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What Happened to St Mary's?
By Kam Wagert
Friends of the History Center for Aransas County
The town of St. Mary’s was located about where Bayside is today. Joseph F. Smith founded and platted St. Mary’s in 1857. The town site had seven tiers of 13 blocks each, and each block was 400 feet square. Mr. Smith had block 4, which was bayside frontage, and he built a three-story shellcrete home there. A wharf and warehouses soon followed. There was also a cattle-shipping pen.
St. Mary’s was used as a port for the debarkation of supplies for the U.S. army stationed at San Antonio, and also for the outposts along the Rio Grande and in West Texas. By the early 1860s, St. Mary’s had a two-story drugstore, a doctor’s office, and a two-story shellcrete opera house. There was a Presbyterian church, which was also used as a schoolhouse. St. Mary’s also boasted a two-story wooden hotel, a brickyard, and a blacksmith’s shop. The town became the largest lumber and building materials center in this part of Texas. Lumber was brought in from Florida in big three-masted schooners. Several lumberyards existed.
A small export business in cattle and livestock occurred in St. Mary’s. Cotton, hides, tallow, and salt were also exported.
Two famous people were from St. Mary’s. Alfred Marmaduke Hobby organized the 8th Texas Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. He came to St. Mary’s in 1857 and entered a mercantile partnership.
Clara Driscoll was born in St. Mary’s on April 2, 1871. She is the lady who is called the savior of the Alamo, as she provided money to preserve the Alamo in San Antonio in 1903.
At its peak, St. Mary’s had a population of more than 6,000 people. A hurricane in 1875 devastated a large part of the town, and another hurricane in 1886 did even more damage. Rockport was booming and many of the families and businesses in St. Mary’s moved there. Buildings not destroyed in the 1886 hurricane were dismantled and moved to nearby towns. By 1907, the post office closed. The once thriving port was no more. All that remain today are the Wood mansion and the St. Mary’s cemetery.
The History Center for Aransas County now houses artifacts from St. Mary’s, El Copano, Lamar, and Aransas City. Visitors can learn more about these former town sites of Aransas County. The Center’s current exhibit, which opens April 9, features the Annexation of Texas in 1845. The Center is open Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and is located at 801 E. Cedar St. For more information go to www.aransashistorycenter.org.