The beaches of Port Aransas draw in thousands of tourists from Memorial Day Weekend to Labor Day, but how did our beloved town on the northern tip of Mustang Island come to be?
Port Aransas History
The history of Port Aransas begins over 4,500 years ago when the islands off the coast of present-day Texas formed as sand bars beneath the ocean. Once they emerged above water, the first known people who inhabited the island were the Karankawa Native American tribe. The Karankawa people lived nomadically along the Gulf Coast of now-Texas, from Galveston to Corpus Christi.
In the early 1500s, Spanish sailors began to arrive in the region. It was likely Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca who was the first European to reach the islands through Aransas Pass and encounter the Karankawa tribe in 1528. As Spaniards brought wild horses to the island throughout the 1800s, the land was first called ‘Wild Horse Island’ by settlers. The name soon became ‘Mustang Island’ after the Spanish word ‘mesteños.’
French pirate Jean Lafitte and his buccaneers, known for their presence in the Gulf of Mexico, also spent time on Mustang Island and its surrounding areas in the 1820s. It’s even rumored that Lafitte’s buried treasure is located somewhere on Mustang Island, with its spot marked by a Spanish silver dagger.
The first-known map of Port Aransas emerged in 1833 to help sailors navigate the region. Back then, the region of Port Aransas was marked as Sand Point, and the Aransas Pass was deemed the Aranzazu Pass.
When the Mexican War broke out in 1846, a fort was built on Mustang Island to guard Aransas Bay. This fort was used until after the Civil War. In addition, the first steamship service from Mustang Island ran between the island and New Orleans in the 1850s.
In the 1890s, the main town of Mustang Island was named Ropesville, yet the name later changed to Tarpon in 1899 due to the abundance of fish caught in the area. At this time, the population was only 250 residents.
At the turn of the century, the town became highly successful in exporting sea turtles. The rich marine diversity of the region included thousands of giant sea turtles that were exported to markets. At the northern tip of Mustang Island, residents started calling their town Port Aransas in 1910. The Port Aransas history of storms and hurricanes in the Gulf Coast region began with the storm of 1919, which demolished much of the town.
The area in Port Aransas where Fisherman’s Wharf now calls home began as a small cafe in January 1929. However, the owner, Sim Matthews, envisioned a business more significant than a cafe. In 1933 the Silver King Cafe was renamed as the historic Matthew’s Place, which offered new services such as a fishing guide service and tackle shop. From world record catches to Presidential visits from Theodore Roosevelt, Sim Matthews cultivated a one-of-a-kind experience for anyone wanting to visit the gulf. Though hurricanes, gulf storms and threats on property rights provided difficulties for him, Sim managed his thriving Matthew’s Place, along with the help of other locals, up until his death in 1947. Following Sim’s death, the property has changed ownership throughout the years. However, the legacy that made Matthew’s Place so special continues to thrive today with Fisherman’s Wharf.