South Padre Island was bustling last week due to the beautiful clear weather. There was a breeze, but there was not a cloud in the sky last Tuesday morning to midafternoon. It allowed for you to warm up as the breeze came in to cool you off once again. The water was choppy, but the fishermen were enjoying being out on the sand and their lines in the water. To think, nearly 300 years ago, the only residents of the Island were the native Karankawa Indians, migratory birds, and sea turtles. Now the Island is a prosperous city with resorts, hotels, restaurants, and so much more.
The Island is seeing renewed buildings and infrastructure after a storm in October 2019. The Island, Port Isabel, and other areas were without power for quite some time after electric poles in the area were taken down by strong winds. Now as you travel to the Island, you can see large metal poles, said to withstand the strong winds storms usually contain. You can still see places in the rebuilding process, but the Island (and Port Isabel) has been beautified because of the recent painting, street projects, and more.
So, now some history of the beautiful South Padre Island we all like to visit.
King Carlos III of Spain originally granted the Island to Nicolas Balli in 1759. The Island was later passed on to his grandson, Padre Jose Nicolas Balli. Padre Jose brought the first permanent settlers to the area. According to the Texas State Historical Association, Balli requested a clear title to the property in 1827.
He established a church and taught Christianity to the Karankawa Indians. At the time, the Island was known as Isla de Santiago. Because of Padre’s reputation as a kind man, the Island was often referred to as La Isla Padre – or Padre Island.
North of the Island’s southern tip is where Padre founded El Rancho Santa Cruz de Buena Vista. He kept cattle, horses and mules on the property. The area was later referred to as Lost City.
Balli also constructed the present Church of Nuestra Senora del Refugio in Matamoros. He became the collector of building funds for the churches of the villas on the Rio Grande. Becoming well known in the area, he officiated more than 500 baptisms, marriages, and funerals between 1800 and 1829.
He died on April 16, 1829. He was granted the title to the island posthumously on December 15, 1829. It was issued jointly to him and his nephew Juan Jose Balli who he had requested half of the Island be given to. Juan Jose lived on the Island until his death in 1853.
You will find much of this history at a couple of landmarks on the Island and at the Museums of Port Isabel.
Today, the Island’s population has grown significantly, and the sandy, white beaches and calm waters still bring migratory birds and sea turtles. The strong sense of community and acceptance that Padre Balli taught can still be felt around the Island today. It lives on in the people and is a huge attraction for many that choose to visit and live on the Island.
The usual way to the Island is Highway 100, although there are now toll roads that take you out by the Port of Brownsville before leading to the Island. Either way, you do have to cross the Isabella Causeway. Enjoy that car ride. There are always great views from the causeway. I can’t imagine what it was like in the early days when travel to the Island was initially done by ferry or boat before a bridge was installed that your car tires fit into the grooves as you crossed – it wasn’t much of a bridge, almost like train tracks over open water. The transportation to the Island has definitely gotten easier.
There are so many sites to see at the Island – besides the amazing food (there is more than seafood) – you can also visit SPI Birding Center, Sea Turtle Inc., follow the Sea Turtle Art Trail, the SPI Art Trail, or even the Sand Art Trail. There is lots of shopping on the main drag – South Padre Island Boulevard. There are several parks and beach access points to visit and get your feet in the sand.
While I was there, there were people in the air, on the sand, and on horseback.
Something to take advantage of if you are a fisher, are the beach access points and piers. There are also several restaurants that will cook your catch. There is a regular event every year where several restaurants offer to cook your catch for you, and I believe there are one or two that do it year-round.
During lunch at Dirty Al’s, you can see the pelicans and seagulls begging for food as the boats from the cruises come in. There are several areas to dress your fish right outside the windows and the birds, and cats, of the area are all too familiar, waiting for someone to drop or throw something in the water.
So many things for you to do. You can plan a day trip and take part in a cruise or fishing trip, or just walk along the main road and enjoy the shopping and eateries. A weekend trip would give you more time to enjoy the Birding Center, the art district, the water, fireworks if you go on a weekend, Sandcastles and the night life.
If you like the wildlife of the Valley, you must stop by the Birding Center. There are some rare sightings of migratory birds and there are full-times residents as well. They have some turtles to see and alligators. You can even purchase food for the alligators. They have over 3,300 feet of boardwalk, bird blinds, a five-story viewing tower, a sea life museum, and guided walks throughout the year. Visit https://www.spibirding.com/ for more information.
Just like the rest of the Valley, there is a lot to enjoy especially if you get out of your car and go for a walk. You will see things you do not necessarily see when you just drive by.
Have some fun, catch some sun, and eat some good food.
Visit www.sopadre.com for more things to do. Also, don’t forget to visit the Island Metro Multi-Modal building just to your right after getting over the Causeway, for your personal map to the Sea Turtle, Art, and Sandcastle Trails, and other site to see.