If there’s any US city that embodies the ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mentality of Americans, it is Texas City in the state of Texas. This bustling city of almost 50,000 has undergone numerous tragedies since its founding in 1893, tragedies that may have dealt a devastating blow to other cities. Today Texas City still stands proud as a major port city and an important player in America’s oil industry.
The founding of Texas City goes back to a small port community originally named Shoal Point in the 1830s. By 1878, Shoal Point had its first post office, and by the 1890s investors were putting up money to buy land with the goal of developing a much larger port city. Texas City was officially established by the Texas City Improvement Company, a company that went on to develop thousands of acres that would eventually become the incorporated city in 1911.
Geography: Some Land, More Water
Texas City is located on the south-west shoreline of Galveston Bay along the upper coast of eastern Texas. One of the prime features of the local region is the deep water of the bay and its direct connection to the Gulf of Mexico. The geography has made local waters important for oil exploration and drilling as well as port operations.
The total area of the city is officially 185.6 square miles, more than 65% of which is water. The city property itself is prone to flooding, so a system of levies and pumps have been installed over the years to keep it dry during bad weather. The system has done a mostly admirable job since the construction projects following Hurricane Carla in 1961.
Texas City Disaster of 1947
Shipping has been a big part of the local industry from the very beginning. But in 1947, the shipping industry almost brought the city to its knees. A French ship loaded with ammonium nitrate fertiliser exploded in the harbour after the fertiliser was allowed to overheat in dockside storage facilities prior to being loaded. The explosion was so powerful that it set off subsequent fires and explosions of nearby ships and oil storage facilities.
At least 581 people died, including nearly every member of the Texas City fire department called out to fight the subsequent blaze. No other industrial accident in the US has ever come close to the Texas City Disaster in terms of magnitude. And yet, the city rebuilt and got on with life.
Too Proud to Let Things Die
Texas City officials and residents reacted admirably after the Texas City Disaster of 1947. They would be tested again by Hurricane Carla in 1961, the 2005 BP explosion that knocked out the nation’s third largest oil refinery, and Hurricane Ike that rolled through the region with significant rain and flooding in 2008.
Through it all, the Texas City Dike has stood as a symbol of the city’s resolve. The Dike was commissioned in the 1930s to help protect local shipping lanes from silting. In its original iteration, it was made of tumbling granite blocks piled in the bay to protect the city’s harbour. It now extends more than five miles from the shore into the mouth of Galveston Bay and is known as the largest man-made levee in the world.
As stalwart as the Dike has been, it was damaged by Hurricane Ike. Flood waters overwhelmed it, closing it and its access road for several years while government engineers and private contractors rebuilt. Today, the Texas City Dike is the crown jewel of this proud city. If you visit Texas City, you have to spend some time at the Dike.
The Texas City Dike offers more than 5 miles of beaches along with picnic pavilions, campgrounds, fishing piers, at least two boat ramps, and a paved road that will let you drive to the very end where you can park and enjoy the incredible views of the Gulf of Mexico. There is a $5 per car fee charged between 9am and 6pm on summer weekends. You can drive on to the Dike for free the rest of the time; walking out is always free as well.
Be Sure to Pay a Visit
Texas City is known as the ‘city that would not die’. It is a proud, blue-collar town that epitomises the American spirit. You should definitely take the time to see it if you are planning to visit the greater Houston-Galveston area of Texas. It would even make a great base for exploring Houston and the surrounding region without paying the higher cost of staying right in Houston.
Things to do Texas City – The Top 10
Despite being a relatively small city with a population of just 45,000, there is still plenty to see and do in Texas City. We recommend taking in the local sights and activities before branching out to Houston and Galveston. Here are the top 10 picks based on their popularity among visitors:
Texas City Dike
As previously explained, the Texas City Dike is the world’s largest man-made levee. It extends just over 5 miles from the coast and offers mile after mile of beautiful beach frontage. There are places for camping should you decide to spend the night, along with numerous boat launches and picnic areas.
The Texas City Dike is worth visiting just to say that you have done so. If you are planning to camp, we suggest waiting until after 6pm to arrive – you don’t have to pay a fee to drive your car out onto the Dike in the evening.
Texas City Museum
The Texas City Museum is a city-sponsored museum focusing on the history of this region of Texas. The building it now occupies is a 30,000-square-foot structure acquired in 1992. Visitors are treated to exhibits featuring the US Civil War, the Texas City Disaster of 1947, the First Aero Squadron of Texas, and more. The Galveston County Model Railroad Club also offers an exhibit on Saturdays. Admission to the museum is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, and $2 for students. Children six and under enter for free.
Heritage Square Park
Texas City’s Heritage Square is where you’ll find a collection of four historic homes managed by the Texas City Historical Preservation Corporation. Visitors can see the Davidson Home, the Engineer’s Cottage, the Moore Home, and the Lee Dick Home. Each of these structures has been restored to original condition and meticulously maintained for the enjoyment of guests. Schedules change throughout the year, so your best bet is to check before you head out.
Texas City Art Festival
If you’re into the arts, the annual Texas City Juried Show & Student Art Show takes place every April. This free, four-day event combines local artwork with live music and social opportunities. There are also workshops for children and budding artists looking for a little advice to get started. The show spans multiple venues, including the local convention centre.
Bay Street Park
This public park offers 45 acres of wilderness trails and family entertainment areas. The park was established to commemorate the First Aero Squadron of the US Air Force; there is a memorial to the squadron in the park. Bay Street Park is just a short distance from the Texas City Dike, making it very convenient if you are camping on the Dike.
Texas City Prairie Preserve
You will not find an African lion safari in Texas City, but you can visit the Texas City Prairie Preserve. This 2,300-acre nature preserve sits on the shores of Moses Lake, opposite the city itself. There are 40 acres accessible to the public, including campsites and picnic areas. For access to the rest of the preserve, sign up for one of the guided tours that takes you through the marshes.
The location of the Houston-Galveston area on the Gulf of Mexico makes it a perfect region for kiteboarding. Houston Kiteboarding is a local company that offers the sport in various locations around Galveston County, including Texas City. Prices vary throughout the year, as do schedules and availability. Keep in mind that a lot of it depends on the weather. If you’ve ever wanted to sail above the water before descending to catch that big wave, consider giving Houston Kiteboarding a try on your next trip to Texas City.
Sometimes you just want to shop. In Texas City, Tanger Outlets has you covered with an impressive outdoor mall conveniently located just off Interstate 45 on the edge of town. The mall is open from 9am to 9pm Monday through Saturday, and 10am to 7pm on Sundays. Stroll around the grounds while you shop, meet new people, and get something to eat at one of the delightful restaurants located there.
Texas City Shooting Range
If you’ve ever wondered what the American fascination with guns is all about, you might consider visiting the Texas City Shooting Range open Wednesday through Sunday. At the range, you will be able to shoot some rifles and shotguns for a fee. You can even try your hand at skeet shooting. This very difficult sport is tough to master, but tremendous fun nonetheless. Note that scheduling and fees vary according to the season.
Nessler Park Family Aquatic Centre
The Nessler Park Family Aquatic Centre is a public pool and spray park facility open daily during the summer and on weekends in the spring and autumn. Entry fees for non-residents are $6 for adults and $4 for children and seniors. The facility provides restrooms and changing facilities that include showers. Picnic tables and covered pavilion tables are also available on a first come, first served basis.
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- Texas City Hall: Larry D. Moore [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
- All other images courtesy of: http://www.texas-city-tx.org/