“Aransas County has an area of 276 square miles. The altitude ranges from sea level to fifty feet. The level land, part of the Coastal Prairie, is generally poorly drained.”
“The earliest European to see the area of the future county may have been Alonzo Álvarez de Pineda, who sailed along the Texas coast in the early summer of 1519 and may have explored Aransas Bay during his journey. Nine years later Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his crew were shipwrecked on the Texas coast. Although their exact route is unknown, historians believe that he or members of his party may have crossed the area.”
“By the late colonial period, the Spanish had established a small fort on Live Oak Point that they named Aránzazu, reportedly after a palace in Spain. Several attempts were made to establish settlements in the lower Nueces River valley to the south, but because of the threat of Indian attacks and the distance from other Spanish enclaves the plans came to nothing.”
“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.”
“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.”
“During the Civil War the area that was to become Aransas County was the site of several engagements between Union and Confederate forces. In February 1862 marines from the USS Afton went ashore on St. Joseph’s Island and destroyed Aransas. By the summer, civilians had deserted the islands.”
“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. The first packery in the county was built by W. S. Hall in Fulton just after the war, and over the course of the next eight years the plant slaughtered 400,000 cattle.”
“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.”
“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. The shrimping industry also began to develop in the 1930s, and by 1950 it produced fifty-one million pounds of shrimp.”
“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. In 1990, 85.4 percent of the population was white, 1.8 percent black, 3.3 percent Asian, and 0.6 percent American Indian. The largest cities were Rockport, Aransas Pass (part of which is in Nueces and San Patricio counties), and Fulton.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Christopher Long, “Aransas County“
I was the guest of Rockport and Aransas County on June 22, 2015.
Aransas County Courthouse – 1889
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
Influenced heavily by the Moorish style, James Riely Gordon put together this unique work to properly befit a place at the cultural crossroads of South Texas and the Gulf Coast.
Characteristic horseshoe arches and ogival roofs make this courthouse stand out among the rest in Texas’ storied past. It cost the county $19,494.00.
Regrettably, it was torn down in the 1950s as another victim of the mid-twentieth century’s relentless modernization phase.
This lot, adjacent to the current courthouse, is where the Gordon design once stood. Fortunately, the City of Rockport hasn’t built anything over it.
Aransas County Courthouse – 1956
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
They call the technique used here the “Motel Style”.
This entails a: “modern one-story, brick, concrete, and steel building with ribbon windows across the front facade and two-story slab intersecting the facade”. - Texas Historical Commission
The architect was Lynn A. Evans and an addition was completed in 1983.
The western façade
The adjacent tax office, spied from the western side of the courthouse
One of two entrances on this side
The other entrance
Rockport, Fulton, & Aransas County
To the west of the bay-hugging Fulton Beach Road is the Fulton Mansion. It’s a neat find that would fit right at home among the historic homes in Galveston’s Castle District. You can read more about it: here.
I found this old photograph of the mansion while inside the courthouse.
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Next Courthouse: Calhoun County