CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS. Corpus Christi, a seaport at the mouth of the Nueces River on the west end of Corpus Christi Bay, is the county seat of Nueces County and the largest city on the South Texas coast. It lies at the junction of Interstate 37 and U. S. highways 77 and 181, 210 miles southwest of Houston. The city's transportation needs are also served by the Texas Mexican, Southern Pacific, and Missouri Pacific railways and Corpus Christi International Airport.
In prehistoric times the area was inhabited by various tribes of the Karankawa Indian group, which migrated up and down the Coastal Bend region. It not known who the first Europeans were to visit the area, but it seems most likely that Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca and his band were the first Europeans who actually set foot on the site. The Spanish, however, largely ignored the region until the 1680s, when Frenchmen under René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, established a colony in Texas. Spanish authorities dispatched an expedition to the area in 1689 under Alonso De León, but the Corpus Christi Bay area remained unknown and unexplored until 1747, when Joaquín Prudencio de Orobio y Basterraqv led an expedition down the Nueces River, reaching the bay on February 26. After Orobio's return, José de Escandón, governor and captain general of Nuevo Santander, proposed founding a settlement at the mouth of the Nueces called Villa de Vedoya.
During the 1830s two further failed attempts were made to establish colonies at the mouth of the Nueces. German nobleman Baron Johann von Rachnitz tried to found a German settlement there, but the ship carrying the colonists was prevented from landing by the French during the Pastry War. Around the same time, abolitionist Benjamin Lundy proposed the establishment of a colony of former slaves at the site; however, he dropped the plans after the outbreak of the Texas Revolution.
The area thus remained uninhabited until September 1839, when Henry Lawrence Kinney and his partner William P. Aubrey established a trading post on the west shore of Corpus Christi Bay, reportedly near what is now the 400 block of North Broadway. Kinney and Aubrey quickly developed a brisk illegal trade with Mexico. In 1841 Capt. Enrique Villarreal, a rancher from Matamoros who had been granted the land by the Mexican government, led a force of 300 men to reclaim his property and seize the arms stored at Kinney's stockade. Kinney, who at the time reportedly had only eight men under his command, however, managed to negotiate an agreement to purchase the land. Kinney and Aubrey's post soon became the focus of trade in the area. Attacks by Mexican bands forced the abandonment of the post in 1842, but Kinney returned a short time later and reestablished his business. A post office opened the same year with Aubrey as postmaster. By the mid-1840s the settlement-now known as Corpus Christi ("the Body of Christ")-was a small village. An English visitor described it as consisting of "Colonel Kinney's fortified house, about a half dozen stores, and a grog shop or two"; another visitor around the same time reported that the village had some fifty families.
In 1846 the town became county seat the of newly formed Nueces County. It was incorporated on April 25, 1846, but because no public officials were elected, the corporation was repealed, and the town was not reincorporated until February 16, 1852.
The chief impediment to growth, however, was the lack of a deepwater port, a problem that occupied the town's leaders for the next seventy years. Large ships, unable to enter Corpus Christi Bay, were forced to anchor offshore where supplies were offloaded onto lighters, shallow-draft vessels capable of navigating the narrow, twisting channels of the bay.
The railroad also reached the town in the mid-1870s. The Corpus Christi, San Diego and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Railroad was organized in 1875, and by 1881 it was extended to Laredo as the Texas Mexican Railway. In 1885 Corpus Christi was a city of some 4,200 residents, with three banks, a customhouse, railroad machine shops, an ice factory, carriage factories, several hotels, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic, and Baptist churches, and two newspapers, the Caller and the Critic.
The decades of the 1880s and 1890s brought other signs that Corpus was developing into a modern city. Many of city's streets were paved for the first time, a street railway system was built in 1889, and a public water system opened in 1893.
By 1914 Corpus Christi was served by four railroads, the Texas Mexican, the San Antonio and Aransas Pass, the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico, and the San Antonio, Uvalde and Gulf. The expanding network of links with the outside world contributed to the town's rapid development. The railroads aggressively promoted the city and the surrounding countryside, offering inexpensive fares in the hope that new residents and farmers would increase the rail business. Rail agents similarly promoted the city as a tourist center, billing it as a all-year resort "where the weary can come to rest, the invalid can come for health, and the gay devotee come for pleasure."
Text from the Handbook of Texas Online