latitude 29°40’ north; longitude 95° West.
Texas City’s outer harbor, shared by Galveston, is 800 feet wide and over five miles long, extending from the Gulf of Mexico between two protective breakwaters to Bolivar Roads, the termini of the Texas City, Galveston and Houston channels, and an intersection with the Intra-Coastal Canal. The channel leading from Bolivar Roads to Texas City is 300 feet wide at bottom, six miles long and 34 Feet deep, well lighted and navigable day or night throughout the year. The inner harbor is 800 to 1100 feet wide at bottom, a mile long and 34 feet deep. Work has begun on a newly authorized depth of 36 Feet for the channel and harbor.
Easy of access from the Gulf of Mexico, behind a protecting chain of islands and Bolivar Peninsula, flanked by a gradual slope of coastal plain, and blessed with a salutary climate permitting year around activity, it is a natural setting for tidewater industries. To its geography it owes its existence.
Before the catastrophe of April 16, 1947, the population of the city was estimated at 15,000 to 18,000. Not incorporated until 1911, its population was only 2,509 in 1920; 3,534 in 1930; and 5,748 in 1940. World War
II greatly accelerated its growth, and only building restrictions and scarcity of materials has prevented a larger mushrooming. Sorely stricken by the recent disaster, bereft of many of her finest citizens, Texas City was abandoned by hundreds of the faint hearted, but even more hundreds are moving in to assist in building a greater Texas City.
Galveston County, in which Texas City lies, is among the oldest of the great state of Texas, having been created by the Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1838. History does not record the date when man first trod the stretch of high-bank on storied Galveston Bay that became the site of Texas City, but early Texas history was made on all sides.
The prehistoric Mound Builder Indians left mounds a scant fifty miles away. The cannibalistic Karankawa Tribes of Gulf Coast Indians must have camped here often on their nomadic rangings by canoe and dugout. They may have met here, conquered and dined on some of their Arkokisas neighbors who ranged just to the eastward. The Spanish explorer Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda passed this way cerca 1519, as he explored and mapped the Gulf Coast from Florida well into Mexico, raising the Spanish flag over Texas. Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and his men, cast up on Galveston Island in November, 1528, and enslaved by the Karankawas, quite possibly trod this ground before escaping to cross the continent. Rene Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle raised the flag of France over Texas when he landed at Galveston in 1685, before establishing Fort St. Louis on Lavaca Bay to the south and west.
The expedition led by Capt. Alonso de Leon, Spanish Governor of Coahuila, which set out in 1689 to find and destroy the French Fort St. Louis, found the fort abandoned and proceeded eastward to the Neches River, passed near by searching for the French invaders and reestablished the Spanish flag over Texas.
In 1777, Galveston Island was occupied for a time by the troops of Count Bernardo de Galvez, Governor General of the Spanish Province of Louisiana. It was in honor of this Spanish nobleman that the Island was named Galvez. In later years, the name was changed to Galveston and became the name of the town, the island on which it is situated, the bay to the north and west of the island, and the county in which lie the island, the city and most of the bay.
The patriots, corsairs and pirates who based at Galveston and in Galveston Bay, to privateer against the ships of Spain in the name of the revolting Mexicans, may have buried some of their treasure here. Indeed, as late as 1923, a party of treasure seekers dug for days on property now owned by Monsanto Chemical Company; then disappeared without divulging the result of their labors. Perhaps they were seeking gold buried by Don Luis Aury, whose twelve or fifteen vessels based on Galveston to scourge Spanish shipping from September 11, 1816, to April 16, 1817. Or by his contemporary, Cot Henry Perry, who based on Bolivar Peninsula across the Bay. Or by Jean Lafitte, who took possession of Galveston Island and Galveston Bay a few days after Aury and Perry sailed away together to invade Mexico. Lafitte operated a most successful privateering enterprise until chased out by the United States Navy in 1821.
Dr. James Long, of Natchez, Miss., constructed a small fort on Bolivar Peninsula in 1820, as a base of operations against Spain. Whether or not he was identified with the corsairs is not clear. After remaining a short time on Bolivar, Dr. “General” Long set out for Mexico with his expedition, leaving his wife, her child, a slave and a small force in the little fort.
History is silent as to how he made his way across the Bay; whether he braved the cannibalistic Karankawas who had returned to Galveston Island, or whether he crossed to the high bank where Texas City was to be. Months passed; the men left, but Mrs. (Jane Herbert Wilkinson) Long remained until news came that her husband had been assassinated in Mexico City, in 1822.
She settled among Austin’s colonists on the Brazes River, and for her part in later Texas history is sometimes referred to as “The Mother of Texas.”
One of Lafitte’s lieutenants, Jim Campbell, refused to follow Lafitte when he sailed away in 1821, and settled down on the mainland along Campbell’s Bayou, about two miles south of what is now Texas City. He
raised peaches, plums, figs and other fruits. Unquestionably, Jim Campbell and his son were early visitors to Texas City.
In 1822, the schooner Revenge, with eighty colonists from the United States, entered Galveston Bay and grounded on Red Fish Reef, a few miles east of Texas City. There the colonists left the vessel, to establish homes along Bolivar Peninsula and the Trinity River, under the Mexican flag which flew over Texas after Mexico secured her freedom from Spain in 1821.
So many vessels followed the Revenge into Galveston Bay that Mexico established a customs house at Anahuac, at the mouth of the Trinity River, about 35 miles northeast of Texas City. A former American who had become a Mexican officer, Col. John D. Bradburn aroused the resentment of the surrounding colonists by interfering with their plans for acquiring titles to lands they had claimed as squatters and by arresting several colonists, including William Barrett Travis. On July 13, 1832, a small force of American colonists attacked the town and secured Bradburn’s promise to release the prisoners.
Although only a few shots were fired at Anahuac, it was the first actual engagement of the growing Texas Mexican controversy over inconsistent Mexican policies toward the colonists which resulted from the series of revolutions of 1821-1835.
General Lopez de Santa Anna led one of these revolutions, and became President of Mexico in early 1883. Early in 1835, he sent a company of soldiers to Anahuac to assist in the collection of duties. A force of colonists under Travis marched on the town and forced the Mexicans to surrender their arms and leave for San Antonio.
On April 20, 1836, the Schooner Flash, of the little Texas Navy hurriedly brought provisional President David G. Burnet and his entire Cabinet from Harrisburg across Galveston Bay to the little village of Galveston. They were fleeing from the Mexican Army under Santa Anna, sweeping through Texas after his force of 3,000 had taken the Alamo by storm and killed every one of its 183 defenders, including the same Travis, only four days after Texas had declared her independence on March 2, 1836. General Sam Houston, with less than 800 men, routed the Mexican Army of 1600 and captured Santa Anna on April 21, 1836, at San Jacinto, just 20 miles from Texas City, establishing the flag of the Republic of Texas.
About 1848, a Judge Jones brought his slaves from Virginia and established Austinia, a Sea Island cotton plantation, where Texas City now is. One of the first Sea Island cotton crops was grown here in the fifties.
The Galveston Bay area had little historic pan in the events which led to Texas’ joining the Union in 1846, and the raising of the flag of the United States of America over Texas, or in secession from the Union and the raising of the Confederate flag in 1861. But during the Civil War, Galveston became the most important city in the State. It was the port of entry through which flowed supplies and was a great market for cotton. From Galveston and Galveston Bay operated the improvised warships such as the Morgan Line side wheeler General Rush and the Schooner Royal Yacht.
On October 4, 1862, Galveston was captured by the Federal forces, the Confederates having withdrawn hastily to Virginia Point, three miles south of Austinia (Texas City). At Austinia, the Confederate forces built concrete barracks of sand, shell and cement, which stood until a storm destroyed them in 1875.
Confederate Military and Naval forces, with cotton-bale-clad steamers, under General J. Bankhead Magruder, recaptured Galveston on January 1, 1863. It was held by the Confederates until General Gordon Granger landed on June 18, 1865, to take command of Texas, after the fall of the Confederacy, and to raise again the flag of the United States over Texas.
From the earliest days of Anglo-American colonization of Texas, Galveston Bay has served as a roadway for ships. Ships followed the natural Half Moon Channel which swept through Half Moon Reef and near to the west shore of the Bay. An oyster reef, called Shoal Point, projecting into Galveston Bay where Texas City’s Dike or breakwater is now, constituted a hazard to navigation of Half Moon Channel. The Government erected a lighthouse to mark Shoal Point. This lighthouse and the cottage of J. A. Muse, the lighthouse keeper, was the nucleus of what is now Texas City.
On May 2, 1878, a, post office was established at Shoal Point, with Susan B. White as postmistress. Mail was received from and dispatched to Galveston by sailboat.
In the fall of 1891, Jacob R., Henry H., and Benjamin F. Myers, experienced shipping men from the Great Lakes, visited Galveston on a pleasure trip. They crossed over to Shoal Point to hunt on the Mainland, and recognized the potential advantages of a port terminal on the protected mainland shore of Galveston Bay. They formulated tentative plans for a completely landlocked inner harbor in the vicinity of Shoal Point, only four hours by horse and buggy from Galveston. Shoal Point then consisted of a few scattered houses atop a blunt projection of highland, a little log school east of 5th Avenue, North, where the golf links of the Texas City Country Club now lie, and a population of some fifty souls, including the Wedell, Munson, Roth, Muse and Wetzel families. The principal occupations of the inhabitants were truck farming, fishing and cattle raising. Lighthouse keeper Muse was then also the Postmaster.
In the spring of 1892, the brothers Myers, with Captain A. B. Wolvin of Duluth, Minnesota, formed a small syndicate. Operating under the name of Myers Brothers, the syndicate began acquiring property around Shoal Point.
The Post Office at Shoal Point was discontinued on October 28, 1892. Postmaster Muse closed and abandoned it because the Post office Department refused to supply him with firewood.
Myers Brothers sent an engineering party to survey their holdings and lay out the townsite, railroad tracks, and port facilities. To make the survey, it was necessary to cross the lands of Mr. Muse, who had publicly announced he would shoot the first man to trespass on his property. The engineer in charge of the survey was shot to death as he came through a fence onto the Muse property, but Mr. Muse was acquitted of the charge of murder after a long and costly trial.
The Myers Brothers Syndicate did not consider “Shoal Point” a name appropriate to a large port and city such as they planned. Inspired by the great state of Texas, they selected the name Texas City. In March of 1893, an application for the Post Office of Texas City, Texas, was filed. On March 23, the U. S. Government granted to Myers Brothers, of Duluth, Minnesota, permission to dredge an 8-foot channel from Bolivar Roads to Texas City. April 1, 1893, the syndicate secured a charter for the Texas City Improvement Company, and turned over to it about 10,000 acres of land. On May 11, 1893, the Post Office of Texas City was established in the Davison-Gonne Grocery Store at Texas Avenue and Bay Street, with the late Frank B. Davison as Postmaster.
On May 17, 1893, the first townsite plat was filed by Texas City Improvement Company, being that of Texas City First Division, Blocks 1 to 84. The company constructed a four-mile railroad connecting Texas City with the historic Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railroad Company at Texas City Junction, and built a wooden, trestlelike pier bearing a single track, extending into the water of Galveston Bay. This first pier accommodated small bay craft and lighters. From it, freight was lightered to ocean going vessels waiting in the Gulf of Mexico. The first rail-and-water shipment was handled over this pier in September, 1894. To accommodate visitors and bachelor personnel, the Texas City Improvement Company also constructed a large seventy-room hotel, called the Southern Hotel. For many years, it was the social center of the little city. It stood on the corner of Texas Avenue and Third Street until torn down after being badly damaged in a storm in July, 1943.
The first townsite lots were offered on terms of one third down and the balance to become due and payable whenever a vessel drawing ten feet of water should dock at the Texas City wharf. This was to evidence the sincerity and the determination of the developers to build a real port.
The plat of Texas City Second Division was filed for record on March 8, 1895, increasing the townsite by Blocks 91 to 250, comprising 2,314 lots.
On April 24, 1895, the U. S. Government granted permission to increase the depth of the Texas City channel to 16 feet. This project was completed June 1, 1896, at the expense of Texas City Improvement Company, and costing $146,000.
June 11, 1895, Inman & Company acquired some ten acres of land just north of the present grain elevator, and in the same year began shipping cotton through the Port of Texas City, having constructed galvanized iron on wood frame sheds, and a wharf forming the north side of what later became known as the Main Slip. They soon changed the name to Inman Dock and Terminal Company. The old Inman Wharf was wrecked about 1910 to make way for the construction of Texas City Terminal Warehouse “A.” One of the old Inman cotton sheds finally degenerated into a garage for tractors before it was destroyed in the 1943 storm.
Also in the fall of 1895, Texas City Compress Company erected the first cotton compress at Texas City, on a small tract where the grain elevator now is. This company failed the next year.
February 4, 1896, Texas City Mill and Elevator Company acquired a small tract of land just south of the Muse homestead, about where the Seatrain Yard Tracks now are. A four-story frame flour mill was erected, but operated only a short time before going into receivership June 8, 1897.
Possibly even before the Myers Brothers had planned Texas City, a rival group of Minneapolis capitalists had conceived a similar and even more ambitious project at North Galveston, where San Leon is now located, for a port and a railroad extending to Kansas City. On June 24, 1892, they incorporated the North Galveston, Houston and Kansas City Railroad Company. The company went into receivership in 1894 and its properties were acquired by the Galveston, La Porte & Houston. In 1897 the latter completed a 16-mile railroad to Virginia Point, crossing Texas City Improvement Company’s railroad at Texas City Junction. On April 27, 1899, the Southern Pacific System acquired the Galveston, LaPorte & Houston and most of its railroad is still operated by the Southern Pacific, the right-of-way forming the west boundary line of the Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation and the most westerly west line of the corporate limits of Texas City.
Among the early settlers attracted by Texas City Improvement Company were the F. B. Davison, M. F. Hughes, George Whitney, William Gonne, W, K. Wiley, H. M. Coats, W. C. Burchfield, and K. H. Tinlin families. Coming from Michigan and other northern states, some of these families organized Texas City’s first church, the Methodist Episcopal Church, North. Later a building was erected on the northeast corner of Third Avenue, North, and North Third Street, which housed this denomination until it united with the southern branch and joined in erecting the beautiful church on North Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue, North, now in use. The original building was bought by Texas City Post No. 89, American Legion, and was used as the Legion Home for several years. This building was irreparably damaged in the 1947 disaster.
Of these early settlers, Mrs. M. F. Hughes, Mr. and Mrs. W. R. Wiley, and Mrs. H. M. Coats still live in Texas City. Donald and George Davison, sons of the F. B. Davisons, were operating a grocery store on Texas Avenue near Third Street at the time of the disaster, when the building was demolished. Mrs. J. P. Jones, Mrs. Henry Kilgore and Mrs. O. C. McClintock, daughters of the Davisons, live in Texas City.
Texas City Improvement Company encountered and surmounted many hardships, but the development of the city and port proved too great an undertaking. On December 7, 1897, the company failed. Its property was sold at a receiver’s sale to Jacob L. Greatsinger, of Duluth, acting for some of the larger stockholders. Salvaging what they could of the wreckage of the original company, they organized two new companies. On February 4, 1899, charters were granted to Texas City Terminal Company, which acquired the railroad property, and to the Texas City Company, which acquired some 3,000 city lots and 3,200 acres of land.
The 16 foot channel having proved inadequate to attract shipping, Capt. Wolvin induced the adoption of the channel project by the U. S. Government. By a bill adopted March 3, 1899, Texas City channel was adopted as a Government rivers and harbors project, with an authorized depth of 25 feet and bottom width of 100 feet. $250,000 was appropriated for the work. Actual dredging work in the project was not started until July 28, 1900. On September 8, 1900, the dredge was washed ashore by the disastrous hurricane that swept Galveston. It was not until March 19, 1905, that the 25-foot channel and harbor was actually completed at a cost of $250,000 to the Government and $338,000 to the Texas City Terminal Company.
Texas City Independent School District began the erection of Central School in 1901, a two-room wooden structure on Third Ave., North, between North Fifth and Sixth Streets, on a portion of the site now occupied by Central High School.
In 1903, the Texas City Company prepared to handle ocean going steamships and their cargoes by constructing shedded Pier “B” and land warehouse No. 1. These wooden frame structures were completed in 1904.
On May 24, 1904, the Texas City Transportation Company was organized and purchased from the Texas City Company 1200 acres of land and all dock, wharf, warehouses and harbor improvement. On the same date, it purchased from the Texas City Terminal Company all its railroad and other properties. The Texas City Terminal Company continued to operate the railroad properties, under a lease agreement. A passenger and freight depot was erected on the block between North Fifth and Sixth streets on First Avenue North, convenient to the growing town. This old depot building is now incorporated in the structure housing the Royal Café, on North Third Street and First Avenue, North.
The first ocean going steamship, the SS Piqua, navigated the nearly completed channel and tied up at Warehouse “B” on September 20, 1904, bringing a cargo of sisal from Mexico. A total of 12 vessels handled 8,712 tons of cargoes through the port in 1904.
With the completion of the 25-foot channel in 1905, the U. S. Customs Service established a branch Custom House at Texas City, recognizing Texas City as a world port. The first Texas City Custom House was a small, one-room wood-frame structure located near the main slip. In 1914, the Deputy Collector moved into the two-story office building owned by the Texas City Transportation Company, which was located between the main slip and the grain elevator, where the Custom House remained until 1932, when it was moved to its present location in the Federal Post Office Building.
Eighty-seven vessels handled 76,007 tons of cargoes through the port of Texas City during 1905, its first full year of operation. The First Baptist Church was organized in 1905, with five charter members. At present, this is one of the largest congregations in Texas City churches.
In 1907, the Texas City Terminal Railway was extended two miles to connect with the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway. All six of the rail lines serving Galveston thus were also connected with the water front terminal at Texas City.
Texas City acquired its first major industry when the Texas City Refining Company purchased on July 1, 1908, the site on which was constructed what was then considered a large and complete oil refinery, one of the earliest in Texas. Some of the original buildings are still in use on the several times enlarged site now occupied by the Sid Richardson Refining Co.
The 208 vessels and the 180,000 tons of cargoes dispatched through the port in 1909 severely strained the capacity of the port facilities. The Texas City Transportation Company issued $2,000,000 in bonds and began a large program of expansion, increasing yard trackage, building additional piers, warehouses, a grain elevator, an electric power plant, and the three-story office building later known as the Board of Trade Building, now the Mainland Building. The main line of the railroad was extended to a newly erected larger freight and passenger depot on Tenth Avenue North, and North Tenth Street. The Artesian Ice and Cold Storage Company erected a modern refrigerating and cold storage plant near the depot, one block south of their present plant. The Consolidated Mexican-American Steamship Company and Wolvin Line were operating five steamers regularly between Texas City and Mexico, Central and South American ports. The Texas City Steamship Company was operating seven American steamships From Texas City to Brunswick, Georgia, and New York City. Texas City boasted some 1500 inhabitants.
A new electric interurban railway between Galveston and Houston had just begun to operate. The passenger trains of the Texas City Terminal Company met each interurban. It was but a forty-minute trip to Galveston (14 miles) and two hours to Houston (50 miles).
The construction of a new depot in a location then outside of the platted townsite did not meet with the approval of the inhabitants who had bought lots and built houses and business enterprises in the First and Second Divisions. It was well known that the development intended only to enhance the value of a proposed extension of the city. Before automobiles were common, a mile made a lot of difference. Discussion and agitation did not result in action until the new depot was nearly completed and a new track ready for the first train, when some of the indignant citizens traveled to Galveston and obtained an injunction against the abandonment of the old depot and the use of the new. Word reached the Terminal Company that a temporary injunction had been granted and would be served on the company the following morning. During the night, the contents of the old depot were loaded into box cars. To the astonishment of the citizens, when morning dawned even the railroad track leading to the old depot was gone, and the new depot was open for business.
August 18, 1910, the U. S. Government advertised for bids to redredge the channel, deepen it to 27 feet, and widen it to 200 feet on the bottom. The platted area of the town-site was enlarged by filing for record on September 17, 1910, the plat of Texas City Third Division, Blocks 251 to 350, comprising 1560 lots. Late in that year, the Texas City Company began a $400,000 project to provide Texas City with electric power, electric lights, water and sewers. The first electric service in the townsite was supplied the three-story Mainland Building in November, 1910, then occupied by the various development companies.
St. Mary’s Church, Roman Catholic, was organized as a mission in 1910, although the first Mass in Texas City was said about 1900. The church building was badly damaged in the 1943 storm. The present beautiful church was erected in 1944.
The plat of Kohfeldt’s First Addition to Texas City was filed for record October 21, 1910.
The Texas City National Rank was founded in 1911. In March of 1911, the Texas City Electric Light and Water Company and Texas City Sewerage Company were chartered, and took over the utilities. Power was supplied from the power plant operated by the Texas City Transportation Company at the docks. In the period 1910-1912, the Texas City Company shelled streets and constructed sidewalks and curbs along Sixth Street and Ninth Tenth and Eleventh Avenues, North.
Texas City became a city in fact in 1911. After a short, spirited campaign, an election was held on September 16, 1911, and the City of Texas City was incorporated under the commission form of government, with William P. Tarpey as Mayor, and H. M. Coats and Frank B. Davison as the two Commissioners. The Corporate City of Texas City may be said to have had its birth in the old, two-story wooden building at 16 North Fourth Street, later known as the I. L. A. Hall, then the only building in town with a hall large enough to accommodate a citizens’ meeting. This old building once served as a school, and housed many gatherings, including church meetings, celebrations of many kinds, and public dances. It was so badly damaged as a result of the explosions of April 16-17, 1947, that it was condemned and Texas City has lost this old landmark,
The Presbyterians organized a church in 1912. Later, they erected a building on North Third Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, North. They disbanded in 1930, and the church building was sold to the Church of Christ, still occupying it. In 1941, the First Presbyterian Church was reorganized and the present fine church on North Seventh Street between Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues, North, was erected.
Using the proceeds of bonds voted in 1910, the Texas City Independent School District completed in 1912 Kohfeldt Elementary School between South Fourteenth and Fifteenth Streets on First Avenue, South, on a site donated by Franz Kohfeldt, and Wolvin School at North Third Street and Sixth Avenue, North, on a site donated by Captain A. B. Wolvin, The Kohfeldt School was abandoned in 1939. In 1941-42 it was used by the Army Combat team sent to protect Texas City soon after Pearl Harbor. Later, the Texas State Guards used the buildings as an armory. Until 1928, the Wolvin High School Auditorium offered the only stage in town for amateur or professional shows, musicales, and similar entertainments.
The year 1912 was not a happy one for the developers of Texas City, although commerce through the port grew to 396 vessels handling 464,201 tons of cargoes, including 742,841 bales of cotton. The Texas City Terminal Company, operating as an originating and participating line haul carrier, had been in an enviable position. It demanded and received a nice share of the freight revenue for each car of freight moved over its line. The Texas City Transportation Company, operating the wharves and warehouses, offered the use of its port facilities free of charge to all steamships, thereby insuring a constant and steady growth of the port. The port of Galveston, across the Bay, offered no such inducements to steamship operators. Galveston Wharf Company decided it must cease to be a switching carrier. It published tariffs having the effect of declaring itself a participating line haul carrier, putting itself in the position to offer its port facilities free of charge to steamships. The railroads serving Galveston protested to the Interstate Commerce Commission. Galveston then brought the Texas City interests into the proceeding. After lengthy hearings in which at times the shadow of Leavenworth Prison loomed over the Texas City port officials, the Commission denied the Galveston Wharf Company proposal and ordered the Texas City interests to cease their previous practices. In the orders, the Commission declared the Texas City Terminal Company a switching carrier and fixed the switching charge for handling freight cars to and from its connecting lines. This forced the collection of wharfage and dockage from steamships and deprived the port of Texas City of its advantage which had made it the fourth largest cotton port in the world.
Early in 1912, the Texas City Street Railway Company was incorporated and on June 11, 1912, the city granted it a franchise. By the end of 1913, street car service was established over about 33 miles of track, from the uptown passenger depot at Tenth Avenue, North, and North Tenth Street to the wharves, to the north end of Sixth Street at Eighteenth Avenue, North, and on Eighth Avenue, North, to a connection with several passenger and freight boat lines then operating across the Bay between Galveston and Texas City.
Friction between the United States and Mexico develops during the revolution which followed the overthrow of General Porfirio Diaz, and the depredations of Pancho Villa. On February 26, 1913, the first contingent of the Second Division of the United States Regular Army arrived in Texas City by train during an extremely wet and disagreeable norther. A total of nearly 10,000 men, about 3,000 animals and eight of the Army’s 12 airplanes encamped under canvas north and west of the town, in readiness to go to Mexico if necessary. Sixth Street (Texas City’s Main Street) took on the aspect of the midway of a fair, with every device and pleasure available to catch the soldier’s dollar.
The first aviation combat unit ever organized in the United States, the First Provisional Aero Squadron, was activated at Texas City in 1913. A Lieutenant Milling and a Lieutenant Sherman flew a 70-horsepower Lewis Tractor from Texas City to Houston and back in the Army’s first cross country flight. On March 28, 1913, these two pioneers flew all the way to San Antonio to set a new American endurance record of four hours and 32 minutes. Lieutenants (World War II Generals) H. H. Arnold and Lewis H. Brereton were among the young officers in this squadron under Captain C. de F. Chandler.
The aviation unit moved to San Diego in June, 1913, but the Second Division remained at Texas City until November, 1915, a total of 32 months. During this encampment, the troops established the best health record theretofore known to military history in such an encampment.
St. George’s Episcopal Church was organized in 1913 as a mission, with an Army chaplain serving as priest in charge. The present church was completed in 1922.
Texas City Volunteer Fire Department, organized in 1912, was equipped with its first automatic fire truck in 1913, a secondhand Haines.
In 1913, Congress increased the Texas City channel project to a depth of 30 feet, 300 feet wide, and provided for a covered pile dike to protect the channel, appropriating $1,400,000 for the work. The dike, or breakwater, had long been urged by the late Colonel H. B. Moore, to protect the channel from silting and cross currents, especially the old Half Moon Channel current which swept across the Texas City Channel. He advanced the theory that not only would the dike cheapen the maintenance of the Texas City Channel, but it would also divert and direct the waters of the San Jacinto River, Buffalo Bayou and the tidewater into the Houston Ship Channel, to scour the channel and Bolivar Roads, In fact, the Texas City Dike or breakwater has done just that, serving to protect and decrease the cost of maintaining the Texas City, Galveston and Houston Channels. Actual work of enlarging the channel and constructing the dike got under way April 21, 1914.
Business through the port in 1914 reached a new high of 422 vessels and 856,162 tons of cargoes, but for the next three years the tide receded rapidly. Beginning almost with the outbreak of World War I on July 28, 1914, there was a decline in commerce through all Gulf ports, due principally to the diversion of nearly all available vessels to the handling of war materials routed through northern ports.
July 13, 1915, Texas City Company reorganized and conveyed all of its property to a new corporation, The Texas City Company.
On August 16, 1915, a severe Gulf hurricane swept over Galveston and brought considerable damage to Texas City. The most severe loss of Texas City port facilities was a six-ton capacity traveling electric bridge crane which broke from its moorings and toppled off its rails, a complete wreck. The storm destroyed both ends of the old causeway connecting Galveston Island to the mainland, carrying away the railroad and interurban tracks. Chief Engineer C. A. Stephens of the Texas City developing companies was a passenger on the interurban which stalled on the causeway during the storm. He lost his life, as did most of the passengers in the car.
The day after the storm, the Texas City port facilities resumed operation, and until railroad service into Galveston could be restored, Texas City handled Galveston’s shipping, which included the Morgan Line and Mallory Line coastwise vessels. For days after the storm, most of Galveston’s foodstuffs and supplies reached her over Texas City wharves and by way of gasoline launches, barges and other bay craft.
The soldiers moved from Texas City beginning November 1, 1915, and many business and pleasure establishments, which had mushroomed into being in 1913, began to wither or move away.
On May 12, 1916, the Texas City channel was completed to 30 feet of water, 800 feet wide. In 1916, business through the port retrogressed almost to its 1907 level. The oil refinery, then owned by Pierce Fordyce Oil Association, was the only bright spot in the picture.
1917 was even worse. Only 97 vessels handled 285,651 tons of cargoes through the port. Nearly half the houses and business buildings in Texas City were vacant. The Trinity and Brazos Valley Railroad went into receivership and withdrew service to Galveston and Texas City. Later, the Galveston, Houston & Henderson Railroad ceased to operate their own trains between Houston and Galveston.
On May 31, 1918, the Street railway service was discontinued, although the trolley wires and tracks were not removed until about 1923. The port facilities continued to stagnate until August 29, 1918, when the
U. S. Grain Corporation started a heavy movement of grain through the Texas City elevator to Europe. On September 7, a large movement of sisal from Yucatan, Mexico, began. This movement continued for five years, until the demand for binder twine dwindled with the growing use of harvesting combines, and changes in the freight rate structures growing out of the Government sponsored Mississippi River barge service attracted the remaining movement.
A large quantity of sulphur began to move through the port on May 26, 1919. During 1919, the Humble Oil and Refining Company erected a large tank farm at Texas City. A new 600-foot oil wharf was erected to accommodate them, for which they advanced the money to be repaid by the Texas City Terminal Company out of revenue from the wharf.
Despite the new business attracted to the port in 1919, the strain of the lean years had been too much for the developing companies. On March 16, 1920, the bondholders foreclosed and Texas City Transportation Company entered receivership. Not long thereafter, The Texas City Company also went into receivership.
March 20, 1920, the Vacuum Oil Company leased 169 acres, a part of the present Pan American holdings, and erected a large tank farm terminal for crude oil. Also they arranged for the exclusive use of Warehouse “E.” For many years thereafter they distributed refined oils to the southwest from a large stock maintained in Warehouse “E,” brought down by tankers which took crude oil back to their Bayonne, New Jersey, refinery.
A commentary on the changing times was the establishment, May 1, 1920, of an automobile “jitney” service between Texas City and Galveston, promising an hourly service from 6:00 A.M. to midnight. The fare was 50c each way, and the route was from the dock café, later known as Frank’s Café (demolished in the explosion), along Third Street, Ninth Avenue North, Sixth Street, Texas Avenue, South Ninth Street, Ninth Avenue South, South Eleventh Street and along the old County Road to Broadway in Galveston, thence to 24th Street, Church Street, and to the old Tremont Hotel, which stood on Tremont and Church streets. Returning, the route was Tremont to Broadway and thence over the same route. The equipment consisted of Ford Model T touring cars equipped with side curtains, and electric klaxons which were sounded almost continuously from the docks in Texas City to the last Street in West End.” Passengers often sat on each other, and on the doors. Trips usually were not made when a tour of the city produced no passengers, or when only one or two showed up at the Tremont Hotel in Galveston.
The Texas City Terminal Railway Company was incorporated January 13, 1921, and took over the properties formerly owned and operated by the Texas City Transportation Company and Texas City Terminal Company.
In late 1921 and early 1922, the Mills Bennett interests erected a small oil refinery now owned and operated by the Stone Oil Company.
The Mainland Company was incorporated in 1922 and took over the properties of the Texas City Company. The Mainland Company remained closely allied with the Texas City Terminal Railway Company until 1926.
Marland Refining Company came to Texas City in 1923, erecting the large 1,285,000 barrel capacity tank farm and oil terminal now operated by the Southport-Republic Terminal Company. On April 15, 1923, the Texas Sugar Refining Company began a $5,000,000 sugar refinery just north of the north slip, on 30 acres of land acquired from the Texas City Terminal Railway Company. This refinery, with a capacity of 1,200,000 pounds of refined sugar daily, was completed February 16, 1924, and began operation about May 1. It boasted the tallest industrial smokestack in the state. For six years it was Texas City’s largest industry.
Also 1923 witnessed the beginning of the Knox Process Corporation, with a new idea for manufacturing gasoline. They erected a small pilot plant near the Pan American plant. After several years of financial difficulties and experiments, including attempts to perfect a cheap method of extracting oil from Australian shale, this plant was sold to the Stone Oil Company.
During 1925 and 1926, concrete paving was laid on North Sixth Street between Texas Avenue and Eleventh Avenue North, on Texas Avenue from Third Street to Sixth Street, and 1½ blocks of North Third Street. Ornamental white-way street lamps were installed at the same time.
Proceeds of the same bond issue were used to construct the present City Hall and auditorium. Prior to that time, the City Hall was the little wood frame building at 416 Fifth Avenue, North, which also housed the fire truck.
With the spurt of rapid expansion and the more dignified appearance of the city, some of Texas City’s hardworking businessmen felt the need for relaxation and organized in 1926 the Seaside Golf Club. A nine hole course, with sand greens, was constructed on the land leased from the Texas City Terminal Railway Company and the Mainland Company. Early in 1947 the name of the club was changed to the Texas City Country Club; the club now boasts grass greens.
In 1926, Missouri-Kansas-Texas Lines purchased the capital stock of the Texas City Terminal Railway Company, subject to the approval of the Interstate Commerce Comission. The Commission in its decision required that equal shares of stock be offered to all of the railroads serving Texas City.
The Santa Fe and Missouri Pacific Lines accepted one third each.
On August 28, 1927, the original wood frame Pier “B” shed and wharf, erected in 1904, was destroyed in the water fronts first disastrous fire. A larger, modern, two-story, fireproof, concrete sprinkler protected warehouse was erected on the site in 1929. Interlocking steel sheet piling replaced the destroyed, wooden bulkhead, and a concrete slab deck on creosoted piling replaced the old wharf. The grain elevator was modernized and equipped with enclosed spark proof motors and a conveyor gallery capable of delivering 40,000 bushels of grain an hour to vessels, with space provided for doubling this capacity. Sprinklers also were installed in all other warehouses whose construction made such protection feasible. These improvements were completed in 1929, and resulted in a considerable reduction in the insurance rates on the port facilities.
During 1927, the electric water and sewer facilities, including the power plant machinery then owned and operated by the Texas City Terminal Railway Company, were purchased by Texas-Louisiana Power Company. The Power Company operated the machinery in the power house for about a year while they erected a new Diesel plant at Ninth Avenue North and North Ninth Street. When the large power plant near Houston was constructed some time later, the Power Company arranged to purchase its power and abandoned its own plant Natural gas for commercial fuel and domestic use was turned into the Texas City service mains in 1927 when the Gulf Cities Natural Gas Company installed their distribution system.
Central High School was erected in 1928, and Wolvin High School was used for an elementary school.
The Texas Sugar Refining Company went into receivership in 1928, but soon reorganized and resumed operating under a contract with the American Sugar Refining Company. Texas City’s seawall was built in 1928, as a further bulwark against tidewater resulting from tropical storms.
Following the removal of the soldiers in 1915, passenger service between Texas City, Texas City Junction and the hourly Galveston-Houston Interurban was curtailed to eleven round trips daily. A gasoline-powered
McKeen Motor Car was purchased by the Texas City Terminal Company, to replace the coaches and steam engine. The motor car was operated by two men, instead of five required for the steam engine. Passenger service declined rapidly in the general slump of business during World War I. On October 15, 1916, service was further reduced to seven round trips daily. With the growing popularity of the automobile, passenger revenue continued to decline, and on September 28, 1919, the service was cut to three round trips daily. A one man motor car, constructed in the Terminal Company’s shops, a large automobile truck on flanged wheels, replaced the McKeen car. The new car, less expensive to operate, was affectionately known to its makers as “The Molly-O,” but many derisively called it the “Galloping Goose.” In 1925, the car barn on Eighth Avenue North, just west of Tenth Street, burned, together with the ‘Molly-O”; all was completely consumed in a mysterious night fire. A new motor car was constructed from a GMC truck by C. Jim Stewart and Stevenson, Houston. Finally, the service was curtailed to one round trip daily, handling express and an occasional passenger. The passenger and express service was operated at a loss for many years, and on February 28, 1930, the little motor coach made its last noisy trip.
In 1931, in spite of a growing, world-wide depression, the Republic Oil Refining Company, a Benedum-Trees subsidiary, constructed at Texas City the first unit of a refinery that has enjoyed a steady growth until it now has a refining capacity of about 35,000 barrels daily, 1,250,000 barrels of storage capacity and an investment of about $16,000,000. The Burlington Lines and the Rock Island Lines acquired the Trinity and Brazos Valley Railroad through a jointly owned subsidiary, the Burlington-Rock Island Railroad Company, and began operating into Texas City and Galveston. The Pan American people began negotiating for a site. The U. S. Government enlarged Texas City harbor by widening it from 300 feet to 800 feet, extending it 1,000 feet to the southward, and began strengthening Texas City Dike or breakwater by a rubble mound along the south side of it.
Also in 1931, the Post Office Department began the present Federal Building, housing the Post Office, Customs Office, and other Government agencies. It was completed in 1932 at a cost of $80,000. Soon after the inauguration of Republican President McKinley in 1897, the late George T. Whitney became the second postmaster of Texas City. He moved the Post Office across the street from the Davison-Gonne Grocery, to a location on Texas Avenue, between First and Second streets. Later, Postmaster Whitney and Dr. R. L. Jennings opened a drug store on Second Street between First Avenue South and Texas Avenue, and the Post Office was moved to that building. Next it was located in the original Old Corner Drug Store on the northeast corner of Third Street and First Avenue North. From there it was moved to larger quarters in the Harlow Building, now the Sterling Building, on Sixth Street and Fifth Avenue North, when the late H. M. Coats became postmaster, soon after the election of President Wilson. K A. Newman was postmaster when the present Post Office was built, but was succeeded by T. A. Bynum after President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected.
Texas City’s sugar refinery succumbed to the depression of 1932. The Pan American announced their decision to build their projected refinery near Houston. After manufacturing only greases for a number of years, the oil refinery now owned by Sid Richardson Oil Refining Co., then owned by the Sinclair Refining Company, had ceased to operate. The business outlook for Texas City seemed gloomy. Again vacant houses became no novelty.
On June 5, 1933, Texas City was electrified by an announcement that the Pan American Refining Corporation had abandoned its project near Houston and had decided to build at Texas City a 25,000 barrel daily capacity refinery, at a cost of eight to ten million dollars. In August it acquired the tank farm of the Vacuum Oil Company. No official figures have been released for many years, but the capacity of this plant now is in the neighborhood of 135,000 barrels daily, refining, and some 6,000,000 barrels of storage, and the investment of about $50,000,000.
In May, 1935, a huge export movement of scrap iron began and soon taxed the Capacity of the port, due to a growing world demand, much of it going into armaments for World War II. Mountains of scrap iron grew in every available spot and even extended along the main line of the Terminal Railway. Most of this scrap iron was exported to Europe and the United Kingdom, but large shipments went to Japan.
In January, 1935, a group of East Texas independent oil men bought the Sinclair Refinery and rehabilitated it, beginning operations about November 15. Under the new owners and their successors, it has continued to expand until it now has a capacity estimated at about 25,000 barrels, a storage capacity of about 1500,000 barrels, and an investment of around $12,000,000. Originally owned by the Texas City Refining Company, it was acquired by Waters-Pierce Oil Company about 1909. Waters-Pierce Oil Company was ousted from Texas in a suit brought by Attorney General M. M. Crane about 1897. A second suit was brought by Attorney General D. V. Dawson in 1906, against the reorganized Waters-Pierce Oil Company. About 1912, following the final outcome of the second ouster suit, which resulted in the assessment of a fine of $1,623,000, the PierceFordyce Oil Association succeeded to the Texas property of the Waters-Pierce, including the Texas City refinery. In January, 1918, Pierce Oil Corporation entered Texas and took over the property. This corporation was reorganized as the Pierce Petroleum Corporation in May, 1924. June 30, 1930, Sinclair Refining Company absorbed the Pierce Petroleum Corporation, acquiring the Texas City refinery. The East Texas operators organized an Independent Terminal Co., Inc., Southport Petroleum Co. and The Petrotex Company, handling the terminaling, manfacturing and selling operations. In July, 1959, the Southport Petroleum Co. of Delaware absorbed these corporations. In July, 1945, the latter corporation changed its name to American Liberty Oil Co. March 1, 1947 the Sid Richardson Refining Co. acquired the property.
In 1936, Texas City building permits for homes and mercantile buildings reached a high unequalled in many years, 107 buildings to cost $182,295. Texas City’s Company B of the 15th Battalion, U. S. Marine Corps Reserve was organized September 16, 1936.
The City of Texas City purchased the sewer system in 1987. Building permits jumped to 185 buildings totalling $263,320.
During 1937-38, the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company erected the present already outgrown exchange, which also housed the business office, and converted the old crank to start telephone to a lift the receiver self starting system. The Sterling (Harlow) Building had housed the telephone exchange for many years after it had outgrown its first small, one operator exchange in tile Mainland Building.
To alleviate serious overcrowding in the schools and to improve the system, five new school buildings were erected in 1938 Danforth and the Heights Elementary Schools, the High School Gymnasium, a Home Economics Building, and a Manual Training Building.
Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation, a subsidiary of Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation, acquired its Texas City site in 1938, but construction did not get under way until May, 1940. This $10,000,000 plant began operations May 21, 1941, but was not fully completed until July, 1944. It manufactures a wide variety of synthetic organic chemicals, including alcohol, from refinery gases supplied by the Pan American Refining Corporation. In 1945, a $15,000,000 expansion program got under way, which will require at least three years to complete and will make this one of the largest chemical plants in America.
Seatrain Lines, Inc. commenced construction on a $400,000 terminal at Texas City in 1939. This terminal was completed March 1, 1940, and operations began March 29, when the Seatrain New Orleans docked. During the same month, tile Seatrain Texas and the Seatrain New Jersey were launched. These two vessels were constructed especially for the Texas City-New York service. The Seatrain Texas arrived on her maiden voyage May 30, 1940, and on July 18, 1940, with the arrival of the Seatrain New Jersey, weekly service was inaugurated and continued until June 26, 1941, when the U. S. Maritime Commission took over the Seatrain New Jersey for conversion in preparation for national defense. Service was then reduced to semiweekly, which continued until January 27, 1942, with the last sailing of the Seatrain Texas. On arrival at New York, she was taken over for defense service and distinguished herself in the war.
A heavy snow blanketed the city and county on January 21, 1940. Hanlon-Buchanan, Inc., erected a natural gasoline terminal during 1940. This company merged with the Warren Petroleum Corporation in April, 1946. Also, in 1940, the Southwestern Sugar and Molasses Company erected a small molasses terminal from which is distributed molasses for feeding cattle. Much of it comes from Cuba by small molasses tanker. It is shipped out by tank cars and trucks to all parts of Texas. Located near the slip in which the Grand Camp exploded, this terminal was completely destroyed April 16, 1947.
During the period of 1935-40, commerce through the Port of Texas City grew steadily greater. In 1940, 3907 vessels handled 13,441,248 tons of cargoes through the port, and the Port of Texas City reached fourth place among Texas ports, having been exceeded only by Houston, Beaumont and Port Arthur.
For Texas City, the year 1941 was one of feverish preparation for the coming war. Early in 1941, the Metals Reserve Company began negotiations for a tin smelter site. Even before the details of the transaction were completed, the Dutch Motorship Pericles arrived April 25, 1941, with the first tin ore, 721,748 bags from Anaforza, Bolivia, and 32,650 bags from Africa. Soon thereafter, construction was begun on the $3,500,000 tin smelter, the first and only commercial tin smelter in the Western Hemisphere, and the largest and most modern in the world. A concrete highway, connecting State Highways 75 and 146 was constructed to serve this plant. Tin Processing Corporation began operating this plant in 1942, importing tin ore from Bolivia and the East Indies.
The M. W. Kellogg Company erected a $100,000 pipebending plant for the fabrication of piping for naval and merchant vessels. This plant went into operation November 1, 1941, and operated throughout the war. It was Texas City’s only war baby, and went out of business with the end of hostilities.
December 12, 1941, five days after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, a combat team of 750 men of the 135th Infantry under Colonel B. A. Anderson arrived to patrol the water front and Texas City’s vital industrial area. They spent the first few nights in Pier Warehouse “O,” then moved to Kohfeldt School.
On December 22, 1941, Monsanto Chemical Company, with a bid of $435,000, purchased the sugar refinery which had been idle since 1932. About March 1, 1942, construction got under way on a $5,000,000 plant for manufacturing styrene, an ingredient of synthetic rubber. It was the first plant to produce styrene for synthetic rubber. This plant was enlarged later, and soon after hostilities ceased, the company converted the old sugar refinery pan house building into a polystyrene plastic plant. A large expansion program was just getting under way at the time of the disaster in 1947.
The city held its first practice blackout on January 7, 1942, in preparation for possible enemy air raids.
During 1942, the Pan American Refining Company began construction on large additions to their plant. Defense Plants Corporation began constructing large units to be operated by Republic Oil Refining Company and Southport Petroleum Co. of Delaware.
The thousands of construction workers required for the many projects under way created an acute housing situation. Texas City, Galveston and towns for miles around were overcrowded. Householders with spare rooms absorbed as many as possible. Workers slept in trailers, automobiles, barber chairs, hallways, on newspapers spread on floors.
The Pan American put the first of its new units into operation on July 9, 1943. This was a huge catalystic crackling plant to produce 91 to 100 octane gasoline for airplanes. The unit towers 20 stories above the ground.
A small hurricane, which developed in the Gulf of Mexico and hovered near Galveston more than 24 hours, came inland near Galveston and passed just to the east and north of Texas City at noon, Tuesday, July 27, 1943. Gusts of 104 miles per hour were recorded at Texas City, and 17.3 inches of rain fell in 39 hours. Loss of port facilities included a six-ton bridge crane, the twin of one destroyed in the 1915 storm. Many residences sustained minor damages in Texas City, the bayshore towns and the outskirts of Houston.
Texas City extended its corporate limits on January 28, 1944, to take in 142 acres north of the city, developed by the J. L. Martin Development Company.
Early in 1944, Southport Petroleum Co. of Delaware put into operation a high octane gasoline unit.
Shortly thereafter, Republic Oil Refining Company dedicated to the war effort a huge high octane gasoline unit with a capacity of 50,000 barrels daily.
On March 9, 1944, the Pan American Refining Corporation dedicated to the war effort its added facilities including the 20-story catalystic cracking unit, a sulphuric acid alkylation unit, a new boiler plant, a new water station, cooling tower facilities and pumping station. These additions represented 16,000,879 tons of concrete, 10,000 tons of steel and 31 miles of pipe large enough to walk through. Over 2,000,000 man hours were required in the building.
A charter was granted the First State Bank on September 22, 1944. It was capitalized at $97,500 and Claude R. Truett was named president.
December 16, 1944, a $150,000 bond issue was voted to improve the Texas City sewer system. The Federal Works Agency granted an additional $52,000. On February 5, 1945, contract for a $96,773 sewerage treating plant was let to Ted Newman.
The Texas City Sun of April 13, 1945, carried an account of the sinking of a Japanese tanker in the South Pacific by a Texas City boy, Sgt. Harry Lee Conklin, on a B-24 Liberator with the 869th Bomber Squadron, 13th Bomber Command. He survived the war to die in the Texas City disaster of April 16, 1947.
Texas City joined in the premature celebration of V-E Day on May 7, 1945. The end of hostilities was not announced until the following day.
A $750,000 school bond issue was voted July 21, 1945, for additional school facilities. Although the schools were again seriously overcrowded, building materials were not made available for these schools until late in 1946, and then strikes seriously delayed construction. New buildings which were ready for occupancy in September, 1947, include two white elementary schools on the north side of town, a Negro school replacing an outgrown structure, a gymnasium at the Heights School, as well as a large auditorium building.
As industries shifted from wartime to peacetime service, a business slump prevailed for a few months immediately following the surrender of the Japanese on August 14, 1945.
September 21, 1945, Pfc. Roy Lee Emken returned to his home in Texas City, after having been a prisoner of war of the Japanese for more than three years. Emken was captured with the fall of Corregidor, May 6, 1942. In mid-October, 1945, Commander S. Arthur Newman, USN, a former Texas Citian, returned to visit his father, former Postmaster A. E. Newman. Commander Newman had been a Japanese prisoner from the fall of Guam on December 12, 1941.
During 1945-46 the Home Rule Charter was much discussed and became effective during the latter part of Mayor A. F. Johnson’s term of office. Mayor Curtis Trahan was elected in 1946.
In March, 1946, Major Archie Donahue, U. S. M. C., returned to his boyhood home with the intention of developing an airport. With Major Donahue came Lieutenants John S. Norris, Jr., and John K. Webb. In August, Ivy S. Durbin joined Major Donahue in the airport project. The Texas City Airport, privately owned, was literally dug and scratched from the earth by the back breaking effort, the unflinching will, and the dogged determination of ex-GI’s who believe in aviation.
In February and March of 1947, Texas City Terminal Railway Company purchased two 660-horsepower Diesel electric locomotives. These units were only slightly damaged in the disaster.
At seven o’clock in the morning of March 10, 1947, the City Commissioners met and adopted a resolution to extend the city limits to take in Texas City Heights, the Pan American Refining Corporation, Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation and the Tin Smelter. The resolution was hurried to Galveston and filed with the County Clerk at 9:20 A. M., just a few minutes before the citizens of La Marque offered for filing a petition for incorporation of a city including within its boundaries most of the same area. Ratification of the resolution on April 10, 1947, completed an annexation that added about 4,000 to the population of Texas City and doubled the area of the city. The new boundaries were west on Ninth Avenue North, extended to the west side of the Southern Pacific track, south along the tracks to a point south of the Tin Smelter, east to the east side of State Highway 146, north along the highway to a point south of the Sid Richardson Refinery and east to the harbor line.
Also on March 10, 1947, the Seatrain Havana arrived at Texas City to resume weekly service between Texas City and Edgewater, N. J., where a new terminal was built after the war. She sailed the next day with a train of 94 cars, and the Seatrain New York sailed from Edgewater for Texas City the same day. During the war, the Seatrain Havana was christened the USS Hammersport and served as an airplane and tank transport.
On April 16, 1947, 9:12 A.M., ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded in the French SS Grand Camp in the North Slip, disintegrating the ship and causing an enormous loss of life and damage to the port and the city. Resulting concussion, missiles, and fires almost totally destroyed the Monsanto Chemical Company’s plant, the port facilities, Southwestern Sugar and Molasses Co., and Ludlow Manufacturing and Sales Co. plants. Fire spread to the American SS High Flyer in the Main Slip and the ammonium nitrate in her cargo exploded at 1:10 A. M. On April 17, disintegrating the ship and destroying the American SS Wilson B. Keene, adding greatly to the damage to the port facilities, setting fires that almost totally destroyed the Humble Pipe Line Company’s tank farm. Fires, missiles, and concussion damaged tanks and other facilities of Republic Oil Refining Company. Stone Oil Company, Sid Richardson Refining Co., the shipside terminal of Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation, shipside handling facilities of the Tin Smelter, Pan American Refining Company’s wharves, and Seatrain Lines, Inc. Homes and mercantile buildings suffered severe damage, 539 having been condemned as unsafe. Known dead were 398, with 178 reported missing. Property damage was over 550,000,000.
The U. S. Engineers moved divers and snag boats into the harbor as soon as such operations were practical; after the principal fires were extinguished, and began removing from the channel and harbor large fragments of the disintegrated vessels that constituted hazards to navigation and dredging operations. Many tons of such fragments were located and removed from the waters. July 15, a dredge began cleaning the North Slip which had shoaled as a result of the loss of the bulkheads of Pier ‘O,” blown away by the explosion of the Grand Camp.
May 1, 1947, the SS Pan Pennsylvania arrived at the Pan American Refining Corporation’s wharf, marking the return of shipping to the Port of Texas City.
The SS Henry S. Dawes arrived to Republic Oil Refining Company May 14, and tied up at a temporary oil loading berth constructed for Texas City Terminal Railway Company.
Two days after the explosion, Monsanto Chemical Company announced their intention of rebuilding and in mid May they began clearing their property. On July 1, contracts were let to the extent of over $6½ million for rebuilding the first unit of the styrene plant. On October 1, the clean up had been finished and rebuilding was well under way. On October 10, 56 acres of land were purchased from the Texas City Terminal Railway Company, west of the present plant site; on December 1, 15 more acres were purchased. Improvements of this land to accommodate buildings and plants were started immediately after acquisition.
The 250-ton electrically operated crane of Seatrain Lines has been completely dismantled and rebuilt. Weekly Seatrain services were resumed on July 31, 1947.
To replace the two movie houses that were demolished by the explosion will be a 1,000 seat community movie, probably in the vicinity of 9th Avenue North and 13th Street, with an adjoining drug store and nearby business center. A $40,000 Negro theater is to be built by Long-Farr, on 2nd Avenue South and 6th Street.
The Federal Communications Commission has issued a license for a radio station to be operated in Texas City. The badly damaged Showboat Theater is being repaired; a third story is to be added, which will house the radio studio.
On September 12, 1947, Petrol Terminal Corporation was awarded by War Assets Administration, on a bid of $3,250,000, the high octane gasoline unit and 34.7 acres of land operated by Southport Petroleum Co. of Delaware from 1944 until V-J Day. On December 13, the new owners put this plant on stream, beginning production at the rate of 600,000 barrels per month. A capacity of 1,500,000 barrels per month is planned by mid-summer of 1948.
A history of Texas City would not be complete without some tribute to the men who made it possible. But for Jacob R., Henry H. and Benjamin F. Myers, and A. B. Wolvin, probably Texas City would have remained Shoal Point and at best would have grown into a small farming community. Such men as Charles M. Schwab, H. H. Westinghouse, and Alexander Smith have played important roles and occupied places on directorates of the developing companies at various times. Franz Kohfeldt, Earl L. Noble, and many others deserve honorable mention.
Captain John Jacobson brought to Texas City the first dredge to begin the Texas City Channel. He is nationally known for his work on the Gulf, Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
William B. Moore arrived in Texas City in 1892. A successful contractor, he constructed the first covered pile dike protecting the Texas City Channel, the temporary bridges that replaced the washed out ends of the Galveston Causeway after the 1915 storm, and many other channel and harbor projects.
The late Dr. F. N. Danforth loved to boast that he owned a third of the babies who had been born in Texas City because they had never been paid for. He devoted his entire career to the citizens of Texas City and played an inconspicuous but vital part in the growth of the city, Danforth Elementary School is named in his honor.
Colonel Hugh B. Moore came to Texas City in 1905 as traffic manager for the developers and to assist in the establishment of the Wolvin Line steamships. Undiscouraged by storms, disappointments, and adversities that defeated many strong men, the Colonel devoted the rest of his life to Texas City, where he lived except for the period of the first World War. In 1917 he went to France, and, as a member of General Pershing’s staff, was Director of Anny Transport Service in charge of all ports and steamship operations of the A. E. F. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Honor Medal for meritorious service. Returning to Texas City in 1919, he set quietly to work to overcome the setback to Texas City resulting from the war.
Time after time, he induced Congress to enlarge and deepen the Texas City Channel and to construct and improve the protective dike. He was largely instrumental in inducing almost every one of the Texas City industries to locate here. More than any other man, Colonel Moore was responsible for the present percentage of fulfillment of the dreams of the original syndicates.
R. M.Orth came to Texas City in 1908 as traffic rate man with the developing companies. He, too, devoted the rest of his life to the development of Texas City. Modest, unassuming, he worked tirelessly as a teammate of Colonel Moore. To the team Mr. Orth contributed an element of conservatism and caution, complementing the enthusiasms of the Colonel.
Colonel Moore succumbed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on September 17, 1944, partly as a result of services to his country during World War II. He served the Army in an advisory capacity as long as his health permitted, touring American ports and traveling extensively. His faithful friend, associate and lieutenant, Mr. Orth, accompanied Colonel Moore’s body back to Texas City, lived to attend the funeral, and then followed the Colonel into the hereafter on September 23, 1944.
Henry J. Mikeska came to Texas City in 1919 as a young engineer for the port properties. He became General Manager of Texas City Terminal Railway Company in 1927, Vice President and General Manager in 1937, and President and General Manager in 1944. For a shorter period, he served the port properties, as Mr. Orth served the townsite properties, working shoulder to shoulder with the late Colonel Moore, and became his able successor in the development of the Port of Texas City. Mr. Mikeska was last seen on the wharf near the SS Grand Camp just before she exploded.
Carl Nessler probably has contributed more to the advancement of Texas City than any other man now living. Mr.Nessler came to, Texas City in 1911 and served us Mayor of Texas City for many years and throughout its years of severest depressions. During his first five or six terms, the Mayor’s salary was $5.00 a day on each day when the Board of Commissioners met, the equivalent of about $5.00 a month.
He again accepted the Mayor’s office during the depression that preceded World War II. The Mayor’s salary had been advanced to $100 per month; but the City of Texas City had not the money to pay. Only the City Secretary, the late Sam Halstead, dared reveal to a few close friends Mr. Nessler’s method of surmounting the difficulty: Mr. Nessler received his salary check, endorsed it and deposited it to the City’s account as a donation. This is the sort of deed that endeared Mr. Nessler to the citizenry. His church, the Roman Catholic, has honored him by making him a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre. Since the disaster, Mr. Nessler has served as chairman of the fund for Texas City relief, an enormous and exacting task.
With grateful acknowledgement to the Carbide News, The Texas City Sun, the late R. M. Orth, the late Jesse A. Ziegler, J. W. Butler, Mrs. Earl Stafford, the Texas City Chamber of Commerce, and also to Texas City Chapter 73, Junior Historians, whose membership is as follows:
Jo Ann Anderson, Forrest Walker, Jean Laiche, Billie Montegut, Alice Field, Mary Nelle Dale, Betty Ann Wason, Allana Murphy, Diane Smollen, Patricia Smart, Joy Medford, Kenneth Clement, Tommy Denman, Dorothy Woodhouse, Elaine Dupuy, Jo Inns, Helen Tarin, Mary Beth Sheafor, Grace Griffith, Ernestine Garza, William Starkey, Davey Lee McGrew, Dvora Farb, Marjorie Biggs, Elinor Briggs, Ann Ruth Marsalis, Carolyn Kaplan, Elinor Wyatt, Kathleen Shockley, Frances Bates, Myrna Ferguson, Barbara Dupuy, Buddy Rich, Marie Stegall, Margie Hopper, Mary Stegall, Patsy Gates, Margaret Spears, Ann Cozzens, Juanita Beitran, Gloria Rabon and Ann Durst. Sponsors: Levi Fry, Superintendent of Texas City Public Schools; Miss Mamie Price and Alvin Wagner, members of the faculty.
- GRANT WHEATON
What the People Said and Did
For the People, by the People
By the Community, State and Nation Part One
By the Community, State and Nation Part Two
By the Community, State and Nation Part Three
Lest We Forget
United We Stand
In God We Trust
Annals of Texas City