“Calhoun County is located on the Gulf Coast between Houston and Corpus Christi. Approximately one-fourth of the county’s 540-square-mile area is under water. Calhoun County is bordered by Victoria and Jackson counties on the north, Matagorda Island and the Gulf on the south, Refugio County on the west, and Matagorda County on the east.”
“The terrain is flat, poorly to moderately well drained, and surfaced with loams underlain by cracking, clayey subsoils, including deep black soils and sandy clay. Matagorda Island, on the southern fringe of the county, is chiefly deep shell sand. The climate is mild, the rainfall averages about forty inches annually, and the growing season lasts 305 days a year. The flora includes tall grasses and live oaks with cordgrasses and sedges along the coast, and the animal life includes quail, deer, doves, cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits, armadillos, skunks, opossums, raccoons, and a few coyotes.”
“René Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, is believed to have landed in 1685 near Powderhorn Lake after one of his four ships was wrecked while crossing the bar at Cavallo Pass. A monument placed by the Texas Centennial Commission in 1936 marks his landing site.”
“The first Anglo settlement site now in the county was at Linnville, where in 1831 John J. Linn established a warehouse and wharf three miles north of the future site of Lavaca (later Port Lavaca). Comanche Indians collecting horses sacked and burned the settlement during the Linnville Raid of 1840 before being pursued and defeated. The inhabitants escaped by boat to a bluff about three miles away, where a few men who operated a warehouse welcomed them; this was the beginning of the present town of Port Lavaca.”
“Newcomers began rounding up cattle during the 1840s and making ranching, traditionally a Hispanic concern, an American occupation. Lavaca, established in 1842 as a port, shipped hides and tallow and transported goods from New Orleans to San Antonio and points west. Its present name, Spanish for “cow port,” reflected the importance of cattle to the local economy.”
“In 1844 Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels landed at Indian Point in Calhoun County with a hundred German families. Although few of them remained on the Gulf, their tent village, called Karlshafen, became Indianola, the town that served as Calhoun county seat for many years. In the 1840s other Germans established a community at Seadrift, and Poles arrived at Indianola between 1854 and 1856.”
“On April 4, 1846, Calhoun County was formed from parts of Victoria, Jackson, and Matagorda counties and named for John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, who had advocated Texas statehood. Lavaca was the first county seat. But, as a result of the development of the Indianola Railroad, the formation of other transportation lines, and a shift of population, Indianola became more important and was made county seat in 1852. The county’s earliest newspaper, the Lavaca Journal, began publication in 1848; the first county school opened at Lavaca in 1849; and a county courthouse was completed at Indianola in 1857. Both Lavaca and Indianola remained important trade centers until 1861.”
“Fort Esperanza, on Matagorda Island, constructed by Confederate forces using slave labor, covered the approaches to Cavallo Pass, but in 1863 the fort was captured after the battle of Matagorda Bay. Wharves, warehouses, railroads, and bridges were destroyed or damaged, and Indianola and Lavaca were taken by federal troops, many of whom were quartered in the county by the end of the war.”
“The county recovered during Reconstruction. The population rose from 2,642 in 1860 to 3,443 by 1870, of which 907 were black; most county residents lived at Lavaca or Indianola, which for a time in the 1870s surpassed Galveston as the leading Texas seaport.”
“A fire in 1867 destroyed buildings at Indianola, and a yellow fever epidemic reduced the population. In 1875 a Gulf storm brought heavy damage to Indianola, which recovered only briefly before a tidal wave virtually destroyed the community in 1886. By 1880 the county’s population had dropped to 1,739. Lavaca, renamed Port Lavaca, became the county seat again in 1887, the post office and courthouse were moved there, and Indianola was never rebuilt.”
“At the turn of the century, land companies offering mortgage loans at ordinary interest brought an influx of small farmers, most of whom raised cotton. Oyster shipping began at Port Lavaca, and developers established a new community at Port O’Connor. Swedes established a Lutheran colony at Olivia in 1892, and by 1900 European immigrants included Irish, Scots, Germans, and Bohemians.”
“Improvements came with the construction in 1931 of a causeway over Lavaca Bay that linked the area to the South Texas highway system, discoveries of natural gas near Port Lavaca in 1934, and oil in 1935. Black schools operated in the Port Lavaca and Long Mott districts. A colony of Christian Scientists was established at Magnolia Beach, which became a major resort. In World War II an army training camp was built on Matagorda Island, along with a Strategic Air Command base that remained in service until 1975.”
“The county suffered a tropical storm in 1945 and extensive damage from Hurricane Carla in 1961. From 1940 to 1950 the population increased from 5,911 to 8,971. An Alcoa plant that employed 2,600 workers opened at Point Comfort in 1947, and a Union Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Company plant near Seadrift opened in 1952; in 1980 it provided jobs for 1,400 employees. Other major industry included the Hartzog Shipyards, the U.S. Cold Storage Company, and the fishing and shrimping industry.”
“In the 1980s Calhoun County’s principal natural resources, after discoveries around 1935, remained industrial sand, oil, and gas. Port Lavaca, Port O’Connor, and Magnolia Beach attracted tourists, and hunting, fishing, boating, and bathing offered recreation. In 1988 the Formosa Plastics Corporation of Taiwan, encouraged to locate in Calhoun County to improve employment, established a petrochemical factory at Point Comfort; controversy subsequently developed over the company’s environmental practices.”
“In 2000 the census counted 20,647 people living in Calhoun County. About 52 percent were Anglo, 41 percent were Hispanic, and 3 percent were African American; other minority groups comprised about 4 percent of the population.”
“In 1985 a Texas historical marker was placed at Half Moon Reef Lighthouse. Matagorda Island State Park and Wildlife Management Area, Calhoun County’s principal state park, covered 7,325 acres. Annual special events in the county include the Sea Fest in May, Texas Water Safari in June, Shrimp-Fest in July, Fishing Derby and Youth Rodeo in August, Christmas Parade in December, and Calhoun County Fair in October at Port Lavaca.”
- Handbook of Texas Online, Diana J. Kleiner, “Calhoun County“
I was the guest of Port Lavaca, Indianola, and Calhoun County on June 22, 2015.
Calhoun County Courthouse – 1859 (Indianola)
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
There are no surviving photos of this courthouse, but we know it was designed by architect Edward Beaumont. We also know that it was built of shell concrete and lime and that it was completed in the late 1850s.
The most intriguing fact about this courthouse is that it stood in what is today a ghost town. In its prime, the small fishing village of Indianola was so large that it briefly rivaled Galveston for top Texas port. In those days, it was the seat of Calhoun County and two courthouses served here throughout history.
During deadly hurricanes in both 1875 and 1886, the walls of this building saved the lives of many Indianola citizens. In fact, the 1886 storm was so catastrophic that it destroyed the city, forcing Calhoun County residents north to a new county seat (Port Lavaca). That year, this building was abandoned. In subsequent years it was eventually destroyed (but whether by man or nature, I don’t know). The picture above is from 1945, fifty-nine years after the hurricane that “killed Indianola”, so to speak. Those are the courthouse ruins you see.
Between 1945 and 2015, those ruins disappeared from existence. All that remains of this courthouse is a single piece of its foundation.
Calhoun County Courthouse – 1887
(Photo Courtesy: Terry Jeanson)
This building was constructed by E.L. Miller. I know nothing more.
Calhoun County Courthouse – 1911
(Photo Courtesy: TxDOT)
This simple, square-plan courthouse done in the Greek Revival Style was put together by the Falls City Construction Company. The building was accepted as complete in May 1911 and demolished in 1959.
Calhoun County Courthouse – 1959
(Photo Courtesy: THC)
This design of concrete, steel, and aluminum is courtesy of the Rusty & Martin firm. Though crafted in their take on the modern style, this courthouse did retain a clock tower until 1962.That year saw not only the tower’s removal but the destruction of a top floor as well.
Other renovations included the addition of wings to both the north and south sides. Curiously enough, those were only done three years after the courthouse was first built. We can surmise from that that Calhoun County’s population was demonstrably growing and more space was crucial. The 1962 changes were overseen by architects Rittenberry & Rittenberry with the Timmons Construction Company serving as contractor.
The Calhoun County Adult Detention Center, on Live Oak Street
On Ann Street (diagonally across from the courthouse)
Though today a ghost town, Indianola was once a booming port city big enough to surpass Galveston in business.
One of many unique finds to be discovered in Indianola
It is believed that legendary French explorer Rene Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle entered Texas somewhere along the shore near Indianola. To honor his memory, this statue was erected in 1936.
Could this have been the beach that La Salle landed on?
Previous Courthouse: Aransas County
Next Courthouse: Jackson County