Regular ferry service started in 1926

Port Aransas Past


Ferries regularly have served Port Aransas for nearly 100 years. Above: The landing on the Port Aransas side of the ship channel is seen at the north end of Station Street on a day in the early 1940s. Photos provided by PAPHA

Ferries regularly have served Port Aransas for nearly 100 years. Above: The landing on the Port Aransas side of the ship channel is seen at the north end of Station Street on a day in the early 1940s. Photos provided by PAPHA

Back in 1926, Sam Robertson instituted the first regular ferry ser- vice between Aransas Pass and Port Aransas.

It was a one-hour ride on the Aransas Pass Channel and service was four times daily in each direction. There had been barge service between the two communities but on an irregular basis.

In 1928 Gail Borden Munsell initiated ferry service from Harbor Island to Port Aransas with the side wheel ferry “Mitzi.” Six automobiles were loaded on flat cars in Aransas Pass and unloaded on Harbor Island. The Mitzi held six cars.

Later the railroad trestle was covered with boards and became a one-way road with pull-outs for opposite traffic. There was a single dock on each side of the channel.

At the opening of Munsell’s single lane causeway over 100 cars headed to Harbor Island and the ferry to Port Aransas. As the Mitzi was the only ferry, this was the beginning of ferry lines.

To handle increased traffic, Munsell ordered a new ferry built. The “Rufus R” was christened in Galveston by Miss Billie Peeples with a bottle of Gulf water from Port Aransas. The ferry cost Gail Munsell $30,000 and held 18 cars.

Right: Ferries carry vehicles across the channel in the late 1930s.

Right: Ferries carry vehicles across the channel in the late 1930s.

The new ferry burnt to the waterline after initially arriving in Port Aransas in October of 1931. Munsell ordered another ferry the next day, but it was never built. Munsell died in 1934 and Billie Peeples Munsell sold the causeway and ferry operation to George and Albert Jones. They, in turn, sold it to Dewar and Murchison.

Dewar and Murchison invested in the operation even though the economic depression years of the 1930s caused most businesses to retrench. A toll booth was built at the Aransas Pass end of the causeway and a store, toll booth and living quarters were built on Harbor Island.

The biggest change was moving the ferry landing on the Port Aransas side of the channel from Tarpon Street between the Turf Grill and Barney’s Place (close to where Fisherman’s Wharf is today) to near the end of Station Street. The ferry line now ran down Station Street rather than along Tarpon Street to the Tarpon Inn and Cotter Street. The Island Road to Padre Island did not exist until the 1950s so all traffic on and off the island was by ferry.

MarkCreightonisa longtime researcher of Port Aransas history. With J. Guthrie Ford, Creighton is the co-author of “Port Aransas,” a photographic history book on the town of Port Aransas. Creighton can be reached at markwcreighton@gmail.com.

MarkCreightonisa longtime researcher of Port Aransas history. With J. Guthrie Ford, Creighton is the co-author of “Port Aransas,” a photographic history book on the town of Port Aransas. Creighton can be reached at markwcreighton@gmail.com.

World War II increased the traffic substantially as there were many more Coast Guard personnel stationed on the island as well as U.S. Army and Navy troops. If residents or businesses needed supplies, the ferry operation also had a freight truck that made a run from Port Aransas to Aransas Pass twice a day and back. There were three buses that made the same run eight times a day but did not use the ferry and ended the run on Harbor Island.

Though the dredging of the Aransas Channel was completed in 1912 the dredge spoil along the channel was not continuous. There were seven bridges to allow water to flow between Redfish Bay and East Bay. The Morris and Cummings Cut, dredged in 1874, to allow marine traffic to get to Corpus Christi Bay from Lydia Ann Channel and Copano Bay was deep enough that there needed to be a bridge.

The Bascule Bridge between Stedman Island and Harbor Island was tended by Lorenzo Mendoza who lived in a house provided by the ferry company. The company also had a large water line that ran along the railroad trestles and supplied water to Harbor Island.

The original purpose for the railroad and harbor island itself was to service a dry bulk port which would ship cotton. In 1926 the Port of Corpus Christi opened and took that business away.

However, Harbor Island was initially a port for the import of crude oil from Mexico as well as cotton. It had oil pipelines that ran from the port to Aransas Pass and oil terminals. Later, as oil was discovered in the Refugio area, it was a significant port for the export of oil and the direction of oil flow reversed. The water line provided fresh water for the ships that stopped at the port.

The original “Mitzi” was retired and replaced by the Ruby, the Estelle and the Nellie B. though there was still only a single landing on each side of the channel.

Next time we’ll visit the era of the ferries after World War II and the reason that the ferry landing is named for Melvin Littleton.

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