ROCKPORT, TEXAS. Rockport, the county seat of Aransas County, is on State Highway 35 on Live Oak Peninsula between Copano and Aransas bays, thirty miles northeast of Corpus Christi in the southern part of the county. It was named for the rock ledge underlying its shore and was founded just after the Civil War as a cattle slaughtering, packing, and shipping port. William S. Hall built the first packeries in 1865, and in 1866 James M. Doughty and Richard Wood built cattle pens to keep the stock until slaughtering. In 1867 John M. and Thomas H. Mathis joined Doughty, and the partners platted the southern half of town. In 1868 Joseph F. Smith and John H. Wood built a shipping wharf and platted the north half of town. John Mathis was the first mayor of Rockport; he was appointed by the governor. In 1867 Col. George Ware Fulton, son-in-law of former governor Henry Smith, returned to the Rockport area from Baltimore, where he had lived with his family since 1846. Rockport was incorporated as a town in 1870 and as a city in 1871, the year Aransas County was demarked from Refugio County. In 1871 Youngs Coleman and his son, Thomas Matthew Coleman, joined the Fulton and Mathis families in cattle raising. The partnership owned 115,000 acres at this time and was a vital part of the boom that began in Rockport in 1873. In 1879 Mathis sold his interest in the company, which was thereafter known as the Coleman-Fulton Pasture Company. This company brought in the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway in 1886, but at the same time the Morgan Lines withdrew service from the port so that the cattle raisers had no way to ship their beef products. In 1885 Charles P. Taft became director of Coleman-Fulton, and David Sinton of Cincinnati took control by buying a majority of the stock. In December 1886, after the shipping line pulled out, the company sold its wharf, cattle pens, and warehouses. George Fulton died in 1893, but the company continued to be a major force in development of the area and was in existence until 1930.
During the 1880s boatbuilding and fishing began to develop as important industries in Rockport. Tourism and the resort trade also blossomed, particularly after the railroad came into town. Residents also began to investigate the possibility of a deep-water harbor, which would require a channel through the sand bar at Aransas Pass. In 1889 the courthouse, designed by James Riely Gordon, renowned Texas architect, was completed. In 1890 the First National Bank of Aransas Pass was established, and electric lights were installed in town. However, real estate speculation spurred investments that the population could not support, and the town soon went into an economic slump. Interest in constructing a deep-water port at Rockport continued, and projects were begun in 1884, 1905, 1910, and 1921, the year that Robert J. Kleberg of the King Ranch called a meeting at Kingsville to take action. Those in attendance appointed Roy Miller to go to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the "Corpus Christi plan." In 1922 President Harding signed a bill for a port at Corpus Christi, which was finished in 1926.
In 1907 Governor Thomas M. Campbell appointed R. H. Wood first commissioner over the area and commissioned him to revise the wildlife laws and to draft game, fish, and oyster conservation laws. The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, northeast of Rockport in Aransas County, provides an unspoiled area for coastal wildlife, particularly the whooping crane, which takes sanctuary there between November and March. The Connie Hagar Wildlife Sanctuary, established in 1967, is in Rockport itself. The Rockport Chamber of Commerce was organized in 1912, but its efforts to develop the town were halted in 1919 by a hurricane that nearly leveled the community. Recovery was slow. In 1935 the Aransas County Navigation District built harbors at Rockport and at Fulton, as well as the Rockport Beach and the saltwater swimming pool, a protected area off Aransas Bay. The city also has a water-skiing basin near these recreational facilities.
The shrimping industry developed between 1925 and 1930 and became a major boon for the city in the 1940s. Late that decade the industry slowed, but in the 1950s it was successful again. The boat-building trade also picked up during this time. T. Noah Smith, Sr., founded the Rockport Yacht and Supply Company in 1935. A vertical-lift turntable and trackage were installed in 1950, and in the 1960s the company began a thriving trade in steel-hulled boats. Rob Roy Rice started another shipyard in 1941 to build submarine chasers. Rice's yard shut down after World War II.
The population of Rockport grew steadily over the years. In 1914 the town had a reported population of 1,382. By the early 1940s the number of residents had increased to 1,729, and the town had sixty-five businesses. In 1970 the reported population was 3,900, and the businesses numbered 150. In 1980 the population was 3,686, and in 1986 it was estimated at 5,120. The major sources of commerce in Rockport in 1989 remained the fishing and shrimping industries and the tourist trade. Vacationers fish, swim, watch birds, relax, visit the wildlife refuges, and enjoy other attractions like Goose Island, the Fulton Mansion, the annual Rockport Art Festival in July, Seafair in October, and the Rockport Art Center, which provides gallery space for the many artists who live in the area. The town has several historic homes from the cattle-market days, and the Sisters of Schoenstatt Convent (1959) and the Chapel of Our Lady, Star of the Sea (1958), the oldest church in the area, are in nearby Lamar. The restaurant and motel trades also provide much of the city's commercial life. In 1990 the population was 4,753. The population reached 7,385 in 2000.
Aransas County-Rockport Centennial, 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 (Corpus Christi: Coastal Printing, 1971). Keith Guthrie, Texas' Forgotten Ports (Austin: Eakin Press, 1988). Hobart Huson, Refugio: A Comprehensive History of Refugio County from Aboriginal Times to 1953 (2 vols., Woodsboro, Texas: Rooke Foundation, 1953, 1955). Texas Highways, November 1987. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Alice M. Shukalo, "ROCKPORT, TX," accessed May 29, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hgr05.
Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on January 29, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.