Port Aransas was a favorite of pirates in the early 19th century. Capt. Jean Lafitte and his hearty band of buccaneers spent lots of time on the Texas coast. Galveston would owe its start to him and Mustang Island was one of his favorite haunts. From about 1800 to the early 1820s, the seas, including the Gulf Coast, were full of pirate ships searching for fame and riches. Some of the pirates had no hesitation at all when it came to living a bit aside of the law. Capt. Jean Lafitte and many other pirates used Mustang Island as a place to make camp and, according to legend, a place to hide their treasure.Local lore tells of pirate treasure buried in Port Aransas. The treasure chest is supposedly marked by a Spanish silver dagger. It's believed the dagger is laid on its side with silver spike driven through the hilt, securing the location.The first recorded permanent settler in Port Aransas was Capt. Robert Ainsworth Mercer of Lancaster, England. He established a sheep and cattle ranch known as El Mar Rancho in 1853 or 1855. Huge herds of wild horse "mustangs" rambled over plush rangelands of the island when Mercer first settled there.By 1854, the Texas Senate sanctioned a seven-mile (11 km) channel from Corpus Christi to the Aransas Pass bar to better serve the Port of Corpus Christ. Also in the 1850s, a regular steamship service route for cargo and passengers would be established between New Orleans and Mustang Island. As the pass was brought into permanence, local pilots were needed to guide the ships safely across the bar. For this, permanent structures would be required in order to house the pilots, including docks, a lighthouse, storage, jetties, and a general store.In 1850, the United States Life-Saving Service built the 8th District United States Life Saving Station in Port Aransas. The station was built for the aid and rescue of shipwrecked mariners and was manned by full-time crews during the period when wrecks were most likely to occur. The Life Saving Station was administered by the United States Revenue Marine (later renamed the United States Revenue Cutter Service) and was run with a volunteer crew, much like a volunteer fire department. 1.5 acre of land was bought from the State of Texas for $750.00 by the federal government and the Life Saving Station was built on the same site which the United States Coast Guard station stands today. The Life Saving Station initially included a dock that stretched from the boathouse into the channel. The boats were hauled onto rails, and pushed into the boathouse when not in use. Initially the small fleet of boats included: a 16 ft skiff, a 24 ft surf boat, a 26 ft whale boat and a 27 ft whale boat for rough surf.Designated keeper in charge of the 8th District Life Saving Station on Mustang Island was John G. Mercer. John Mercer, Robert's brother was also one of the local bar pilots, and was appointed sometime in September 1880.After the announcement of a regular steamship service route between New Orleans and Port Aransas, the United States Congress commissioned $12,500 for the construction of the Aransas Pass Lighthouse. Haggling over lighthouse's specifications mired down the process and another survey was done. Meanwhile, the pass slowly moved south as currents deposited sand on its north bank at the south end of Saint Joseph Island. It was then advised that a lightship be used to mark the pass. More surveying was done, more talk and then a proposition was accepted to erect a screw-pile lighthouse of brick.In December 1855, the ship transporting the bricks struck, and then stuck, on the bar. The crew mates were all rescued but the ship and its cargo went to the bottom of the sea. New bricks arrived in 1856, soon followed by the lantern room that would be set on top, and lastly a fourth-order Fresnel lens. There was also need of a lighthouse keeper's dwelling, a small storage room and docks. The construction would be complete by mid 1857 and the illuminated lens would lighten the dark night, guiding ships through the pass later that year.The Lydia Ann Channel Lighthouse was deactivated in 1952 after a major channel shift left the station a mile from the channel entrance. To better mark Aransas Pass, a new light was established in 1952 at the Port Aransas Coast Guard Station, and the Aransas Pass Lighthouse was deactivated, just a few years shy of a century of service.Sometime right before or right after the start of the American Civil War, the lens was taken out of the lantern room of the lighthouse and hidden in the vast marshlands somewhere behind the structure. This lighthouse was of utmost importance because it controlled the nighttime pass; whoever governed the light beacon regulated the night time passageway. Without that light, the Union ships could only traverse the treacherous pass in the daytime, limiting Union ship movement in the blockade of the coastline.The harbors in the Corpus Christi, Rockport-St. Marys, Copano Bay area and Mustang and San Jose islands were all supplying the Confederate Army with much needed beef, salt, seafood and cotton supplies for the troops fighting the North, and the Union was bent on stopping those shipments. Around November 1861, as expected the Union Navy started a campaign of coastal blockade. Then, Marines off the Navy vessel USS Afton surged ashore on San Jose Island and leveled the small town of Aransas, burning most of the houses, structures, warehouses, piers, docks and wharf sometime in February 1862. The small town was all but wiped out, but remnants of it can still be found today when the area is searched well. Jurisdiction of the lighthouse traded back and forth between the Confederate and Union detachments throughout the war.Though Lt. J. W. Kittredge attempted the expropriation of Corpus Christi from the Southern forces, Maj. Alfred M. Hobby and troops sent the Union ships sailing away. By early that summer, southern civilians had forsaken the islands rather than be under the rule of the North. United States Navy vessels under J. W. Kittredge (before he was captured) besieged the coast, using St. Joseph's Island and the few remaining structures on it as a depot to store captured cotton.On Christmas Day of 1862 a bold move was made by Confederate General John B. Magruder, who authored a detachment of troops to commence the ruination of the lighthouse tower. Gunpowder kegs were clustered inside the tower and lit on fire. It resulted in the damaging of 20–25 feet of brickwork, the glass housing case and the round stairwell.The next significant stage in the war for this arena was on May 3, 1863, when Capt. Edwin E. Hobby's Confederate company assaulted the Union garrison set to protect the lighthouse and killed twenty soldiers. On the May 8, the Confederates once again maintained a battery on Mustang Island; later in the month, they pushed Union forces off St. Joseph's Island. But their victory wouldn't be long-lived as the Union comprehended the significance of the pass, and in November federal troops under T. C. G. Robinson came back and regained control of the island.The Tarpon Inn was built in 1886 with surplus lumber from Civil War barracks. It was built to house workers building the south jetty (Known then as the Mansfield Jetty). In 1886, when the jetty was finished, the structure was converted into a hotel and called the Tarpon Inn. It was opened by Frank Stephenson and sold to Mary Hatfield and her son, Ed Cotter in 1897. After the 1919 hurricane destroyed the main structure, the inn was sold again in 1923 to James M. Ellis, who rebuilt the inn to resemble the old barracks.When the Tarpon Inn was rebuilt in 1923, it was built to withstand future storms. Many of the new pilings were placed in concrete, with the ends extending up through the entire structure and into the attic. Because the Tarpon Inn was built with impressive reinforcements and a protected shelter, it has housed many residents during storms and has served as headquarters for the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and many military units.Two of the walls of the Tarpon Inn are covered with tarpon scales. Each of the scales has the signature and hometown of the angler who caught the tarpon as well as the size, weight and date of the catch. Some of the people who have stayed at the Tarpon Inn include: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who fished there in 1937; Duncan Hines, who spent his honeymoon there; Hedy Lamarr; Victor McLaglen; Aimee Semple McPherson; Clyde Beatty; Bob Lilly; and physicist Edward Teller.In 1979, the Tarpon Inn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was recognized as a Texas Historic Landmark.Elihu Harrison Ropes, while visiting Galveston Island in 1887 was intrigued in the development of a deep water port on the Texas coast, and looked to Corpus Christi as the state's first much needed deep-vessel port of call. After exploring Mustang Island, Ropes proclaimed a plan to excavate a channel through the island. To complete the venture, Ropes founded the Port Ropes Company. Mr. Ropes then paid $25,000 for Mustang Island and purchased a dredge to dig the channel. It was in June 1890 that Mr. Ropes launched the fruitless project to build a channel across the island to give the port of Corpus Christi a direct connection with the deep water of the Gulf of Mexico. By the end of 1891, however, the project was terminated due to many problems.In 1888 the town's first official post office was established under the name Ropesville. This would be the first official name of what is now Port Aransas, but wouldn't last for long.It was in 1890 when the Aransas Pass & Harbor Company, under government contracts, launched a major endeavor to deepen the channel through the pass and over the sandbar once and for all. The plan called for the construction of two brand new jetties. The plan failed to increase the depth of the channel. Another plan was put into action. It called for the blasting of the channel with thousands of pounds of dynamite, but also failed. The newest jetties, and shallow draft would have to stay as they were for the time being.In 1896 the name would changed to Tarpon because of the abundant game fish that filled the waters around it. The population at that time was about 250. The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 called for the elimination of the old Mansfield jetty "south jetty". After many problems, and much trouble the project was finished by 1911 while this was still going on, and after several private and government endeavors couldn't to get a deep-water pass between Mustang and St. Joseph islands, the United States Army Corps of Engineers took over the project in 1907, and was granted the right to build a new south "Nelson" jetty and to unite the "Haupt jetty" to St. Joseph Island that same year.The 1916 Texas Hurricane destroyed Port Aransas except for a very few buildings. The docks, wharf and warehouses were now on the mainland and the entire island was flooded and infested with rattlesnakes. The rebuilding would be hard and long, as most towns in the region were bestowed the same fate. Building materials would become increasingly hard to find and transport as well, so many residents did not return. The destruction of the 1916 Texas Hurricane did not discourage the people of Port Aransas for very long. The Tarpon Inn was rebuilt and, the docks, wharves, and warehouses were replaced. After the city was rebuilt, it became a popular destination for anglers, tourists, surfers, and vacationers.A United States Census taken in 1925 showed a firmly committed 250 people living on the Island, and show a firm population of 300 by 1931. A toll road was opened in 1931 between the town of Aransas Pass and the Ferry Landing of Port Aransas. Before the toll road, one was required to buy a ticket, load their vehicle onto a flatbed or train, and use the wooden planks inside the rails when the train was not on a scheduled run. With the advent of the toll road, drivers could simply pay a toll and drive on a wooded plank structure built next to the rail tracks. After the railroad closed in 1947, it was used only to transport automobiles until 1960, when the state built a modern road to Harbor Island from Corpus Christi and the ferry landing.Today, the Port Aransas Ferry System provides free transportation service seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. The ferry ride connects Mustang Island and Port Aransas with the mainland via Harbor Island and Aransas Pass. There are six large identical ferries that can carry twenty regular passenger vehicles on each trip. Each boat can move 100 vehicles per hour.In 1935 Dr. E.J. Lund, a zoologist from The University of Texas, traveled to Port Aransas to investigate a massive fish kill. He constructed a small rough lumber one-room shack on the old Corps of Engineers dock. Dr. Lund recognized the uniqueness of the local environment and the need for public education about the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico and gradually rekindled interest in marine science at the University.In 1941 The University of Texas Marine Science Institute was officially formed with Dr. Lund as the first Director. Research began in the old pier building with one of the first projects being on the distribution, life history and relative abundance of marine fishes of Texas, by Dr. Lund and Dr. Gordon Gunter, who was Lund’s student and later followed Lund as Director. Gunter also undertook a study for the U.S. Navy on the problem of fouling on ships’ bottoms.With the end of the war, development of the Institute resumed. Lund purchased and donated 12 acre. The old Army Corps of Engineers building, constructed in 1890 and veteran of several hurricanes, was included. This building is still there today and serves as a dormitory where students still relax on an old fashioned porch and watch ships and porpoises almost at the doorstep on the Aransas Pass.In 1946 the first permanent marine laboratory was established in Port Aransas, Texas. Two frame buildings were constructed, which still serve as the cafeteria and a dormitory, and a full time staff was in residence. A laboratory was built on the pier in 1948 and major expansion of physical facilities took place in the 1970s with the acquisition of 49 acre of land, additional laboratories, dormitory, apartments, maintenance complex and a 5¼ acre boat basin.During World War II, an artillery gun turret was erected by the United States Army and maintained throughout the war, on a high dune just off Cotter St. across from the UT campus, and is now part of the UT properties. It was placed to protect the pass from reported sightings of German U-boats. Blackouts were called on all the Island during nighttime hours, no fires on the beach or car lights, and house windows could not show light either and had to be covered with heavy curtains, blankets or wood.In the early 20th century, tarpon fishing began to attract anglers and tourists from across America to Port Aransas. However, because of the choppy waters around Port Aransas, access to the Gulf Coast was restricted. The boats of the day were not designed or built to handle the rough Gulf Coast waters and storms in the early 20th century wiped out the existing charter fleet.To meet the needs of anglers coming from across the country to fish for tarpon, the Farley Family began building the Farley boat. In 1915, Charles Frederick Farley and his son established Farley and Son, Boat Builders in Port Aransas.The Farley boats were designed and built to meet the needs of anglers and fishing guides. They were designed with low-sides and a high bow to fight the choppy waves and were well equipped for the Gulf Coast chop. The Farley Boats were also designed with low cabins that allowed fishing in every direction.In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Port Aransas and while Congress was debating his Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937, he fished for tarpon. He hired Barney Farley, the famous fishing guide and brother of Fred Farley.The president brought his own 35 ft fishing boat and Barney Farley agreed to take the President out on the boat. After an unsuccessful outing, Barney Farley convinced the president to fish from a Farley Boat. The President caught so many tarpon that he returned to Port Aransas later that year to again fish with Barney Farley on a Farley Boat.Today, there are Farley Boat planters located all over the city of Port Aransas celebrating the history and importance of the Farley Boat along the Gulf Coast.