Aransas County, Texas
Aransas County is on the Gulf Coast northeast of Corpus Christi. The county, divided into three parts by Copano, St. Charles, and Aransas bays, is bounded on the north and northwest by Refugio County, on the south by San Patricio and Nueces counties, and on the east by the Gulf of Mexico. The county seat and largest city is Rockport.
Cities, Towns & Communities
The area of Aransas County lay within the border leagues closed to colonization, but the general government of Mexico, on June 11, 1828, gave an empresario grant embracing the region to James Power and James Hewetson, who were to bring in Irish and Mexican settlers. A few Irish arrived between 1829 and 1833, among them Thomas O’Connor, Edward St. John, Edward McDonough, Peter Teal, and the Fagan and Lambert families, but the region was only sparsely settled on the eve of the Texas Revolution.
After Texas independence, the area became part of the newly formed Refugio County. Around 1832 James Power founded Aransas City on Live Oak Point near the site of the Aránzazu fort. A customhouse, a post office, and several stores were established at the settlement, which by April 1840 served as the de facto seat of government for Refugio County. Until the establishment of Corpus Christi, Aransas City was the westernmost port in Texas; its estimated population was several hundred. The town was raided by Comanche and Karankawa Indians on several occasions, and at least three times by Mexican bandits, in 1838, 1839, and 1841.
At about the same time three local figures, Capt. James W. Byrne, George R. Hull, and George Armstrong, were developing another townsite, Lamar, across the pass on Lookout Point. After Mirabeau B. Lamar became president of Texas, he ordered the customhouse moved to the new town. In 1840 Refugio became the county seat, and as a result Aransas City began to decline; by 1846 it had ceased to exist. After the revolution cattlemen and sailors founded another community, Aransas, on the southern end of St. Joseph’s Island, which was a prosperous port in antebellum Texas.
Despite these developments along the coast, however, the interior of the county was still largely undeveloped. During the 1830s Power and Hewetson had purchased an additional twenty-two leagues of land, which, along with their original grant from the Mexican government, made them the largest landowners east of the Nueces. But in 1839 their title was challenged by Joseph F. Smith and several others, including Stuart Perry, Cyrus W. Egery, James W. Byrne, G. R. Hull, George Armstrong, and Joseph E. Plummer, who claimed that the Mexican grants in the county were void. The case dragged through the courts until 1845, when Smith and his fellow plaintiffs succeeded in having the original grants overturned. Litigation continued to the late 1850s, but in the end Power and Hewetson lost all of their titles, and Smith became the major landholder in the area.
In the meantime, Joseph F. Smith had begun to develop another port town, St. Mary’s of Aransas, on Copano Bay, two miles up the bay from Black Point. The settlement soon became the largest lumber and building-materials center in western Texas. Regular wagon trains hauled goods inland to Refugio, Goliad, Beeville, and San Antonio, and on the eve of the Civil War St. Mary’s was an important shipping point for hides, tallow, cattle, and cotton. By 1860 Lamar had two stores and a post office, but St. Mary’s had become the more important port.
During the Civil War the area that was to become Aransas County was the site of several engagements between Union and Confederate forces. Despite the destruction and economic disruption caused by the war, the future Aransas County area quickly recovered. Aransas, which had been destroyed during the war, became a ghost town, and Lamar, which had burned during the war, declined, but several new towns were founded, including Fulton in 1866 and Rockport in 1867. During the years of the great cattle boom, the new port towns became important shipping and processing points.
In March 1871, because the great cattle boom had established it as the most important town in the area, Rockport became county seat of Refugio County. On September 18 of the same year, the legislature voted to divide the county and designated much of the coastal area as a new county named Aransas. Rockport was made the county seat, and on March 26, 1872, the county commissioners’ court met for the first time in a rented frame house.
In 1888 the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad (later the Texas and New Orleans) reached Rockport, thus ensuring the town’s continued importance as a shipping center. The rise of Rockport, however, marked the beginning of the decline for St. Mary’s. Successive storms in 1886 and 1887 destroyed the town’s wharves, and by the early 1890s St. Mary’s had dwindled to a small village.
Despite the growth of Rockport and Fulton, the county’s population remained small; in 1880 it was 996. In 1888, however, all of the unsold land in the Smith and Wood subdivision was acquired by the Aransas Pass Land Company, which instituted a comprehensive plan to develop Rockport and the surrounding region. Lured by the promise of a bright future, numerous immigrants from the Old South and Europe were drawn to the county, and by 1890 the population had grown to 1,824.
A new county courthouse, designed by J. Riely Gordon, was built in 1889. By 1900 the county had seven post offices and six public schools. Between 1890 and 1900 the number of farms grew from six to forty-seven, and tourism for the first time began to play a significant role in the area’s economy.
In 1919 the area was hit by a powerful hurricane, and much of Rockport and the surrounding area was destroyed. The combination of the storm and the loss of shipping to Corpus Christi dealt a serious blow to the county’s economy, and for much of the next four decades it showed only modest growth. The population, which reached 2,106 in 1910, declined slightly by 1920 to 2,064, and only topped the 3,000 mark in 1940 (3,469).
During the first half of the twentieth century two new industries emerged, fishing and shipbuilding. By the early 1890s commercial fishing was flourishing in the Rockport area, and over the course of the next several decades it continued to expand, eventually outstripping agriculture in net receipts. Oil was discovered in the county in 1936, and thirteen wells were in production in 1946, but it was not until the 1950s that oil was produced in large quantities
The first school in the county was Lamar Academy, founded around 1850. The first school in Rockport opened in 1881, and in 1884 the first public school opened there. Between 1893 and 1949 seven common school districts operated in the county, but in June 1946 they were consolidated in the Aransas County Independent School District.
The county population was 3,469 in 1940, 4,240 in 1950, 7,006 in 1960, and 8,902 in 1970. Subsequently the county grew more rapidly: in 1980 the number of inhabitants was 14,260, and in 1990 it reached 17,892. The largest cities were Rockport, Aransas Pass (part of which is in Nueces and San Patricio counties), and Fulton.
The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, which runs the length of Aransas Bay, handles a large volume of shipping through the area and is an important element in the economy. In the late twentieth century tourist trade was also a major source of income. Local attractions include Goose Island State Park, Copano Bay State Fishing Pier, the Rockport Beach, and the Texas Maritime Museum. Special celebrations include Seafair in October, Fiesta en la Plaza in September, and the Fourth of July Fireworks and Art Festival; Oyster Fest occurs in March and the Children’s Christmas Tree in November.
Aranssas County. Created September 18, 1871 from Refugio County, organized in 1871 with Rockport as the county seat. Named for the river Nuestra Senora de Aranzazu. Northern city limits, Business 35, Rockport.
Aransas County. Created out of the coastal portion of Refugio County in 1871, Aransas County is the second smallest county in Texas. Within its boundaries are three bays of the Gulf of Mexico: Copano, St. Charles, and Aransas. The area was the site of early Indian inhabitation and Spanish exploration, as well as Anglo colonization efforts of the 1830s and 1840s. Aransas County communities are supported by such industries as fishing, agriculture, off-shore oil production, bird watching, and tourism. The county is home to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, created in 1937.
A Glimpse at Our Past…on the Occasion of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Incorporation of Rockport, 1870, and the Establishment of Aransas County, 1871, 1971
Rockport, TX 28° 1′ 14.0628″ N, 97° 3′ 15.9624″ W