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Sat Oct 20, 2007

Island exploded with growth

I can still vividly remember my first look at South Padre Island. It was October 1967, and my family was exploring the area for recreational getaways.

We lived in Mercedes then, and we were looking for an area the whole family could enjoy.

The Island was the perfect venue. To me, the Island was a magical place with everything a young boy dreams of, such as vast areas of unexplored sand dunes rumored to hide pirate treasure, great fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, swimming and beachcombing on warm, lazy days. This was the place for me.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Oct 20, 07 | 2:00 pm | Profile

Sat Oct 13, 2007

Point Isabel Lighthouse almost demolished in 1863

The Point Isabel Lighthouse is without a doubt the area’s most historically significant building, but the historic old tower was nearly demolished just into its 10th year of existence.

The lighthouse was completed in September of 1852 though it was not officially lit until March 20, 1853. The original brick tower was 50 feet high, not counting the lantern room and upper structure and was visible some 20 nautical miles out to sea. Later, 20 feet more height was added to the tower and a larger upper structure was built. The original keeper was J.H.B. Hain, and he and his family lived in one of the old army barracks of the decommissioned Mexican War garrison, Fort Polk. The lighthouse was constructed upon the well-built foundation of the main cannon platform of the old fort built by General Zachary Taylor’s army in 1846, located at Latitude 26.07782 and longitude 97.20774, and it has never been moved.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Oct 13, 07 | 3:19 pm | Profile

Sat Oct 06, 2007

Trees sink roots into past

Trees have been an important part of the recorded history of the Port Isabel area and yet we often ignore them.

Throughout the earliest references to the Lower Laguna Madre area, trees have been mentioned and recorded by observers. From the original indigenous people all the way to our recent past, trees were used as place names, building materials, food, medicine and more.

The earliest written account of discovery by the Spanish explorers in our area mentions one of our area’s most famous trees—the palm. Capt. Alonzo de Pineda landed with a small party of men at the mouth of a large river, which he dubbed the Rio de Las Palmas in 1519. The given name was appropriate as the river was lined with palm trees from its mouth to far inland. Today, this river is known as the Rio Grande.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Oct 06, 07 | 5:19 pm | Profile

Sat Sep 29, 2007

Welcome to end of United States

The beautification project along the highway into Port Isabel that was recently finished has made a vast improvement in the appearance of the town.

The scenic facelift is important because first impressions do indeed influence a visitor’s feeling about the community. If the town looks shipshape, our area visitors feel safe to come aboard. South Padre Island led the way on this issue, with the well-landscaped medians and the picturesque welcome sign at the foot of the bridge, and I am glad that Port Isabel has done the same.

The most visible parts of this beautification are the new signs that front the highway on your approach to the town and the landscaping that will make Queen Isabella Boulevard a palm lined tropical trail. The Texas Department of Transportation and the various authorities in our city government should be thanked for this improvement and its positive impact on the community as a whole. I have seen several folks out of their cars being photographed by the “Welcome to Port Isabel” sign, and that should make us all proud of our shared community.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Sep 29, 07 | 2:44 pm | Profile

Sat Sep 15, 2007

Buena Vista early name for Laguna Vista

Recently, some friends dropped by my store in Port Isabel with a few fascinating photos of the old fishing camp at Laguna Vista, and I secured permission to copy the images and relay the story. I would like to thank the Barnes-Simmons family for this valuable glimpse into early Laguna Vista history.

Laguna Vista has existed under many names over the course of its history. Perhaps the oldest name is Los Mogotes, translated as “wooded hills,” because it was part of the ranch of the same name.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Sep 15, 07 | 2:17 pm | Profile

Sat Sep 08, 2007

Few people know about first battle at Palmito

It is a well known fact that the last battle of the American Civil War was fought at Palmito Ranch, some nine miles south of Port Isabel along the banks of the Rio Grande.

This famous conflict was waged over 40 days after Gen. Robert E. Lee had surrendered his army, and ironically the battle was a very lopsided Confederate victory.

However, few people realize that this was not the only battle of Palmito Ranch.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Sep 08, 07 | 1:53 pm | Profile

Sat Aug 11, 2007

Oldest building on South Padre holds memories of rescuers

Recently, I was asked by an area visitor if there were any old or historic buildings on South Padre Island, and the answer is that one building is both old and historically important to the Laguna Madre area. Actually, there are several buildings on the Island that can qualify as historic in one form or another, such as the oldest house or hotel, but for pure historic value, it would be impossible to ignore the U.S. Coast Guard Station.

The historic roots of the U.S. Coast Guard here virtually mirror that of the American town of Point Isabel and the area it anchors. In March 1846, the first part of Gen. Zachary Taylor’s army to reach this place was the Revenue Cutter’s “Woodbury” ship and a small group of troops sent in advance of the army to reconnoiter the layout of the land.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Aug 11, 07 | 3:07 pm | Profile

Sat Jul 28, 2007

Billy Boomerang lived like no other

Among the most colorful people to call the Port Isabel-South Padre Island area home in the 1960s and 1970s was John McMahan, better known as “Billy Boomerang.”

Even today, some 25 years after his tragic death from cancer, Billy Boomerang is a household name and a popular South Padre Island “watering hole” is named in his honor. Almost everyone who visited the beach at Isla Blanca Park in the 1970s will remember Billy throwing his handmade boomerangs and entertaining crowds of tourists.

John McMahan first arrived in the 1960s as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard. He liked the area, so after his obligation was fulfilled to Uncle Sam, he moved from his native land of the northeast seacoast to Point Isabel.

This is where the legend begins.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Jul 28, 07 | 3:24 pm | Profile

Sat Jul 21, 2007

Look out for local ghosts and lore

Folklore and legends have been a part of man’s history from the beginning and many have morphed and woven themselves into the foundation of who we are.

Folktales permeate our everyday lives, often without our realization. Consider Friday the 13th or Halloween as just two quick examples. In the telling of the history of the Laguna Madre area, we would do future generations a disservice not to record the charming folktales and legends that have been birthed locally.

The oldest area legends and folktales found their roots in our Spanish Colonial past. Many of these may actually have foundations in the stories told by the Native Americans of this area and were than blended into the folklore of the Spanish settlers in the mid to late 1700s.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Jul 21, 07 | 1:00 pm | Profile

Sat Jul 14, 2007

Hindsight: Pictures of Padre’s past

South Padre Island is a far different destination than it was 75 to 100 years ago, and I thought you might enjoy a pictorial return to the Island at that time.

First, in those days gone by, the south end of Padre Island was known as Tarpon Beach and area residents enjoyed fishing and “surf bathing” as swimming was called, just as we do today. However, a trip to the beach was an all-day affair that required some good planning because there was little civilization on the Island and no stores.

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Posted by: Ryan Henry on Jul 14, 07 | 3:06 pm | Profile

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