Founded in 1840 as an Indian trading post, Indianola, Texas, served as a major seaport from 1844 to 1886. The city and Galveston, about one hundred fifty miles northeast, had many things in common—including a desire to outstrip the other and become Texas’s maritime leader.
For a long time, Indianola seemed to be winning. Companies in the city’s industrial district began canning beef as early as 1848. In 1869, Indianola became the first U.S. port to ship refrigerated beef to New England.
The city’s reputation for innovation and dogged determination paid off handsomely. Ships arrived from New York and other New England ports, ferrying passengers and goods bound for San Antonio and California. Indianola became a major debarkation point for European immigrants…and a few boatloads of camels imported for the U.S. Army’s notorious Camel Corps experiment. (The experiment was abandoned at the outbreak of the Civil War, and some of the camels were turned loose. The last feral camel sighting in Texas took place in 1941.)
Indianola did so well that it made itself a target during the Civil War. Determined to cut one of the major Confederate supply lines, Yankee vessels blockaded the port in October 1862 and demanded surrender. Being Texans, the nearby fort politely declined with a cannonade. Several scuffles later, Indianola and its port fell to the Yanks on December 23, 1863. One of the jewels of Texas remained in Federal hands for the rest of the war.
In 1867, fire and a yellow fever epidemic ravaged the town. Indianola rebuilt bigger and better, reaching a population of 5,000 by the time the first death knell rang. Although the city had been damaged by a strong storm in 1851, a major hurricane in 1875 demolished almost everything. Tough to the core, the people of Indianola used the debris to rebuild again.
Then, in August and September 1886, two major hurricanes six weeks apart left Indianola and its celebrated seaport in ruins. Sand and silt blown in by the storms made the bay too shallow for big ships to navigate. Most of the residents moved inland.
The post office closed in 1887, and what remained of the town was abandoned.
The storms ended Indianola’s competition with Galveston for maritime supremacy. Galveston got its comeuppance in 1900 when the Great Storm leveled the island city, giving Houston the right break at the right time to become—and remain—the dominant economic power in Southeast Texas.
The city once known as “the Queen City of the West,” today is “the Queen of Texas Ghost Towns.” Though an unincorporated fishing village stands on the shore, Indianola lies beneath the water, 300 feet off the coast in Matagorda Bay.