A Brief History of the Causeway and Ferry System

by Bill Behrens, Museum Docent

Sign reading: Straddle the Rail and Keep Astride

1911-1926 Harbor Island was the central Texas port. Since goods had to be transported to and from Harbor Island a channel was dredged from Aransas Pass and a railroad was built on the dredge spoil. Workers were transported to the new port by way of the railroad, the Toonerville Trolley. Sometime in this period auto-carrying railroad cars, pulled by a railroad-wheeled truck, were brought in and a ferry landing was constructed on Harbor Island to the carry cars to Port A. Also, a pipeline was added to the railway to carry crude oil to Harbor Island.

a 1929 Rail cars with autos at Aransas Pass

1911 The 1st ferry, the Mitzi (privately owned), took advantage of the newly dredged channel and carried cars from Aransas Pass to Port Aransas.

b Mitzi, first ferry

1912 The first freighter docked at Harbor Island. Our town, once called Tarpon, now Port Aransas, held a week long celebration after the arrival of the Brinkburn.

1926 The Corpus Christi ship channel was opened, negating the need for a cargo-railroad to Harbor Island.

Brinkburn at dock

1931 The railroad tracks were boarded over. Cars could now drive to the Harbor Island ferry landing via a single-lane wooden causeway, with “pull outs” to facilitate passing.

wooden causeway

1951 Ferry operations were transferred from private ownership to Nueces County.

1959 A paved roadway replaced the wooden causeway.

1961 Hurricane Carla washed away some of the new roadway, requiring vehicles to use the old wooden causeway which had been protected by growths of salt cedars and oleanders.

1968 The Texas Department of Transportation took over ownership and operation of the ferries and did away with tolls.

Nellie B Ferry - Nueces County

Read Jim Wiggins’ account of traveling along the old causeway (PDF), taken from his book Hard Heads and Half Gales: Tales from Tarpon, Texas.

The book is for sale online and at the museum gift shop.