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History of Port Mansfield

This Port Mansfield history was compiled by Ed Glaze III.  Some of the following is from a report written by Thomas West Jr. for a Texas History class in 1984.  Articles referenced include The Houston Chronicle Magazine of Sep. 1948 and Wall Street Journal of July 14, 1965.  Personal recollections come from Dell Shelton, Frank Bell, Roger Robinson, Janine Tankersly, Mae and Marvin Biggs, and thanks also to other members of the Port Mansfield community who contributed.

Port Mansfield is located on land dating back to the San Juan de Carricitos land grant given by the King of Spain to Jose Narcisso Cavazos.  In that day and time, the land grant recipient had to undergo a ritual of taking ownership of the land. This meant the owner must physically go onto the land and, in front of witnesses, pull some grass, break some twigs, gather some dirt, scoop up some water, and scatter all to the four winds.  Cavazos did this at “Tanke de Carricitos” a cistern for rainwater still located about five miles northwest of present-day Port Mansfield.   About 1880, Captain Richard King acquired this land, making it a part of the famed King Ranch.  At that time, Redfish Landing (as the Port Mansfield area was then called) was just a beach on the Redfish Bay area of the Laguna Madre used for fishing.

Judge Mead of Santa Margarita remembered his first trip in 1905 to what was to become Port Mansfield. He left Lyford, Texas in a horse-drawn wagon and at the end of the first day his party had reached the El Sauz ranch house, where they spent the night.  The following afternoon, after riding all day, they stopped at Tinnereas (twin windmills) for water.  Having traveled a distance of some 27 miles, they finally reached the bay on the afternoon of the third day.  Here they caught redfish four-feet long and trout “so big I hesitate to say the size for fear of being called a liar.”  On the way back, they intersected the Old Alice Trail and saw an old red brick house used as a stagecoach relay station which was also the site in 1895 of the first telegraph station in the Valley.  The Old Alice Trail was a stagecoach run from Brownsville north to Alice, Texas.  This trail led them back to the El Sauz Ranch and Lyford.

The Judge also remembered that it was in 1907 when the first car visited Redfish Landing.  It was a two-cylinder, high wheel Holsman owned by W. S. Thompson of Agawam, Oklahoma.  They had come down the northern part of the “hug-the-coast” highway, which is now U.S. 77, which ended at the King Ranch fence.  After coming down Highway 281 to the “Red Gate” (south of San Manuel) they made it to Raymondville.  Ed Raymond (the founder of Raymondville) sent two cowhands on horses to escort Mr. and Mrs. Thompson and Judge S. L. Gill, who went along for the ride, on their trip to the coast.  The cowhands had to tie ropes from their saddle horns to the front axle of the car to help pull it through the deep sandy spots where the car lacked the power to move itself forward. They called it Redfish Bay.   You could ride your horse out into the shallow saltwater and catch all the tasty game fish you wanted.  It was just an insignificant bay, embraced by miles of flat, brush-covered land.  Redfish Landing continued as merely a beach for fishing and swimming until 1932, when a crew of ten men was sent by the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to drag the beach to improve it for swimming and boating purposes.  At this time the land was owned by Henrietta M. King, the widow of Richard King (owner of the King Ranch).  On March 1, 1933 the executors of Mrs. King’s estate leased for one dollar about 197 acres of coastal land to the American Legion of Willacy County. Stipulations in the contract were that the land was to be held in trust by the officers of the American Legion Post; the land was to be used only for park and recreational purposes; no liquor was to be sold, given away, or brought onto the premises; no firearms would be allowed; the land was not to be sold, leased, or transferred; and a fence was to be maintained around the property. (The stipulation forbidding alcohol is one reason that Raymondville still has no hard liquor sales to this day.)

In September of 1933 a hurricane hit the Valley.  It lasted for 38 hours and brought 135 m.p.h. winds and dumped 13 inches of rain.  Eighteen people were killed and about 500 were injured.  Waves were estimated to be between 15 and 20 feet high.  Eleven people were at Redfish Landing at the time and had to ride out the storm in the twenty cottages built there.  Only one person was drowned, although as waves collapsed the cottages four boys jumped into an ice box floating by and were finally grounded nearly two miles inland after having been washed over the King Ranch fence.   Lee Harris, who was to become Harbormaster at Port in the 1960s, said that he had to hang on to the King Ranch fence during the storm.  In the 1930s, the W.P.A. began working on the road to Redfish Bay. The previous trail had been over hills and down gullies of a prairie terrain. During wet weather travelers got stuck in the mud and during dry weather they got stuck in the sand.  In late 1933, the C.W.A. work program allocated $7,000 for construction of a road to Redfish Landing.  The W.P.A. program helped with the construction of an all-weather road.  The hard black dirt was taken from the low spots and piled on the high sandy spots, while sand from the high spots was used to fill in the low spots.  Workers were paid a dollar a day, while engineers were paid a dollar and a half.  Two of the engineers working on this road built the original subdivision at Redfish Landing.  It was a long struggle to end the virtual transportation “blockade” to the rich alluvial triangle at the tip of Texas for the people of Cameron and Willacy counties, backed up by the support of residents all over the Valley.  In 1927 began the dredging of a channel from Port Isabel to the Arroyo Colorado, a semi-navigable waterway thought to be an old mouth of the Rio Grande which runs westward some 25 miles to Harlingen.  In 1937 the jettied channel through Padre Island at Brazos-Santiago Pass gave access to the Gulf of Mexico and led to the establishment of the deep sea ports at Brownsville and Port Isabel. In 1941 a direct new highway through the “forbidden land” of the big King Ranch was opened from Brownsville to the north.  And in 1945 began the resumption of work to complete the Intracoastal Canal on the 121-mile Laguna Madre section from Corpus Christi to Brownsville.  This would give Raymondville a barge canal port which would also be a port of service and refuge for through coastal traffic and would provide an outlet for the rich agricultural and petroleum resources of growing Willacy County.

But, perhaps, the person that looms greatest behind the new development is that of the “Granddaddy of the  Valley”—Nat Wetzel of Raymondville.   For it was Nat Wetzel who stood with that small group of pioneers in 1907 and dreamed of the port that “they didn’t need.”  It was Nat Wetzel who served on the original committee with William Marsh Rice and Col.  Tom Ball that pushed through the dredging of Buffalo Bayou from Houston to the sea back around 1912. That was another port “they didn’t need.”  It was Nat Wetzel who worked with Judge W. O. Huggins in pushing the Hug-the-Coast Highway through the King Ranch to the Valley—the road “they didn’t need.”  And it was Nat Wetzel who argued, encouraged, worked with and inspired those around him until the Intracoastal Canal and the new Valley ports are brilliant stars in the not-too-distant future.

Redfish Bay even contributed its part to the war effort in the early 1940s. About four miles south of the harbor in the back bay, large round pilings were placed in the shape of an aircraft carrier with canvas stretched between the posts.   The Air Force planes stationed in Harlingen used these targets for their bombing and machine gun practice.  Even nearby houses and fishermen were occasionally the target of the airmen disposing of spent shells and cartridge cases.  One fisherman claimed he had a bait bucket shot out of his hand while he was in his boat fishing.   For years when wade fishing near the targets, one had to beware of holes, up to ten feet deep, left by those exploding bombs.  Until the late 1940s, a person could practically walk across the shallow Laguna Madre to the sandy beaches of Padre Island.   Hurricane Allen in 1980 finished filling in the holes and swept away what pilings were left, but to this day that area is called “the targets.”  It’s probable that there would be no Port Mansfield or Willacy County Navigation District, as we know it, were it not for Charles R. Johnson. Who was Charlie?  He came to Lyford in 1919 wearing his marine maritime uniform.  He plied the trades of mechanic, journalist and real estate developer. He laid, platted and developed the town site of San Perlita, named after his wife, Pearl.  He held offices in Willacy County and while county judge they dug the first drainage ditch in the county.   As Tax Assessor–Collector he added many taxable items, much to the chagrin of taxpayers.  Charlie even owned a weekly newspaper in Willacy County.  While mayor, the City of Raymondville paved its way out of the mud and put uniforms on the police department.

The Willacy County Navigation District (Port of Mansfield Authority) was created on February 14, 1948 to take advantage of the county’s location in regard to the Laguna Madre Bay and Gulf of Mexico.  Charlie Johnson was instrumental in establishing the W.C.N.D. as a governmental entity.  At the time there were only about three dozen fishing shacks and summer houses along the coast of Redfish Bay and a few fishing piers.  Charlie was very active throughout much of the growth of Redfish Bay and Port Mansfield, and held every office from port director to a seat on the district board.  After becoming the port director he worked to have the roads paved to and in Port.  He was also involved in the designation of Farm to Market Road 606, the securing and designation of a post office, the building of the airport, and other community improvements. Almost everything Charlie was ever involved with seemed to be controversial, yet most of his life was spent as a public servant.  Though Charlie never lost an election, few ever openly admitted to voting for him.  Along the way, he made friends in the state congress, which eventually led all the way to Washington, D.C. As a state senator, Lyndon B. Johnson had visited at Charlie’s house.  Once after L.B.J. had become President, Bob St. John, a Raymondville real estate broker, and Charlie were trying to resolve a matter pertaining to Port Mansfield, when Bob challenged Charlie to call the President to see what light he could shed on the problem.  Without hesitation, Charlie picked up the phone, dialed a number and spoke, “let me speak to Lyndon.   Tell him it’s Cousin Charlie calling.”  Shortly, L..B.J. was on the phone speaking with Charlie.  In March of 1950 the Navigation District acquired 1,760 acres of land immediately surrounding the port facilities of “Red Fish Bay” by instituting legal proceedings to have the land condemned.  The case was won by the District, which agreed to pay the American Legion three dollars an acre for the land it owned.  The small fishing park was renamed Port Mansfield in honor of state Senator Mansfield from Columbus, Texas, who headed the Commission that pushed legislation through the U.S. Congress to have the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway extended from Corpus Christi to Brownsville.

In June of 1950 the Board of Navigation and Canal Commissioners authorized $500,000 in bonds to begin work on the harbor and the large Navigation District barn was built.  The original harbor facilities of Port Mansfield were completed in phases from 1950 through 1956.  In 1954, construction began to dredge a channel from the Laguna Madre Bay east through South Padre Island and to construct a jetty system at the outlet to the Gulf of Mexico.  This channel to the Gulf would provide the new Port with recreational opportunities and enhance its commercial uses.   However, it used the infamous tetra pod jetties which were large concrete objects, looking somewhat like children’s toy jacks.  They were set down with three legs touching the bottom and the fourth leg sticking straight up. There was no footing laid down, and with nothing below but Padre Island sand, it was not long before this jetty sank out of sight.  October 1957 saw the dedication ceremonies of the harbor, with everyone going by boat to the channel, out for a ribbon-cutting.   Also dedicated were 77 boat stalls.  Charlie Johnson had succeeded in having Port Mansfield declared a “Port of Refuge” to be used by small boats caught by storms in the Gulf of Mexico.  Being the only one between Port Isabel and Corpus Christi, Mr. Johnson hoped this would be useful in getting the Corps of Engineers to help with maintenance of the harbor and channel.  At this time Charlie was the port director and Port Mansfield was often spoken of as his “baby.”  The single road to Port was made of concrete and only 18 feet wide—so narrow that when big trucks, or even two cars with boat trailers, meet one had to ride the shoulder off the edge of the road.

In June of 1962 the dedication of a 2,600 foot airport runway took place (it has since been lengthened to 3,200 feet and lighted).  In July of 1962 the Corps of Engineers built a new jetty of granite boulders to protect the channel through Padre Island and the newly deepened the channel, 18 feet, to the Gulf and the harbor facilities to allow larger vessels access to the Port.  The government had assumed maintenance of the jetties, channel, harbor, and navigational aids.  The Port Mansfield Gulf Channel, now known as the East Cut, provides a much needed access to the protected Intracoastal Canal and provides access by boat to Padre Island.

In 1962, Charlie Johnson was also trying to get a U.S. Coast Guard unit stationed at Port Mansfield. However, the unbending policy of the Coast Guard was that they be allowed to purchase the land on which their buildings are located. An exception was granted, because of state legislation dated 1957, and in September 1963 a new Coast Guard light and rescue station was dedicated on land costing approximately $100,000. In 1964, the Coast Guard bought additional lots for housing purposes. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Willacy County Navigation District are the only two entities that actually own land at Port Mansfield. All other homes and businesses are built on land under long-term lease from the Navigation District.  By an act of the Texas Legislature, the Port Mansfield Public Utility District was created in February 1963. In May of that year, the Navigation District and the P.M.P.U.D. agreed to let the Utility District assume all contracts and obligations involved in obtaining an adequate water supply for Port Mansfield.  Charlie’s optimistic promoting of the potential for Port Mansfield was indeed glowing, especially when soliciting money to fund its growth: He predicted that within a few years over a million tons of commerce
would be moving through the port annually—petroleum, cotton, grains, fish and shrimp, fruits from the tropics. Mr. Johnson reckoned that much of the cargo would be attracted from such ports as Corpus Christi, Houston and New Orleans. One plan was to even bring tuna fish thousands of miles from the Pacific through the Panama Canal to process it at Port Mansfield and dispatch it over the country. Uncle Sam, quite eagerly, and local taxpayers often grudgingly are footing the bill to create “Port Mansfield” as a public entity.  In 1964 the Government Accounting Office even investigated the propriety of claims made by Mr. Johnson in getting Federal help to build the port and reported that it found no evidence of wrong-doing or exaggeration.  By 1965, of the nearly $9 million in public money that has gone into developing the port, Charlie Johnson had succeeded in getting half of it from the Federal Government. That funding also included an Ionics Demineralization Water Plant which opened in January of 1966 to use electrical power and reverse osmosis to purify brackish water to create a water supply for the Port’s residents. The telephone system which was put in was estimated to cost $10,000 per phone. The tax burden fell heavily on the 18,000 people living in the Willacy County Navigation District and they had 49 cents of every $1 they paid in county taxed going to support the port and to retire bonds and Federal loans.  But Charlie Johnson took his opposition with his customary calm. “These big ranchers and landowners who are against me live in their own little world. They don’t understand the operation or possibilities of a port. One of these days Port Mansfield will be recognized for what it is—the economic salvation of this area.”  If Charlie envisioned a great coastal city rising above the brackish bay he fished by horseback in the 1920s, he was wrong. It hasn’t happened. But Redfish Bay has become a port, and although it certainly will never be one of Texas’ busiest channels, it’s growing.

Dredging of the cut through Padre Island also brought up some treasure. Evidently, mixed in with the dredge material was some Spanish doubloons. Tom Johnson, the grandson of Charlie, claimed that the north jetty was placed atop of a Spanish galleon. Who knows? The north end of Padre Island became a National Seashore and it was illegal to look for treasure; although at least one resident made frequent trips to the island for many years and was known to show a few silver doubloons from time to time. The state antiquities group even stored some equipment in the Navigation District’s barn for quite a while.

In early 1966 there were now about 200 residents of the town made up of a hundred or so summer cottages, many of them in disrepair, a motel, two grocery stores, and a couple of bars. Nevertheless, most Port Mansfield residents were enthralled with all the attention their community was getting and a group of residents formed the Port Mansfield Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber building, located at the end of FM 606, had several owners, including Charlie Johnson, before the Chamber of Commerce formed. The building has served as a community center ever since.  Hurricane Beulah, in September of 1967 did extensive damage to Port Mansfield when its eye passed about 3 miles east of Raymondville. Wind gusts of 136 miles per hour were reported during Beulah’s passage and rains of 10–36 inches over much of the area south of San Antonio resulted in record-breaking floods. Beulah is the third largest hurricane on record and spawned 115 tornadoes, all in Texas, the greatest number of tornadoes on record for any hurricane.   In September 1969 bonds were sold to build a seafood processing plant on the north side of the harbor. A grant of over $300,000 was obtained from the Economic Development Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The dedication of the seafood plant was held in August 1971. Additions to the plant and renovations to its refrigeration system were made later. A “nitrogen tunnel” costing $25,000 was installed for the fast freezing of seafood, though it soon broke down and disappeared under what some residents think “questionable circumstances.” The processing of the catch of shrimp boats and crabbers was done at the seafood plant for several years until the shrimp boats quit using Port Mansfield.  It is now used mostly as a collection point for commercial fishermen and as the recycling drop off point for the community.  It even served as fishing tournament headquarters, though it was not well suited for that use.

In 1974 the first Port Mansfield Fishing Tournament was held. It replaced the 4th of July Fishing Tournament which ha been an annual event. What made the PMFT different from so many other tournaments was that it offered many prizes of merchandise or services to each contestant. These prizes were solicited from and generously donated by Valley businesses. The annual tournament is held in late July and quickly became the primary fund-raiser for the Chamber of Commerce. Proceeds from the tournament have allowed the Chamber to do many things, including providing street name signs for the town and to build a park with both tennis and basketball courts. To promote Port Mansfield and its businesses the Chamber also puts out brochures, postcards, business lists, and does dome magazine advertising. The tournament headquarters has been in several places over its more than 20-year history but the best has been the Navigation District’s big barn which has lots of room and also catches the breeze to make it comfortable inside for the volunteer workers, the many fishermen, spectators, the media and others that attend. The docks allow room for the big boats to bring in their fish and for bleachers for the watching crowd. One year a state record 722-pound blue marlin was caught during the tournament. Larger blues have been caught since and the record is now well over 800 pounds. Another year the only blue marlin caught in Texas was the one caught at our tournament.

For decades residents had to pick up all their mail at the small grocery store coming into town. In 1976 a filling station building was donated by Slim and Connie Cranfell and it was relocated to became the post office. Mail to Port Mansfield was simply sent “general delivery.” The post office was staffed by a contract and much of our little post office’s growth was due to the efforts of Ima Steussy, postmistress for many years. We still have the same building, but it is now air conditioned and offers the full range of postal services. Most residents now have keyed PO Boxes and who knows if we’ll ever get street delivery of mail. Port Mansfield is at the end of the route for the truck that delivers the mail and after the morning drop-off it waits till the afternoon to start the route in reverse picking up mail in the small towns and delivering it to the main post office in McAllen.

“With the new 200-mile limit recognized by the U.S. and Mexico, Port Mansfield is really the southernmost port for blue-water Gulf fishing,” said Tom Johnson, the grandson of the man who made it all possible and Port Director in the mid-’70s. Port Isabel’s effective fishing waters have been cut greatly by it’s proximity to Mexican waters, he said. “I don’t think many people are going to risk getting caught by a Mexican gunboat.”

Starting around 1977, changes in the trot lining laws, stricter enforcement of gill netting, size and limit reductions for trout and redfish, plus the outlawing of the sale of trout and redfish in Texas just about killed Port Mansfield’s commercial fishing industry. The fishermen did not take these changes lightly and we had some very vocal residents who were prominent in the media for a while. There was even a boat blockade by commercial fishermen which made the national news.   In 1978, Port Mansfield residences and businesses finally were able to get rid of their septic tanks when the new sewer system got up and running. The new system was designed with growth in mind and supposedly has a capacity to handle 5,000 residents. Port Mansfield gets its water from the North Alamo Water Supply and through Raymondville.  In 1979, Rollie and Betts Melville started work to provide Port Mansfield with its own library. The original library building was a small frame house used as a filling station and live bait stand on the north side of the harbor, about where the Mansfield Club stand today. With many contributions of books, money and service the library, next to the post office, was opened in January, 1980. It is staffed by volunteers a few hours a week and makes its books available to residents and visitors to Port Mansfield. Books are sorted onto shelves but there is no card catalog to help look up a specific title. In 1982 another room was added to the library to house the growing collection of reading material and a bathroom was also added. In 1983, as yet another fund-raising project, the library published The Port Mansfield Seafood Cookbook, which it sells for only $7 and has over 200 recipes—copies are still available.

On August 9, 1980 the eye of Hurricane Allen passed over Port Mansfield. An evacuation of the estimated 300 residents was ordered so there was no loss of life; however, property damage from the high winds and 10-foot storm surge was extensive. The wind gauge at the Harbormaster office was blown down at 128 m.p.h. One man chose to ride out the storm in a trailer on the south side; when others were able to return to Port a few days later he was found to be okay, but he said he would evacuate next time. A waterfront duplex at north end of town had its lower story completely destroyed while its upper story floated over against a house on the next street. The towels were still dry and the plates in the cabinets were unbroken—the floor of the house was mopped and it was relocated and is still in use as a rent house today. But hurricanes and storms have not deterred the slow growth of Port Mansfield. Since Hurricane Allen, Port Mansfield has also continued to increase its commercial and recreational facilities. Damaged houses and piers were rebuilt, with the notable exception of the Redfish Motel and its pier at the harbor entrance. Condominium complexes have been built on the harbor, numerous houses have built on the north side of town and a new residential subdivision, called Port South Estates, has been created on the south end of town.

In 1983 bonds were sold by the Navigation District for the construction of its new Small Craft Basin Facility. This 135-boat capacity marina with concrete stalls and tear-away roofs replaced the older marina constructed in 1957. Commodities shipped through the harbor facilities include supplies for oil and gas production; though the oilfield traffic has been significantly reduced following the “Oil Bust” of the early ’80s. The oilfield business in Port Mansfield did fairly well for a while. In the early 1980s the large crew boats and service boats regularly came into the harbor to load up with equipment, men, and supplies to service the offshore platforms in the Gulf and the shallow water rigs in the bay. A number of oilfield companies had dock space including Mobil, IMCO, Halliburton, Magcobar, Dowell, and Brown & Root. Helicopters and planes regularly flew into our little airport and the big trucks hauling pipe and drilling materials drove into town frequently. These companies did a lot for the town, including hiring a number of locals to work for them. Alas, Port Mansfield’s small share of the Texas oil boom was lost along with much of the rest of the industry during the mid-1980s. The oilfield companies moved out of town and our harbor area is almost bare.

One of the unfortunate things about their leaving was that Brown & Root was planning to rebuild its docks and they only got as far as tearing out the old dock and its pilings. However, in the process a mystery was solved. While the crane was removing the old dock it hit upon a car buried under water. This definitely was something unexpected. The car was lifted out of the water and the proper authorities called. Needless to say when something unusual happens in normally quiet Port Mansfield all the area law enforcement agencies converge. There the car sat on dry land for the first time in who knows how long and none of the law officers wanted to dig around inside to see if there was the remains of a body. All the interior door handles and dash knobs had corroded away and the search was likely to be messy. Ed Glaze III, a worker for Brown & Root at that time, volunteered. Leaning in the wet and muddy car through where its rear window had been, Ed rummaged in the floorboards for some evidence of what had happened. A few bones were found, could they be human? Then came a skull. Yes, someone had died in this car. The officers wanted more, so Ed felt around the floorboard till a wallet was found. Relatives were notified and the story was revealed. It turns out that the person in the car had been missing for about seven years since a New Year’s Eve night when he did not return home. He was not a Port Mansfield local but had come to town to party and evidently, late at night, had missed the turn and driven his car through the field out into the water underneath the dock. Later the harbor hand been dragged but somehow the car under the dock was missed.
Anyway, the dock was not rebuilt and much of the dock space is gone for large boats visiting Port Mansfield.

A recurring rumor of development that might lead to some explosive Port Mansfield growth has been that someday a causeway will be built through town to the island. In 1977, Tom Johnson was seriously planning to build a causeway from Port Mansfield to South Padre Island. Harold Hickman, the harbormaster at that time said, “I’d like to build a fence around Port Mansfield, but Tom, he’s a little more industrial minded. I sure hope they never put any big industrial stuff here.” The main reason he hoped that is because Port Mansfield has the most pristine marine environment on the Texas coast. “The King Ranch has not allowed any industry, and that’s the only thing protecting us from pollution. If they ever open it up, fishing’s gone in the Laguna Madre,” Hickman said. A causeway is still very doubtful, though in 1989 the rumor mill started all over again when a group of Japanese investors talked about building a large complex on Padre Island south of the jetties.

In late 1980s came a couple of freezes, fish kills and some problems with algae blooms (brown tide) that hurt fishing in Port Mansfield. In 1989 came a freeze that killed many fish in the Texas coastal waters, including Port Mansfield. The temperature went down into the teens and it stayed cold for awhile. The fish caught in shallow waters didn’t have a chance. It was very depressing to walk along the shoreline and see so the fish—of many types and sizes—dead because you knew that fishing in the future was going to suffer. And suffer it did. Fishing was so bed that the size and catch limits of trout and redfish were adjusted by the state to allow more fish to survive and to help the depleted fish population. But time has healed the damage and by the mid-1990s the fisheries have recovered and fishing in again fun—not so much skill is required as to when, where, and how to fish using what bait.

In 1994, due to changes in environmental laws, the landfill just out of town had to be closed down. Now the municipal wastes must be trucked to a landfill in Harlingen.

In 1995, the Utility District built a warehouse on the property near the old water plant to store equipment and provide an additional work area. A public restroom facility was built near this warehouse with the cost shared by the Chamber of Commerce and the Navigation District.

A cleanup effort and enforcement of lease maintenance and appearance ordinances has resulted in the Port looking better than it ever has. Unusable, old boats, cars and trailers have been removed from yards. Numerous trees have been planted and various landscaping projects undertaken, primarily by Chris Means, the son of the Port Superintendent Junior Means.  In 1997, the Navigation District financed the paving of the caliche roads and the resurfacing of several roads needing it. This cost the District over $110,000 but due to a paving crew already in town to resurface the airport runway some savings on costs were obtained. The paving also generated much goodwill from the residents who had grown very tired of dealing with blowing caliche dust and rough roads.

Try as it might, the little port has failed to come even close to realizing Charlie Johnson’s dreams. Harbor revenues come mostly from renting dock space to pleasure boats and the sale of gasoline and other supplies. The recreation facilities at the Port are expanding more than the commercial, as the oilfield and shrimping industries no longer make much use of our harbor.

Port Mansfield is still recognized as one of the top fishing locations in Texas. To boaters and fishermen it offers an uncrowded access to the Laguna Madre, Padre Island and the Gulf of Mexico. There are about 60 businesses in town, most dealing with fishermen. Accommodating the fishing and tourist activity there are three RV parks, two motels, many houses and condos available for rental, two marinas, two small stores, five boat storage barns, and many fishing guides. But it seems that the most difficult business to keep going in Port may be a restaurant—perhaps due to the small local population and the seasonal nature of sport fishing. Many restaurants have come and gone. The Windjammer Inn, a very popular restaurant and bar which had been open about 15 years, closed in early 1996 for a remodeling which many believe may never come. A couple small restaurants are still open to feed the visitors and fishermen and the Fisherman’s Inn recently reopened part-time as a seafood restaurant.

Port Mansfield’s population is estimated by most residents at under 700 people, though somehow the US Census in 1990 thought we had almost 800 residents. Maybe we do. Or maybe they checked on a Summer weekend when the parking lots were filled up with boat trailers and the rental units full of visiting fishermen. There is certainly a season for good business in Port—it is when the weather is warm and the fish are biting. The rental houses and condos fill as out-of-town owners visit their vacation homes and the fishermen spread out over the Laguna Madre and into the Gulf to catch their limit of fish. Few would be surprised if the population did not briefly double under those circumstances.

 

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