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Who was Fred Percival?
By Maureen Winkelman
Friends of the History Center for Aransas County
Fredrick (Fred) Percival was Aransas County’s longest serving surveyor. He was born on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean on Aug. 7, 1869. He grew up in England and was educated at Dulwich College. In 1889, he came to America with his English parents, Frank and Emma Percival. The family landed in Boston and immediately came to Texas. In 1890, his father became the county surveyor. He worked with his father and thus began a remarkable career spanning 60 years.
Fred decided to become an American citizen soon after moving to Rockport. He later joked he was a “double” American. He discovered after becoming a naturalized citizen, the ship he was born on sailed under an American flag, and he was already an American citizen. Upon his father’s death in 1910, Fred succeeded him as county surveyor. He continued to survey into the early 1950s. He never married and lived in Rockport with his sister, Violet Percival, until his death in 1958.
Fred attributed his longevity to surveying. He believed he benefitted from being outdoors and the many miles of walking necessary. He estimated he had carried either a transit or a level from the mouth of the Rio Grande to the mouth of the Mississippi. He found driftwood and pumice stone on all the hills he walked while surveying along Matagorda Peninsula, St. Joseph, Mustang, and Padre Islands. He believed they were carried there by terrific hurricanes.
Around 1910 while surveying in San Patricio County, Percival met and posed for a picture with President Taft. Since Fred was only 5’4” tall, and President Taft was a large man, he joked it was “quite” a picture. During WWI, Percival worked with the government as an engineer on the railway carrying lumber to build ships from Jackson, TN to Mobile, AL. In the 1930s, he worked for the State Highway Department surveying railroad locations from San Angelo to Del Rio.
In a 1950 interview for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Fred talked about the thrill of solving survey mysteries. A priest who wanted to locate his property in the historic “lost” community of Old San Patricio could not find a map that fit that area. Percival had to find the ruins of the town site and make a map that would agree with deeds and descriptions. Percival also worked in finding other “lost” townships. He found a map of Old St. Mary’s pasted to the back of a Rockport map. He also reconstructed maps of the Lamar Community and the “Old Manning” blocks, which are the present day Shell Ridge Road area.
The History Center for Aransas County’s current exhibit is called “A Surveyor’s Maps of Aransas County” and features maps from the personal collection of county surveyor Jerry Brundrett. Surveyors’ tools and books are also on display. Survey tools and memorabilia from Tommy Griffth, Jerry’s predecessor, can also be seen. The exhibit runs through April 2. The History Center is located at 801 E. Cedar in Rockport. Call 727-9214 for more info, or go to www.aransashistorycenter.org.
The History Center is a venue of Aransas Pathways.