Making a trip to Matagorda Township for the first time I was immediately drawn to this sleepy little town. With pristine beaches, beautiful blue skies and many historic landmarks I couldn’t help but fall in love.
Matagorda was established in 1827, when Texas was still part of Mexico. Having gained permission from Mexico, Stephen F. Austin began to build a town. Fifty-two families arrived from New York and New England, becoming its’ first settlers. Incorporated in 1830, within two years Matagorda had a booming population of over 1,400.
During the Mexican-American War, Matagorda was abandoned. After the battle of San Jacinto and the signing of the treaty recognizing Texas’ independence, the townspeople returned. Forming a county in 1836 with Matagorda as the county seat, the town continued to prosper; it wasn’t long before there were several schools and a newspaper.
A tense atmosphere ensued with the onset of the Civil War, as Matagorda was a port for blockade runners. Though never invaded by enemy troops, the town was however, fired on by federal ships. After the war, the “plantation economy” suffered from want of labor.
The county seat was changed from Matagorda to Bay City in 1894, when it was determined an inland courthouse would be safer from potential storms. In a wise decision by county officials, a levee was built in 1942 to alleviate any threats of flooding. Matagorda Township has not sustained any storm flooding since.
Having been settled before the Civil War, Matagorda is a treasure trove of historic landmarks. Christ Church is the oldest Episcopal Church in Texas. It’s also the first foreign parochial mission of the Episcopal Church. Reverend Caleb S. Ives landed at Matagorda in 1838 when Texas was a Republic. The arrival of Reverend Ives signaled the beginning of the Episcopal Church in Texas.
On Christmas Day, 1838, he celebrated the Holy Eucharist according to the Anglican rite. About a month later the parish of Christ Church was formally organized with the services being held in the Masonic Hall. As the congregation grew rapidly a church building was soon needed in which to conduct services. A church lot was donated and Reverend Ives made a trip to New York to secure the funds to build a church. A precut church was bought and shipped to Matagorda, arriving in July of 1840; however there were no funds in the congregation for erecting it. The lumber lay on the ground until it was feared that it might rot. Albert Horton, one of the men who donated the church lot, donated 600 acres to be sold and the remaining money for construction was sent from New York.
A storm in 1854 blew down the church building. The congregation moved to a site 400 yards west and erected the present building in 1856. Much of the original church was salvaged and used in the rebuilding, such as the pews, font, communion rail, altar cross, supporting pillars, timber, flooring and most of the siding. The original communion silver was also salvaged. After a new bell was obtained, the church was functioning as before.
The history of Christ Episcopal Church is intertwined with storms, epidemics, and wars and yet in spite of it all, she has continued her presence and witness through the decades.
This historic church is listed as a Texas Historic Landmark and is a not to be missed part of your visit to Matagorda. Two other beautiful historic landmarks are the lovely Colonial-style Culver House built in the late 1890’s and the Dale-Rugeley-Sisk Home circa 1830. Having withstood many hurricanes these lovely old homes were the cultural, social and political centers of the town.
Matagorda is on a rise.
With the replacement of the old swing bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway on Farm to Market 2031, the daily traffic which existed in 2005 of over 1,450 has increase dramatically. FM 2031 begins at the Gulf of Mexico, at the entrance to Matagorda County Jetty Park on Matagorda Peninsula. The route heads north along the strip of land which separates Matagorda Bay and East Matagorda Bay, and parallels the Colorado River to its west. The highway enters Matagorda before ending at SH 60. This is a favorite route of many visitors from Houston.
In 1990 Matagorda Harbor opened as part of the mouth of the Colorado Project, a joint venture by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering and the Port of Bay City Authority. Along with pristine beaches, it is also a short distance for sport fishermen to the deep water. Numerous opportunities exist for shallow water fishermen as well as kayaking. The numerous calm waterways and inlets are bountiful year round. Birders are also able to enjoy hundreds of different species, as Matagorda has the largest bird population during migration in the nation.
Matagorda is definitely on the rise!
I can’t help but be excited for the people of Matagorda; a community with a bright future ahead and a wonderful heritage of people, historic homes, churches and buildings which have survived against all odds.
It’s been written, “that there can never be a present without a past”. Matagorda exemplifies this and is a place I’ll visit time and time again.Story Teller Katherine Elliott Photography by John Jureczki