walls could talk” we wonder about old houses, pondering what stories and secrets
they could yield from yesteryears. |
When it comes to little ol' Hog Island
in the Houston Ship Channel, we might contemplate, “If waves could talk ... or
if sand could say ...”
The sand and surf of Hog Island, through two centuries,
beheld myriad scenes in state and local history, running the gamut from pigs to
To end an argument once and for all, the island really was named
for hogs so spell it, please, with one G. Even mapmakers and historians have been
known to double-G it, under the spell perhaps of a former Texas governor. Jim
Hogg, however, had no connection with Hog Island, save for the sound of his
name. Not to say the rotund guv didn’t pig out on occasion, as evident from his
photos, but that’s irrelevant.
|Dr. Ashbel Smith,
who lived on the south rim of present-day Baytown
on Evergreen Road, acquired the island in the mid-1800s, turning it into hog haven.
Maybe there wasn’t enough room for Smitty’s piggies to roam around on the Evergreen
plantation, or maybe – just sayin' – the swine didn’t smell fine. To the island!
Today, little is left of Hog island but you can still see it from the
Fred Hartman Bridge on the
Houston Ship Channel. Look eastward on the channel for a lonely speck of land.
Erosion and subsidence have claimed the island that once provided a vital link
between Baytown and Morgan’s
Point. The Morgan’s Point Ferry landing on the island preceded the Baytown-La
Porte Tunnel which preceded the Fred
But the island
was more than a ferry connection, serving as a recreation spot as well. We had
picnics on the beach and went swimming off shore, in spite of the huge tankers
"Watch out for the ships," our beach party chaperones would
warn us kids. "Undercurrents ... They'll pull you down under." Watch out for high
tide, too. A young couple parked one night on the beach forgot about high tide
and before they knew it, water was rushing through the open windows of their car.
(So much for romance on the high seas.)
War II, community leaders in Baytown
envisioned Hog Island as the second Sylvan Beach. Plans for its development, though,
were dropped during the war and never picked up again, postwar.
late Forties attention was focused on another travel connection between Baytown
and La Porte and getting
off the island. By the time the Baytown-La Porte Tunnel opened upstream in 1953,
the concept of turning Hog Island into a tourist attraction was all but forgotten.
Giving Hog Island its due, it has an multi-faceted history. Before the
hogs were turned loose, a steamboat landing operated on the island, and a whole
lot of Houston-to-Galveston
shipping activity went on.
In the early 1900s Hog Island played a pivotal
role in the oil boom and housed a boarding house for Goose
Creek oil field workers.
John Gaillard, who bought the island from
the heirs of Ashbel Smith, had been leasing it for grazing his livestock. In Tabbs
Bay, which separated his home from the island, Gaillard had noticed bubbles but
thought they were stirred up by buffalo fish. Royal Matthews, a friend from La
Porte, rowed over one day, noticed the bubbles and lit a match. Natural gas,
not buffalo fish, will ignite when you do that. Natural gas bubbling up in a bay
also will give a hint about the possibility of oil down below.
The first offshore drilling in Texas occurred in
Gaillard’s favorite fishing hole while the Goose
Creek oil field sprang up in his front yard and all around.
barge load of Goose Creek
oil sailed from the landing on Hog Island. Ross Sterling’s pipeline company routed
crude from the Goose Creek
field to the ship channel via Hog Island, installing two lines of pipe across
Tabbs Bay. The oil emptied into cypress storage tanks on the island, and tankers
received the oil through a line extending from the tanks.
And that’s when
the industrial revolution began in Baytown.
Little ol' Hog Island wasn't for hogs any more.
July 1, 2012 columns
Topics: World War II
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