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Shore Thing

Cover Feature | The Society Diaries
March-April 2014 Issue

“There it is. I see the sand.” That is my initial response while cruising down Interstate 37, as we spot the first glimpse of soaring seagulls, rolling sand dunes and green-brown sea grass in the distance: a sign we have almost made it to the Texas coast. We cross a bridge, navigate winding side roads and roll down the windows to smell the refreshing salt of the ocean. We wave at moseying locals and weekenders, and take note of every residence along the quaint neighborhood streets. One cannot help noticing the vibrant hues that breathe life into the seemingly slow-moving and restful weekend destination. The purple, blue, green, pink, turquoise add luster to the vivacious array of nautical small town spirit, home to Texans from both near and far whose fond memories on the island span generations.

As we arrive with an SUV packed full of our trendiest totes and tastiest treats, our hosts graciously welcome us into their beach chic coastal home and onto their romantically illuminated patio for a twilight libation of choice: a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio or a ‘Coronita,’ a baby-sized Corona. As we take in the ocean breeze and chat about the sights to see in their beloved Port A, a modest white stucco façade perched on a grassy green knoll glimmers in the sunset. It supports a religious cross on its roof. Curious as can be, I wander across the street and hike to the top of the highest dune on the island to find beauty indicative of a simple and modest time to discover the Chapel in the Dunes.

Considered one of the Eight Wonders of Port Aransas, Chapel in the Dunes was built in 1937 by Aline Carter of San Antonio. Carter’s chapel soon became the center for Sunday ice cream gatherings for the children of the island, who deemed her “The Angel Lady,” as she often wore long, white dresses. I timidly and reverently made my way into the small chapel, feeling the worn, wooden pews and admiring the detailed mural depictions of Bible stories narrated on the walls. With statues of smiling, chubby cherubs, perched to guard the small altar, there is a calm that encapsulates my soul like the sound of the ocean tides just beyond the dunes. Peering out from the chapel windows I can almost see tranquility, as the dusk of night blankets the water off of the island. Relishing in this humble moment, I begin to better understand the irresistible charm of Port Aransas.

Curious to learn more about the island’s history on the second day of our visit, we set out to live like islanders and conquer three more of the Eight Wonders of Port Aransas. Our first stop is The Port Aransas Museum. The building that houses the displays and collection of the coastal town’s history was brought to the island as a kit house shortly after the 1916 hurricane and was built to replace the Life Saving Station, now the Coast Guard. Stepping inside of the region’s time capsule reveals the island’s history through pictures, exhibits, and movies. We watched Farley boats deep-sea fishing; we admired a photo of President Franklin D. Roosevelt catching an 80-pound tarpon fish, and absorbed historical facts about the discovery of the island itself.

Having just learned about Farley boats at the Port Aransas Museum, naturally our next stop was the island’s sixth wonder: The Farley Boat Works. The Farley family originally arrived in Port Aransas in the 1880’s and established homes, businesses, and the first taxidermy services on the island. In 1915 the family opened a boat shop, where they custom make boats specifically engineered for local fishing conditions. The Farley family has hand-made several hundred custom boats, and the Boat Works presents a visual demonstration of the boat-making process for visitors today, as the shop is now operating as a boat making school. We arrived just in time to hear a local gent tell us about the boat he was making in the shop and explained about the different types of wood used in making his Farley boat. He boasted that he could now cross off an item from his bucket list: learning how to make his first boat at the Farley Boat Works.

We also visited the island’s number one wonder: The Light House. Standing guard stoically over the land, reminiscent of its history, the Aransas Pass Light Station was built as a result of weather and politics – both powerful forces of change during the island’s beginnings. Construction began on it in 1854, and the tower first shined its bright, navigational light in 1857. Mounted in the lantern at the top of the tower was a fourth-order Fresnel lens, which made the light visible seven miles out to sea. In 1862, when Civil War divided the nation, the station became the target of Confederate forces. In a daring raid, the forces detonated two kegs of black powder, destroying the lens and damaging the tower. After refurbishing the damage, The Light House has since stood strong, and has remained a beacon for the island.

Built in 1886 during the final phase of construction of the Jetties at 200 East Cotter Avenue, the Tarpon Inn is the oldest surviving structure on the island, earning its title of Port Aransas’ third wonder. It has become an icon of the island’s waterfront after surviving a history of setbacks caused by Mother Nature. It was badly damaged in a fire and nearly destroyed by a severe hurricane.  However, in the shadow of its challenging history, the inn is still available to reserve a room, or to enjoy a delicious meal. Upon visiting, a stop inside of the lobby is a must-see because unique wall décor is a feature that cannot be found anywhere else: tarpon fish scales signed by those who caught them. On the back wall is a very special scale signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, immortalizing his historic catch off of the island in 1937.

Then, after a full day of exploring Port Aransas, our group had worked up an appetite and was in search of a quiet atmosphere in which to enjoy some authentic island cuisine. We parked our cars, wandered up a set of wooden steps and were greeted on the deck of a restaurant we heard was a local favorite. We waved to friends across the way from San Antonio, were seated at our table, and  served a glass of wine.

Sitting in this cozy and quaint structure watching the sunset over the water in the distance, I realized why Texans travel, from both near and far, to relax on the shores of ‘Port A.’ In fact, Texans love to unwind here. Life is simple and far from complicated. Everyone is unique, yet they all fit in. They enjoy time with friends, lounge in their beachy bungalows, and make memories that are cherished by their families for generations.

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