Grapes, Grass, Gas, and Glass in Flour Bluff

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page, Local history

 

      Flour Bluff’s colorful history begins with the archaeological evidence that suggests that pre-Karankawa peoples used the area near Oso Bay as a burial ground between 500 B.C. and 500 A.D.,  long before the Karankawas waded along the shores of the Cayo del Oso and Laguna Madre in search of food.  In 1838, the Encinal Peninsula was used as a hand-off spot by Mexican smugglers during the Pastry War between France and Mexico.  In May 1841, Philip Dimmitt, a hero of the Texas Revolution, built a trading post, probably at Flour Bluff Point, to compete with Henry Kinney’s trading post, a move that didn’t set well with Kinney.  Many believe the rivalry between the men launched the contention between Corpus Christi and Flour Bluff, that in some ways still exists.  Be that as it may, in its early days, Flour Bluff attracted all kinds of entrepreneurial types looking for a place to start a new venture, some of which would be considered a bit odd.

     For example, it might be difficult for the average person living in Flour Bluff today to imagine a 1000-acre vineyard on the Encinal Peninsula with the large dunes looming in the background along the bay.  But, that’s exactly what was planned by Mr. S. M. Johnson of San Antonio about 120 years ago.  According to The Galveston Daily News article from November 22, 1895, Johnson purchased the land and had “a large force busy at work clearing off the brush and getting everything in proper shape for the raising of the largest and most important land deal that has been made in this section in many years.”

     There is no record of grapes ever being grown in Flour Bluff, but the 1000 acres crops up in other tidbits of news.  It seems that another San Antonio fellow by the name of R. L. Timmins purchased 1000 acres in 1907.  It is not clear if it was the same piece of land.  According to Bill Duncan, writer for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in 1963, Timmins bought the land from Theodore H. Koch, a man from Minnesota. Timmins then sold the 1000 acres to Ed Duncan of Tahoka.  According to the June 9, 1963, article, a man named Gurney bought the land and started an ambitious nursery business on the Oso.  It was complete with its own irrigation system from a large concrete reservoir.  This nursery, located midway down the peninsula, only lasted a couple of years.

Contributed Photo A 1909 map shows the Encinal Peninsula between Cayo del Oso and Laguna Madre with Flour Bluff Point by the bay and the farming community of Brighton to the south.

     Unlike raising grapes, raising cattle on the coastal grass caught on in Flour Bluff. Murphy Givens, local historian and Caller-Times columnist, wrote in one of his columns, “In 1895, the Texas Land & Cattle Company began selling acreage around Flour Bluff. This syndicate in Scotland had bought Mifflin Kenedy’s Laureles Ranch. It sold farmland south of Corpus Christi in the Encinal and Garden tracts. Some Flour Bluff lands were sold in the early 1890s by E.B. Cole (for whom Cole Park was named). Cole would rent buggies with teams of horses, load up the buggies with ice, beer and picnic lunches, and pick up his prospects at the Steen Hotel. They would spend the day driving around Flour Bluff looking at land.”

          Retired Flour Bluff Junior High history teacher, Karen Howden, author of the Flour Bluff ISD Texas Historical Commission Marker, found information about ranching in the area.  The free-range cattle, owned by the ranching families living in Flour Bluff at the turn of the century, often grazed the grasses near the school buildings.  This prompted the building of fences to keep the cattle away from the school. Since the ranchers’ children were accustomed to living and working with cattle, the destructive nature of the beasts is probably what prompted the school officials to fence the bovine out.

     In the 1930s, significant finds of oil and gas were located in Greta, Sam Fordyce, Loma Novia, Lopez, Placedo, Plymouth, Flour Bluff, Benavides (or North Sweden), and Premont.  However, exploration in the area began as early as 1912.  In the advertising section of the January 5, 1912, Corpus Christi Caller, B. Walker posted a trailer for sale in the Humble Camp.  The camp was located near the south gate of what is Naval Air Station Corpus Christi today.  This perhaps explains why so many small houses are in that area north of the freeway in Flour Bluff.  Oil and gas changed the landscape of Flour Bluff forever with the drilling of dozens of wells, the creation of roads to access the wells, and the clearing of land to allow for drilling to take place.  Oil and gas production is still part of the Flour Bluff area.

Photograph of Nueces Hotel, ca. 1913, from Jeff and Mary Bell Library, Texas A & M University Corpus Christi

     One Corpus Christi Oil & Gas Co. spokesman asked Corpus Christi Caller readers on May 25, 1919, to follow him on “a mind trip.”  He wrote, “We are on the roof of the Nueces Hotel.  We are looking at the spot where once was the Municipal Wharf.  Now we see, instead, immense steamboat piers, jutting out into deep water.  Deep-water vessels are loading and unloading at these piers.  Railroad tracks now run down the middle of the piers.  Shifting engines shunt loaded and empty freight cars up and down.  All is bustle and activity.  Notice, now, the immense chimneys that tower along the skyline at Flour Bluff.  Those are the chimneys of huge glass factories, whose products are shipped all over the world.”

File:Seneca Glass Company Factory ovens.jpg
Abandoned ovens at the Seneca Glass Company, located at 709 Beechurst Avenue in Morgantown, West Virginia, United States. Built in 1897, the company complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

        Unfortunately, the glass production went the way of grape production.   Who knows what happened?  Maybe  no one bought into the idea.  Perhaps the money just wasn’t there.  Or, maybe the other ventures took over like the Flour Bluff sand bur.  Whatever the case, Flour Bluff survived and thrived without them.  WWII brought NAS Corpus Christi, which grew the community.  In answer to that growth, E. J. Wranosky, a man with a vision of his own, took a country school that served the children of the ranchers, the oil field workers, and the fishermen and turned it into an independent school district that now serves as the number one attraction to Flour Bluff.  God only knows what lies in the future of this little community with such a rich history.

Retired from education after serving 30 years (twenty-eight as an English teacher and two years as a new-teacher mentor), Shirley enjoys her life with family and friends while serving her community, church, and school in Corpus Christi, Texas. She is the creator and managing editor of The Paper Trail, an online news/blog site that serves to offer new, in-depth, and insightful responses to the events of the day.
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