Padre Island
Administrative History
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By the early 1920s Patrick Dunn's struggle to maintain an isolated Padre Island for his cattle empire no longer seemed possible. Although still largely uninhabited and under his ownership, increasing numbers of fishermen, sightseers, and beach squatters trampled across the island. The lack of vehicular access became less of a problem as visitors and tourists crossed the bays by way of crude, hand-pulled ferries. Dunn, like many others, had not foreseen the popularity and affordability of the automobile, which now contributed to the mobility of thousands. As more and more travelers sought new destinations for leisure time in their automobiles, the demand for good roads and public parks increased. Local, state, and national "boosters" organized into automobile clubs, highway associations, park associations, and statewide "Good Roads" committees. In the final years of the Progressive Era, the demand for good roads and public parks moved from a small cadre of supporters to a national reform priority. Primitive highways, many only dirt and gravel, gradually appeared on the landscape. Community leaders saw auto tourism, parks, and good roads as the future economic development for many cities. [1]

At the same time, administrators of the young National Park Service began to aggressively promote the national park system that in the early 1920s still mostly lay in the West and Southwest. Under a national campaign to "See America First," motorists flocked to the national parks. [2] Park Service authorities welcomed the automobile into the parks by supporting highway associations, such as the National Park-to-Park Highway, and accommodated vehicles by expanding internal circulation. These efforts gave little consideration to natural resource conservation. While the Park Service embraced the automobile age in its existing facilities, state and local parks seemed to either accompany or follow the automobile and highway development. This process developed so quickly and quietly that even the most avid motorists missed the overlapping interests of good roads, auto tourism, and park development that subtly began to appear in public policy at all levels of government. [3]

park visitors
Figure 8. Automobile Visitors to Padre Island, June 1913. Courtesy PAIS Archives.

Texas State Parks Board and Padre Island

In response to the growing trends in auto tourism and good roads, Texas Governor Pat Neff (1921 - 1925) approved legislation to establish the Texas State Parks Board in the spring of 1923. Neff, in turn, appointed five board members, assigning each a region of the state to oversee and encourage park development. Unfortunately, board members received no funding from the Texas Legislature and were largely left to finance their own park pursuits and all expenses. Neff's initial appointment went to David E. Colp of San Antonio. Colp became one of the Parks Board's most fervent and dedicated supporters, serving as chairman from March 1923 until his death in the 1930s. During his chairmanship the Board evolved from a small unfocused group to one envisioning large scenic preserves. This vision eventually set the standard for Texas State Park development with large tracts of land such as Palo Duro Canyon, Guadalupe Mountains, and Padre Island. [4]

Colp's interest in parks developed through his work as a founding member of the Texas Good Roads Association and appointment as the first secretary to the Texas Highway Department in 1917. He also played an active role in several national highway associations in the early 1920s. [5] One of his early positions came with the Old Spanish Trail (OST), a transcontinental route extending from St. Augustine, Florida, to San Diego, California. [6] After leaving the OST, Colp became director of the Glacier-to-Gulf Highway and Puget Sound-to-Gulf Highway. [7] These two highway associations never developed to the level of the OST, but included segments ending in Flour Bluff, near Corpus Christi, now the location of the Padre Island National Seashore headquarters, and another in Brownsville. [8]

Colp first visited Padre Island in June 1924 in the company of Oscar Dancy, Cameron County judge. [9] Dancy, Colp's longtime associate and supporter of various highway associations, became devoted to the multiple public cause of uniting good roads with parks, auto tourism, and ultimately economic development for the Rio Grande Valley. The 1924 visit introduced Colp to the tourist appeal of Padre Island as well as the problems of vehicular access and recreational facility development. Though Colp supported the idea of a park on Padre Island, Judge Dancy embraced the concept so fully that it became a lifelong dream. Many years later, Dancy's dream would be recalled at the dedication of Padre Island National Seashore.

Barely two years after Colp's tour of Padre Island, he was contacted by the Dial Steel Products expressing an interest in supplying park toilets to the three parks operated by the Gulf Coast Causeway Company, as reported in the National Conference of State Parks Bulletin. Padre Island was one of the three parks. [10] The writer for the National Conference article was premature. Although an increasing number of people were aware of Padre Island, it was far from being established as a public park.

In April 1926 the Dallas News published a story entitled, "Boom Along South Texas Coast Grows." The author mentioned a number of emerging developments, but the one on which focused was the planned "speedway and state park" to be built on Padre Island. The plan entailed construction of a causeway at each end of the island connected to an automobile speedway of smooth hard beach that reportedly ran the entire 119-mile length of the island. At an undisclosed location along the speedway, a state park of 5,000 acres would be developed. The park was a fraction of the estimated 70,000 acres anticipated for the total development.

The Gulf Coast Causeway Company, formally chartered on October 8, 1925, and consisting of three Harlingen and two San Antonio investors, including Colp's wife, led the campaign for private development with a pledge to invest one-half million dollars in the first year of development and another million in the second. The Company proposed to build toll roads from Corpus Christi to Brownsville via Padre Island, and from Corpus Christi to Galveston to provide access. [11] Expenditures in the first year, however, would largely be devoted to the construction of a hotel to resemble a clubhouse, and more than one hundred summer cottages. Maintenance costs for the roads and properties would be covered by the tolls collected on each causeway. While quoted in several places in the April article, D.E. Colp insisted that after 20 years the 5,000-acre park would revert back to the State Parks Board. He reiterated that the Gulf Coast Causeway Company acted as a trustee for the Parks Board and did so only because the Board could not be chartered. [12] Colp's insistence about the role of the Parks Board was typical of his statements in the 1920s. Because the Board lacked funding and possessed no power of eminent domain, it could not acquire private property but relied on donations or cooperative agreements with privately chartered companies. [13]

A few days after the Dallas newspaper article appeared Colp wrote a member of the State Parks Board in Dallas commenting on the "muddled condition on titles" for Padre Island. [14] Despite the problematic chain of title, Colp proceeded with negotiations involving the Gulf Coast Causeway Company and in July 1926 proposed the purchase of 5,000 acres between Corpus Christi and Point Isabel and deeds to a 200-foot right-of-way across Padre Island, presumably from the owner of Padre Island, Patrick Dunn. [15]

Private Development on Padre Island

Private efforts to develop Padre Island occurred about the same time as Colp's "public" effort. Colonel Sam A. Robertson, Cameron County sheriff in the 1920s, chartered the Brazos de Santiago Pass Ferry Company on August 6, 1925, to operate ferries at Brazos de Santiago Pass in Cameron County and from Flour Bluff to Mustang Island in Nueces County. [16] Two months later, Robertson filed another charter for the Ocean Side Toll Road Company on the same day as did the Gulf Coast Causeway Company, October 8, 1925. Robertson's second corporation included a stockholder from St. Louis, Missouri, two from Hidalgo County, and one from Miami, Florida. The Company proposed to build a beach sand, shell, and Tarviated toll road from the mouth of the Rio Grande to Aransas Pass along the Gulf side of Padre Island. [17] There is no explanation for the overlapping dates of the Gulf Coast Causeway Company and Ocean Side Toll Road Company. Each document, however, contains a certificate from the Texas Attorney General giving the date of filing and circumstances surrounding its approval. This implies that the competition to build a road on Padre Island was intense. One can assume that Colonel Robertson's company eventually won development rights because it indicated a higher amount of capital. [18]

park visitors
Figure 9. An Early Automobile Being Loaded on a Ferry to Padre Island, June 1913. Courtesy PAIS Archives.

On February 1, 1926, Robertson put his capital to work and acquired surface rights to Padre Island from Patrick Dunn for an estimated $125,000. [19] Dunn, however, retained mineral and grazing rights. Robertson immediately addressed vehicular accessibility to the Island by constructing the Don Patricio Causeway in 1927. Named for Patrick Dunn, the causeway consisted of two pairs of trough runners and a low guard rail extending on wooden piers from Flour Bluff to Padre Island. When officially opened in 1927, the daughter of Pat Dunn allegedly was the first to cross the causeway in a Model T Ford. [20] Within the first month of operation, more than 1,800 automobiles crossed the causeway and another 2,500 made the trip the following month. [21] Robertson also provided bridge access to the extreme northern tip across Corpus Christi Pass, and to Port Aransas and the southern end of Padre Island with ferries. [22] Twenty miles of asphalt road, a hotel named the "Twenty-Five Mile Hotel," later sometimes referred to as Surfside Hotel, and a casino were built on the southern end. [23] Five houses also were constructed 45 miles north of the southern end and another built three miles south of the northern end of the Island. [24]

Two additional developments were underway in 1926 approximately six miles north of Point Isabel. Private owners from Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City laid out Buena Vista, a townsite of more than 22,000 acres. Adjoining it, a syndicate called "Hollywood-by-the-Gulf" platted 1,341 acres of housing lots. Two boulevards, a hotel and apartment house, and playgrounds were completed in 1926. A local newspaper story reported that the lots were "selling rapidly." [25]

Little documentation exists to relate how these developments progressed in the late 1920s. However, after the financial collapse of 1929, Colonel Robertson experienced his own financial trouble. In 1930 he sold his interests to Albert and Frank Jones of Kansas City, who operated under the company entitled the Dixie Development Corporation, chartered January 14, 1927. [26] The Ocean Side Toll Road Company apparently disbanded during the early 1930s and officially ended in 1946. Although no longer operating, in July 1933 a hurricane hit Padre Island, destroying almost all of Robertson's development especially along South Padre. The storm also washed away the Don Patricio Causeway, leaving Padre Island once again largely inaccessible by vehicles.

National Park Service Recognizes Padre Island

In 1933 Roger Toll, then the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, visited Padre Island while making other site inspections in South Texas. Toll returned an adverse report to Director Horace Albright of the Park Service who in turn issued a denial for further consideration of Padre Island as a new park. [27] Director Albright, however, resigned shortly thereafter, opening up the possibility of new directions for the Park Service under the new Director Arno B. Cammerer.

The District III Office of the National Park Service, now the Southwest Region, studied the Texas Gulf Coast for possible national seashore recreational areas in September 1934. This report, dated December 29, 1934, from Assistant Director Conrad L. Wirth, Bureau of Planning, and entitled "Study of National Seashore Recreation Areas, Padre Island, Texas," recommended Padre Island as "the most outstanding beach for such a purpose." [28] The following July Chief Biologist H.P.K. Agersborg, Inspector George Nason, and Regional Wildlife Technician James Stevenson visited the area to make a new report. [29] Agersborg's visit resulted in a somewhat ambivalent report with an opening line, "Padre Island is a sandy waste." He stated that "cattle and horses had completely 'yarded' the border hill" and that "the beach was unwholesome and unaesthetic" because it "was literally strewn with Menhaden, sprinkled with Gulf trout and a few Mullets." [30] Agersborg made a recommendation that the area be considered for a waterfowl and shore bird sanctuary, but only after a complete biological survey was made by a biologist who could spend some time on the island. [31] In conclusion, Agersborg made a final statement that described the results of many years of development efforts on the island, "To me the island seemed depopulated of wildlife due to traffic in cattle raising and through visiting motorists who periodically race along the beach as madmen do." [32] Finally, the chief biologist stated that he believed, based on reports from others, that St. Joseph Island, north of Padre and Mustang Islands, was a better possibility for wildlife. [33] In spite of these reports, Regional Officer Herbert Maier recommended the area as a national beach park in June 1935. [34]

Another report issued in July 1936 from Assistant Director Conrad L. Wirth to Regional Officer Herbert Maier of the Regional III Office, rated 49 seashores around the country for their potential as national seashore parks. Authorized by Harold L. Ickes, Secretary of the Interior, Padre Island overall was ranked as "poor." In specific sections, the Park Service ranked Padre Island as "fair" for the highways leading to the island and "poor" for access to the island. Described as 110 miles long, 300 feet wide, and having a 3 per cent slope, Padre Island became the longest stretch under investigation. Padre earned an "A" for fishing, "B" each for boating and wildlife value, and "D" for forest value. Its estimated 90,000 acres were valued at five dollars per acre, the lowest of any of the 49, for a total value of $450,000. Many of these facts and the statement that Padre Island had "no mosquito problem" were erroneous. [35]

The July report coincided with the passage of the Park, Parkway, and Recreation Area Study Act by the U.S. Congress in 1936. This Act charged the National Park Service with responsibility for Federal outdoor recreation activities and opened up discussion on a type of national park quite different from the earlier designated parks. The emphasis turned more to recreational needs and away from strictly scenic value. [36] One year later, Lake Mead became the first National Recreation Area (NRA) and Cape Hatteras the first National Seashore (NS).

Texas Parks and Politics

While the National Park Service conducted studies of Padre Island and began a philosophical shift toward acceptance of recreational uses, a significant political shift was underway in the State of Texas. James V. Allred won his first statewide election as attorney general in 1930. After taking office, Allred hired Ralph W. Yarborough, a young attorney with the El Paso firm of Turney, Burges, Culwell, and Pollard. As an assistant attorney general, Yarborough provided legal assistance for the Permanent School Fund and University of Texas Permanent Fund as well as actively pursued the State's interest in land and mineral rights. One of his most successful projects became the issue of State rather than Federal ownership of the tidelands and thus the rights to mineral excavation. [37] The tidelands would not be fully resolved until a Supreme Court decision sided in favor of Texas in 1960. [38]

While working for Attorney General Allred and exploring the tidelands legal issues, Yarborough traveled each fall to Willacy County at the invitation of the Game, Fish, Oyster Commission to hunt White Wing doves. Through these hunts and various fishing trips from Port Aransas, he learned of the unique topography and abundant natural resources along Padre Island and the Laguna Madre. Yarborough later recalled being impressed with Padre Island and remembered these trips fondly when proposing Padre Island as a national seashore. [39]

During his tenure as state attorney general in the early 1930s, James Allred became an enlightened progressive and Roosevelt New Dealer. After Allred's election as Governor in 1934, Yarborough left the State government for private practice but remained loyal to Allred's progressive politics and the programs of President Roosevelt's New Deal. These years had a profound effect on Yarborough's political ideology and interest in the environment. [40]

During Allred's first administration, interest in Padre as a state park resurfaced. David E. Colp, who had died in 1936, and Oscar Dancy, who chose not to run for county judge for two years, left a leadership vacuum for the Padre Island park cause. Congressman Richard M. Kleberg of Kingsville and heir of the King Ranch partially filled the vacuum on the national level by speaking on behalf of Padre Island in September 1935. [41] At the same time, William M. Neyland of Corpus Christi filled the remainder of the gap by working in Texas to establish a State park on Padre. [42] At the State Parks Board meeting in October 1935 the Board considered acquisition of Padre Island along with recommending construction of a causeway to the Texas Highway Department. [43] The Board requested that the City of Corpus Christi obtain an option on the island from the Jones brothers of Kansas City for no more than $400,000. This figure was later raised to $450,000. The City would issue bonds for payment while the Board assumed responsibility and requested a federal loan to be paid back from park revenues. [44] Four months later, the State Parks Board moved forward in cooperation with the City of Corpus Christi for the purchase of 90,000 acres. [45] Unfortunately, the State Parks Board did not act in time and the option expired in July 1936. [46]

William Neyland regrouped the Corpus Christi leadership and formed Padre Island Park Association in March 1937 to seek State legislation for a park. More than 35 cities in South Texas became members of the Association and contributed to its political backing. Neyland felt that the causeway tolls and park fees covered expenses incurred from establishment of the park and make the project "self-liquidating." [47] On March 25, 1937, Representative William E. Pope of Corpus Christi introduced House Bill 1034 in the State Legislature. [48] The measure passed the House and Senate only to be vetoed by Governor Allred in May 1937. [49]

Governor Allred's veto message stated a number of reservations. While generally seen as a progressive, Allred viewed a toll on the new causeways as a new form of taxation. He politically favored no new taxation but improved property valuation instead. Thus, he was noted for the number of pieces of legislation vetoed because of insufficient State funds. [50] Governor Allred also felt that the State may own the Island because the original grant to Padre Nicholas Balli specified 11.5 leagues and the current acreage was 30 leagues. He saw no wisdom in purchasing land for a State park that did not include mineral rights, particularly for a sale price of $500,000. The Federal government would not set up a park where minerals were withheld so why should the State of Texas, he concluded. In his last statement, Allred asserted that the necessity of construction of a causeway, subject to periodic washout, placed undue burdens on the Texas Highway Department. Allred's veto devastated the Padre Island park supporters, and many supporters, including former Assistant Attorney General Ralph Yarborough, felt Allred's decision was a mistake. [51]

In June 1937 Representative William Pope restructured his bill for a Special Session of the State Legislature. Allred still opposed the bill and had now requested an investigation of land titles by the Land Commissioner and Attorney General. The House passed the legislation, but it died in the Senate. A statement allowing the park acquisition to await Allred's investigation essentially killed the bill. [52] Representative Pope promised to prepare legislation for a third attempt in the fall of 1938, but apparently decided otherwise. [53]

Later in 1937, Albert Jones, still the major landowner, approached an Eastern syndicate. New York Senator John Hastings and his associates organized to buy and develop Padre as a year-round playground similar to those in Florida and California. They agreed to pay $10,000 by December 16, 1937, and then subsequent amounts of $100,000 by March 1938 to eventually total $550,000. This price included all surface rights and one-half mineral rights. The syndicate's plans included a causeway to withstand storms and high enough to allow passage of intracoastal waterway traffic, residential subdivisions on both ends of the island, yacht basins, a dude ranch, and a steamship service from Brownsville, New Orleans, and Corpus Christi. The syndicate paid the first $10,000 then lost its option. William Neyland, Jones' agent, announced in July 1938 that another group formed to take over the option, but it never materialized. [54]

In 1940 all private development options stalled. Texas Attorney General Gerald Mann, who defeated Allred's protege, Ralph W. Yarborough, in the 1939 election, filed a suit on behalf of the State claiming title to the lands on Padre Island. More than 200 persons were listed as defendants, including Albert Jones. The case was tried in 1941 in the 117th District Court and a decision held for the defendants. The State of Texas appealed the decision, but in 1946 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court in favor of the defendants. [55] For the time being, the question of State ownership seemed resolved.

park entrance
Figure 10. Entrance to Padre Island Causeway, ca. 1940. Courtesy PAIS Archives.

National Park Service Continues Investigation of Padre Island

Congressman Richard Kleberg resumed his inquiries into Padre Island in June 1937. Acknowledging the ongoing State efforts, he seemed confident that Governor Allred would sign a new bill emerging from the summer 1937 Special Session. National Park Service representatives responded to Kleberg that his efforts to establish a national monument were never pursued because of the problems in getting State ownership. These representatives also suggested designating Padre as a State park, implying that a national park might be inappropriate. [56] The problem of public ownership followed the long-held Park Service and Congressional belief that a State government or private philanthropist should donate land in order for establishment of a national park. [57] This of course greatly complicated the Padre Island issue.

The Park Service released a special report on Padre Island in 1937 prepared by George Nason, National Park Service landscape architect. His report, prepared at the request of Mr. Bell and Neyland of Corpus Christi, showed support for the State park initiative. Nason mentioned the efforts for a State park but added some significant details on Padre Island. He stated that "the beach is hard and can be driven on by of roads is hardly necessary." Nason concluded that "To me, its interest is national rather than state." He placed it among the outstanding park areas of Texas mentioning Big Bend and Palo Duro Canyon. [58] In the fall of 1939 and again in winter 1940, National Park Service personnel made visits to Padre Island. Each issued positive reports on the island's wildlife and topography. [59] These reports from the late 1930s and early 1940s proved to be a turning point in recognizing the value of Padre Island by the National Park Service. World War II (1941-1945) became another obstacle to immediate advancement on the park idea.

On the eve of the United States entry as an Allied Power in World War II, National Park Service Director Arno Cammerer resigned. In 1940 Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes appointed Newton B. Drury, executive director of the Save-the-Redwoods League in California, as the new Park Service Director. Drury's 11-year administration faced some of the most difficult challenges in the history of the Park Service. The wartime constraints on financial, human, and natural resources brought repeated attempts to open park land for grazing, logging, and mining. Drury, however, devoted his administration to preservation of the park resources over use. His stalwart attitude and determination repelled most of these efforts. Director Drury did forfeit the barrier island Santa Rosa Island in Florida, now part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, to the Navy. He also removed Shasta Recreation Area in California from the park system and returned Lake Texoma Recreation Area to the Army Corps of Engineers. The lack of commitment to these park units reflected Drury's dislike for the seashores and reservoir-based recreation that emphasized outdoor recreation. He simply felt that these did not belong in the park system. [60]

park visitors
Figure 11. National Park Service Visitors to Padre Island, May 1937. Courtesy of The Dr. Fred'k McGregor Photo Collection of the Corpus Christi Museum.

Director Drury's apprehension about seashores may be responsible for the National Park Service unofficially "stalling" on the Padre Island park issue in the late 1940s. Immediately after the end of World War II, a significant event triggered the reconsideration of Padre Island for national park status. On May 29, 1946, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the claims of the State of Texas for its ownership to Padre Island. [61] This decision eliminated the long confusion over public versus private ownership of the island. Albert Jones and the hundreds of other defendants were free to pursue their investment interests, which at this point was largely for oil and gas exploration.

In response to the Supreme Court decision, Corpus Christi leaders rekindled interest in the national park proposal. The local newspaper carried a story on August 23, 1946, reviewing the efforts of the Chamber of Commerce some eight year's before and stating that the Park Service approved a $400,000 appropriation at that time but dropped it because of the oil activity on Padre Island. [62] Several community leaders in Corpus Christi, however, queried the Park Service Director on the status of Padre Island as a possibility for designation as a national monument. Their letters implied that the Park Service agreed to make Padre Island a national monument if the State purchased it for a park. [63] John M. Davis, acting director of Region III, responded to Director Drury in a memorandum on the consideration of Padre Island. [64] He stated that the Park Service investigated and reported on Padre Island from December 1934 to January 1940. The concepts of a "national beach park," "national seashore area," "national parkway from Mexico to Louisiana," national monument, and national park were all considered at some point. Davis concluded with four statements: (1) the recreational possibilities for Padre Island were of national importance; (2) construction and maintenance of roads and a causeway would be major problems; (3) adjoining islands were stronger for wildlife refuges; and (4) land ownership would probably be the key factor (and problem) in further consideration. [65] Once again, Park Service personnel seemed ambivalent about the use of Padre Island as a national park unit. Corpus Christi leaders remained persistent, so the Park Service resumed its investigations.

Within a month of the internal Park Service communication, Naval Air Station leaders contacted the National Park Service about the Navy's use of Padre Island. The letter mentioned that only one bombing range was retained on the island and, as of November 1946, it was being released. [66] Although never overtly mentioned before this point, Park Service officials must have known of the military use of Padre, which may have been similar to the use of Florida's Santa Rosa Island released to the Navy during the War. The Navy's use and the current status of Padre Island needed to be explored first-hand. In January 1947, Park Service officials from Santa Fe prepared to visit the island one more time. [67]

On Friday, February 7, 1947, four representatives of the National Park Service toured Padre Island. Minor R. Tillotson, director of Region III, which encompassed Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, Arkansas, southern Colorado, and Nevada, led the visiting team. John E. Kell, a park planner, Milton J. McColm, regional chief of lands, and Victor H. Cahalane, biologist from Chicago, accompanied him. Jeff Bell, manager of the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce, Bob Taylor, assistant manager, Elliott R. Betts, division manager of Southwestern Bell and longtime friend of Tillotson's, and a newspaper reporter, accompanied the party. After boating across Corpus Christi Bay from Port Aransas, the visitors boarded a Navy command car with four-wheel drive. The party reportedly stopped a number of times for investigations but spent considerable time investigating a Navy bombing and machine-gunnery range. Victor Cahalane, considered by some to be the most productive biologist ever employed by the Park Service, dedicated his time to photographing and recording the island's wildlife. [68] The visitors reached Big Shell Beach, then turned around to return north. Final stops were made at the old Don Patricio causeway crossing to discuss access. On the following day, the Park Service representatives met with the Navy and Corpus Christi Chamber. [69]

Tillotson made no promises to the Chamber of Commerce representatives. He mentioned, however, that Cape Hatteras in North Carolina was being "considered" as a national park. [70] Legislation designating Cape Hatteras actually passed Congress on August 17, 1937, but no agreement had been reached with the State of North Carolina on deeding land to the Park Service nor any land acquired from private interests. [71] This comparison resurfaced later in the discussions of Padre Island National Seashore.

In April 1947, Milton McColm issued the report from the February Padre Island visit. Victor Cahalane issued his ecological report on March 19, 1947. McColm's remarks addressed the comprehensive aspects of the park and in the opening paragraphs stated that there was great confusion over what Padre Island might become and that "very few people in Texas have ever heard of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore project." His intention was to highlight the muddled understanding of what national parks were and that a national seashore designation for Padre might be unappreciated. [72] McColm also discussed the variety of uses proposed for Padre over the years, including exploring the idea of a parkway. [73] One of the most insightful aspects of the report acknowledged for the first time military activities on the island during World War II:

Padre Island was used as a bombing target range (latitude 27-36"-00; longitude 97-14"-00) and actual combat activities. The island was continuously patrolled, its entire length by the Coast Guard. Patrol stations were located every six miles on the island, connected by a continuous telephone line from one end to the other and the Coast Guard stations at Port Isabel and Port Aransas. Many survivors from ships (tankers mostly) torpedoed by German submarines landed on Padre Island. A few abandoned life rafts were seen at the northern end. [74]

McColm then turned to the ever-present problem of acquisition of the island for a park. His statement hinted at a problem that would recur in more threatening tones later, "The possibility of obtaining the entire island as a national seashore area, although not an impossibility, even now can be considered only as a probable expectation." [75] McColm then explored possible scenarios for acquisition of parkland, thus introducing another issue that recurred in future discussions, an island roadway. William Neyland of Corpus Christi mentioned to the Park Service visitors that "Albert Jones said he would be willing to give 600-800 acres. . . If a road should be built down the island after the Corpus Christi causeway is constructed he would be willing to give two or three additional public park sites consisting of about 200 acres each at different places down the island." [76] While ostensibly generous, the projected acreage of the entire island was still at least 70,000 acres and even the State park activities had included a minimum of 5,000 acres. Jones clearly envisioned the development potential of Padre Island over public benefit.

By 1948 National Park Service officials apparently dropped their interest in Padre. Local officials turned to another strategy. The City of Corpus Christi endorsed a bond package of $300,000 to develop a "Gulf park." Development proposals included extensive grading and shaping of sand dunes, landscaping of palms, oleanders, and salt cedars, small bathhouses and concession stands, fishing piers, playgrounds, and eight acres of paved parking. A large bathhouse and pool located at the center of the development, designed to reflect the Spanish influence, were included in the overall design but not in the bond. [77] On December 18, 1948, citizens of Corpus Christi defeated the package putting an end to the local struggle for Padre Island's recreational development for the time being. [78]

Private Development Affecting Park Proposals

While residents of Corpus Christi debated the Gulf park proposal, the United States Army Corps of Engineers resumed work on the intracoastal waterway along the South Texas coastline. By August 1948 45 miles of dredging through the Laguna Madre on Padre Island's western shore remained. This final stretch completed the waterway from Carabella, Florida, to Brownsville, in 1949 and opened up a full Gulf coast freight shipping lane. [79]

In 1950 the Corpus Christi residents completed the causeway from Flour Bluff to Padre Island. Begun in February 1949 and financed through a public bond, the 4.5 mile causeway took 18 months to complete, opening June 17, 1950. Bauer-Smith Dredging Company of Port Lavaca constructed the causeway and a network of roads on Padre Island. [80] In the mid 1960s, area leaders named the causeway after former President John F. Kennedy. Four years later, crews completed Queen Isabella Causeway between Point Isabel and Brownsville. For the first time Padre Island became accessible by vehicle almost year-round from both the north and south ends.

JFK Causeway
Figure 12. JFK Causeway, ca. 1950. Courtesy PAIS Archives.

Two other private developments also affected Padre Island. In April 1941 the United States Army Corps of Engineers dredged a pass between the Gulf and Laguna Madre in order to reduce the salinity in the north-central area of the Laguna Madre. Yarborough Pass, as it is now known, closed within five months because of natural deposits from the long-shore drift. The pass was reopened in November 1942, May 1944, and November 1944. Each time natural processes closed the pass within four to ten months. A final attempt to open Yarborough Pass began in February 1952 by the Texas Game and Fish Commission. The Commission dredged the pass 60 feet wide. Within three weeks, it was only three-foot wide putting an end to plans for opening the pass again. [81]

Mansfield Channel, however, a few miles south of Yarborough Pass, proved to be a different story. The Army Corps of Engineers began another channel across Padre Island in the early 1950s from the Gulf to Port Mansfield in Willacy County. Engineers designed it to reduce salinity in the Laguna Madre as well as provide a corridor for fish to go between the Gulf and the lagoon. Commercial and recreational vessels also could take advantage of the channel on a daily basis. In 1957 engineers began construction by placing precast concrete blocks directly on the bottom sediments. The northern blocks formed a jetty extending out 1,600 feet and the southern one did the same for 900 feet. Within a few months, the jetties began to drop and fell below the surface. Natural processes began to work just as they had at Yarborough Pass. Engineers replaced the concrete jetties with granite blocks, which helped to stabilize the channel but at the same time contribute to other destabilizing processes on Padre. [82]

National Park Initiative Develops. 1950-1959

During the 1940s, the national parks received little attention from Congress during appropriations. Park facilities deteriorated to a point of real concern. On top of these problems, post war park visitation steadily climbed from 22 million in 1946 to more than 50 million in 1955. Many national parks suffered so much from the heavy visitor traffic that Park Service officials began to explore proposals for new areas and types of parks. [83] The long World War II years, followed by the Korean Conflict in 1950, placed many demands on Director Drury. Finally, the financial constraints and repeated requests to use park resources led to Drury's demise. In January 1951, Director Newton Drury resigned. Arthur E. Demaray became director for a few months, then Conrad Wirth, a longtime employee of the National Park Service, assumed the position in December 1951. [84]

Wirth's administration completed the lingering Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreation Area land acquisition. Since legislative approval in 1937, the Park Service encouraged the State of North Carolina to donate the land. These efforts languished because of ongoing oil exploration and indifference toward the park by North Carolina officials. In 1952 the Avalon and Old Dominion Foundations, both connected to the philanthropist Paul Mellon, donated one-half of the funds for acquisition. The State of North Carolina matched the grant providing more than one million dollars toward the purchase of Cape Hatteras. Over the next five years the Park Service acquired more than 25,000 acres. [85] The Park Service also dedicated $1.4 million for beach erosion and sand stabilization at Cape Hatteras. Park Service officials and Congress noted the impact and cost of this work and often compared it to Padre Island over the next few years. [86]

Acquisition and management of Cape Hatteras in combination with the growing use of national parks overall led to a second comprehensive study of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts in 1954-55. Funded by Paul Mellon and his family, the Seashore Recreation Area Survey or National Seashore Study compared existing seashore conditions to the 1935 study. [87] The researchers summarized the findings in a brochure entitled Our Vanishing Shoreline. The popular publication depicted a grim picture: public acquisition of shoreline was woefully inadequate and what remained was rapidly disappearing into private ownership. Conservationists now held information needed to substantiate what was commonly known. The alarming disappearance resulted in the Park Service listing 54 seashore areas and recommending 16 as high priorities for acquisition. [88]

The National Park Service found Padre Island much as reported in the 1935 study. Padre Island's 113-mile length remained the longest undeveloped stretch of beach in the contiguous United States. Although private developers worked on the extreme ends, no development appeared on more than 100 miles in the center. Change, however, appeared imminent. Tourists now visited over causeways at both ends of the island. Several oil companies maintained active oil and gas exploration and recovery programs as well. Park Service officials saw mineral rights and access to minerals as the major obstacle to Padre Island becoming a national park in the traditional use of that term. [89]

The 1955 study reported that approximately 100,000 acres could be obtained on Padre Island with an estimated acquisition cost of $3.4 million. Special attention focused on natural resources. White pelicans were reported as "vanishing" and other resources were felt able to be restored if the island were left to itself. The report continued by stating that passenger cars could drive the full length of the island and since World War II plans for a scenic "Blue Water Highway" had been discussed. A new issue appeared in the report as well. Offshore, the survey stated, the outline of a "Texas tower" marked one of the radar installations of the new coastal interceptor defense system. The concluding sections covered land ownership and the problems of title and acquisition. [90]

The release of Our Vanishing Shoreline revived the issue of Padre Island becoming a national park. Since the 1935 report, Park Service officials repeatedly turned to the Padre Island issue but never seemed able to overcome the prevailing concepts that national parks were reserves only established on land gifted to the Federal government by a State or private interest, exempt from mineral extraction, and existing for more than just outdoor recreation. Local supporters were mercurial depending on local priorities and intervening national interests. In 1957 supporters of Padre Island resurfaced. These men and women seemed intent on Padre Island receiving a national designation of some type. Supporters wrote inquiring letters to Fred Seaton, Secretary of the Interior, Conrad Wirth, Director of the National Park Service, and Senator Lyndon Johnson. [91]

Director Wirth received what was to become the most important letter in January 1957 from John D. McCall of the firm McCall, Parkhurst, and Crowe in Dallas, Texas. McCall stated outright that he and associates had acquired an interest in Padre Island and wanted to discuss the park and recreational uses for the land. Hugh M. Miller, Director of Region III in Santa Fe, New Mexico, responded. Miller and William (Bill) L. Bowen, Regional Chief of Recreation Resource Planning, followed up by arranging a meeting with McCall on October 15, 1957. [92]

Ten months lapsed between the initial letter from McCall and Regional Director Miller's visit. Bill Bowen later explained that Miller delayed responding because he wanted to know how Director Wirth felt about revisiting the Padre Island issue. During the annual Superintendent's Conference in Yellowstone National Park in September 1957, Miller set up a 30-minute conference with Director Wirth, Associate Director Eivind Scoyen, Chief of Recreation Resource Planning Ben H. Thompson, and Chief of National Park System Planning Leo Diederich. All present felt that Miller should meet with John McCall. Wirth, who had himself reported on Padre Island in 1934, felt strongly that if the Park Service could not "secure mineral rights" then he would not be in favor of proceeding. Again, the concept of a national park or seashore with active mineral extraction seemed infeasible. Bowen reflected on this meeting almost ten years later, "It should be borne in mind that in 1957 the Recreation Area classification was not generally accepted in conservation circles, the Congress, or for that matter within the Service." [93]

On October 18, 1957, Regional Director Miller and Bill Bowen met with John McCall in Dallas. McCall indicated that the owners he represented could not afford to donate the land, but if the Park Service was interested in establishing a national seashore, the owners would not put a speculative value on the property. In a memorandum to Director Wirth and largely drafted during the return automobile trip, Miller speculated that if 30 to 50 miles of the central part were acquired, the Park Service would have a "workable and acceptable unit." [94] This acreage was comparable to that obtained for Cape Hatteras National Seashore a few years earlier. Miller continued his report by offering two future directions for the project. First, he stated that if Padre Island could not be considered without acquisition of oil rights, then the whole matter should be dropped. Miller believed that the acquisition of mineral rights was not possible. Second, Miller and Bowen recommended that if the area could be considered for a National Seashore Recreation Area, then a group should study the island and propose boundaries. These boundaries should then be proposed to McCall to try to reach a compromise, seek appraisals, and explore funding options such as State or private contributions. He concluded that the alternative, abandonment of the project, would be regrettable. [95] On December 5, 1957, Conrad Wirth responded to Miller giving him the authority to proceed with a study "in order to determine definitely and finally the feasibility of such a project." [96]

With full authorization to proceed, Region III faced a real challenge. For the first time, the Region faced the possibility of a seashore park rather than the mountain and desert parks so familiar to its personnel. Regional Director Miller dispatched Bill Bowen and the Regional Chief of National Park System planning, Leslie Arnberger, to conduct a reconnaissance trip before planning a full scale investigation. Bowen and Amberger left in January 1958 making one of their first stops at the Naval Air Training Station in Corpus Christi. The Commanding Officer was forewarned with a letter stating that the Park Service wanted to explore "preserving sections of unspoiled seashore" on Padre Island where they maintained aerial bombing ranges. Bowen remembered the meeting as initially tense; however, when the Navy learned that the primary reason for meeting was to get free transportation over the island during a future visit, relations improved. Bowen credited this first positive meeting as the beginning of a cooperative relationship between Padre Island National Seashore and the Navy. [97]

Two months later, March 17 and 18, John McCall and M.E. Allison, representing some of the landowners, Jackson Price, Assistant Director of the National Park Service from Washington, and Hugh Miller, Jerome Miller, Bill Bowen, and Leslie Arnberger, all from the Regional Office in Santa Fe, flew over the island and drove approximately 40 miles on the north end. The group reported that a full scale study should be conducted with an eye toward determining what part of the island should be part of a "national" area. [98]

The professional team conducted their work between May 21 and 26, 1958. Thomas Vint, chief of design and construction in Washington, Gordon Fredine, Biologist, Washington, Ray Schenck, Park Planner, Washington, Jerome Miller, Landscape Architect, Southwest Region, and Leslie Arnberger, Park Planner, Region III, investigated the island. They unanimously agreed that the major portion should be recommended as a National Seashore. Regional Office personnel recommended 35 to 40 miles; Washington staff wanted a larger area. In July 1958 the team forwarded drafts of the report to Director Wirth, but the Park Service held the final report until February 1959. It showed boundaries of the central portion of Padre Island consisting of 88 miles leaving out the northern 10 miles and southern 15 miles to allow for expansion of tourist development. They recommended an eastern boundary beginning at the two-fathom depth in the Gulf of Mexico, to allow for a possible dock, and the western one at the eastern edge of the Intracoastal Canal. These boundaries included North and South Bird Island, owned by the State of Texas with the northern one leased to the Audubon Society for a bird sanctuary. [99]

The February report included few surprises. Acquisition of mineral rights seemed infeasible, so the emphasis was on recreation and natural resources that would benefit all citizens. The straightforward handling of the mineral extraction issue proved wise in eliminating some anticipated objections. Another statement in the report, however, became a major point of contention. One sentence in the recommendations suggested that a central section of the island should remain roadless in order to preserve the island's primitive character. By April 1959 the Park Service released the Padre Island investigative report to the public. [100]

A number of positive events preceded the release of the report. In April 1958 the Advisory Board on National Parks, Historic Sites, Buildings, and Monuments supported Padre Island for National Seashore designation and recommended additional study. Major Texas city newspapers also supported the seashore proposal with the exceptions of the Lower Rio Grande Valley newspapers in Brownsville and Harlingen. The owner of both newspapers personally objected to Federal involvement in the State and especially to the Padre Island issue. Finally, the Texas Congressional delegation gradually began to support the idea. Congressman John Young (Democrat, Corpus Christi), Congressman Joe M. Kilgore (Democrat, Harlingen), and Harry McPherson and Bill Brammer of Senator Lyndon Johnson's office took a special interest in the Padre Island proposal. On June 27, 1958, these representatives met with Thomas Vint and Leo Diederich of the National Park Service to discuss the investigative study underway and Park Service plans. During the meeting, Representative Young's staff interrupted the discussion to announce that Senator Ralph Yarborough had introduced S.4064, "A Bill to provide for the establishment of the Padre Island National Park, in the State of Texas." When introduced on the Senate floor, Yarborough changed the title of the bill to state "National Seashore" rather than "National Park." [101] On July 14, Representatives Young and Kilgore and Senator Johnson wrote to Secretary of the Interior Fred A. Seaton to encourage the Park Service to proceed with its study of Padre Island as a national park. [102]

The Padre Island issue fit neatly into the National Park Service's postwar park planning programs. Since the mid-1950s the declining state of the national parks caught the attention of journalists. One of the most famous articles appeared in Harper's Magazine, entitled "Let's Close the National Parks," by Bernard de Voto. [103] On a more local level, Ronnie Dugger, founder and editor of The Texas Observer, wrote editorials on the unsettled nature of Padre Island to prod Texas Congressmen into action. [104] De Voto's article criticized the deplorable physical facilities and visitor conditions at national parks contributed to a national program designed by Director Conrad Wirth. "MISSION 66," launched in 1956, became a ten-year, eight-point program to improve and expand the national park system. [105] Conrad Wirth later commented that the "seashore study was part of MISSION 66, studying a comprehensive plan of what land would be desirable for the Nation by 2000." [106] Dugger's editorials stressed conservation and emanated from the liberal wing of the Texas Democratic party that was generally in opposition to the more conservative wing led by Senator Lyndon B. Johnson and supported by Representatives Young and Kilgore and later the governor of Texas, John B. Connally. In response to his statements on Padre Island, Dugger reached Austin attorney Ralph Yarborough who became the key figure in the liberal wing of the State's Democratic party. In April 1957, Yarborough's several unsuccessful bids for governor of Texas turned into a victory for the remaining term of the United States Senate seat of Price Daniel. This election placed Yarborough in a commanding position to support the idea of a park on Padre Island at the national level, but put the conservative Price Daniel in a position to oppose such on a State level. [107]

At last, the time seemed to have arrived for Padre Island. The nation needed public recreation areas in the 1950s and the National Park Service coveted the nation's seashores in order to satisfy the need. Public awareness on the value of Padre Island also became heightened. Texans as well as citizens outside the State learned of the disappearance of undeveloped shoreline. The most important development, however, proved to be political dynamics and political will. Several years later Senator Yarborough reported on the time before he proposed legislation for Padre Island in an article in The Texas Observer entitled "The Bounty of Nature":

I remember the Observer's editorial for a national park on Padre back in 1958. The late Bob Bray, my press man, (formerly the Observer's associate editor), brought it in. Bob and his father once owned a newspaper on the Texas coast. He wanted me to introduce the Padre Island bill, and he advocated it strongly. He was very fond of fishing. I didn't introduce it at first, but he buttressed the editorial with other ones from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and the Houston Press. I knew something about the Padre Island fight of 1936, when James Allred was governor, and wanted to look into that and study the legislation over title to Padre Island that went to the Supreme Court. We finally pitched the bill in the hopper on the 27th of June, 1958, in the 85th Congress. [108]

Although the Senator later learned even more about the special qualities of Padre Island through his constituents in South Texas, he already knew what private developers intended for Padre Island. [109] In December 1958 the Southwest Edition of The Wall Street Journal featured a full-page advertisement for real estate investment on South Padre Island. The headline said everything, "For Real Estate Investors Who Wish They Had Bought Property in South Florida 20 years Ago, South Padre Beach, The last major undeveloped subtropical beach area in the United States." [110] The future of Padre Island appeared to be at a critical crossroad: Would Padre Island be developed by private interests or held as a public resource?

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Last Updated: 14-Jun-2005