Part 1:

Chronicling Matagorda County Navigation District No. One’s 75th anniversary –

Early years of the shrimping industry in the Port of Palacios

As far as the eye could see, citrus and fig orchards dotted the landscape. Rice and cotton filled in the rest of the county’s agricultural lands and oyster harvesting made the most of the bay waters.  A Tin Lizzie joined the landscape, motoring down on a local farm road, and everyone within earshot came to see the new jalopy in Palacios. It was the 1920’s and Crawford Packing Company’s 400 or so employees, many of whom worked after returning from the schoolhouse, were packing fruit from dawn to dusk. Soon after, successive freezes wiped out the resources that provided the products to pack.  New oilfields in Texas pulled away many laborers.  Amidst the gloom of frustration in the town, a glimmer of hope arrived from Alabama in the form of some shrimp trawlers.

Not long after that first visit from Ted Bates, Sr., Crawford Packing Company’s management, headed by Carlton Crawford and aided by Roland and Matthew Burton and Henry and Ed Barrett, watched as 600 pounds of shrimp caught in Palacios Bayou were unloaded from the “Helen B” at the City Pier’s T-head by Bates and his crew. Area folks were skeptical of eating what was considered “bait” shrimp but Mr. Bates knew that shrimp was being caught and marketed successfully back East. The 600 pound load was barreled and shipped to Port Arthur.  Unfortunately, the catch was shipped “head-on” and when it arrived in Port Arthur, the heads had turned black and the fish house refused them.  Bates learned from that first experience and soon trained local fishermen to head shrimp. He was also instrumental in Mr. Crawford’s decision to convert the canning plant into a shrimp canning plant, after a visit to Bayou La Batre, Alabama to look at a shrimp cannery there.  While on several subsequent visits, Crawford and Bates succeeded in convincing several families to bring their boats from Alabama to Palacios to work for the packing company. And so, the shrimp industry in Palacios began.

The shrimp industry has utilized the Port of Palacios since the first harbor was fully excavated in 1928.  Providing the commercial shrimp and oyster industry with a well-maintained harbor and related services has been the core mission of Matagorda County Navigation District #1 since it was formally created by the Texas Legislature on May 11, 1940.  The District became a taxing entity while also receiving operating revenue by leasing dock in the new turning basin.

Turning Basin #1 was dug in 1940 and completed with a concrete bulkhead which fortified the docks and wharves.  The Palacios Channel was officially sponsored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Palacios shrimp fleet became confident of a federally-maintained channel to the Intracoastal Waterway, along with a well-maintained home port and harbor of refuge.

Several properties within the township were bought and gifted to the Navigation District in those early years and the Port of Palacios began to take shape along the shoreline between the city limits and Camp Hulen.  Several families in the area built boats and added to a thriving shrimping economy, including the Garcias and Aparicios, who continue to ply Gulf waters to this day. The Bates’ family increased its numbers of family members who took to shrimping and established Gold Coast Seafood.  Hugh Wallis and Wallace Barr met at ALCOA and forged a lasting friendship and business partnership by forming Palacios Marina, subsequently investing in the local shrimp industry.

More biographical information on Palacios’ shrimping families can be found on the Palacios Chamber of Commerce website http://www.palacioschamber.com/touristinfo.html by clicking on “Shrimp Capital of Texas”.

To be continued…