In March of 1950 the Willacy County Navigation District sued to have the 1,760 acres of land immediately surrounding the port facilities of “Red Fish Landing” condemned. In a court ordered settlement, the District paid the American Legion $3 an acre for the land it owned. The small fishing park was renamed Port Mansfield in honor of State Senator Mansfield from Columbus, who headed the Commission that pushed legislation through the U.S. Congress to have the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway extended from Corpus Christi. The new harbor at Port Mansfield was completed by 1956.
The next logical step was to open a jetties-protected channel through Padre Island to the Gulf of Mexico. This would provide the new port with recreational opportunities and enhance its commercial uses.
The first cut through Padre Island was completed by September of 1957.
Disregarding advice from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local engineers chose to construct their jetty with geometrically-shaped concrete blocks called tetra pods which are vaguely similar to the toy jacks used in sidewalk games. The blocks were placed with three legs touching the sandy bottom and the fourth leg sticking straight up. In addition, the rocks to the north of the channel were placed atop the shattered remains of the Spanish galleon. No footing was laid down however and with nothing below but Padre Island sand, the jetties soon fell victim to a flurry of late November storms in 1957, sinking completely out of sight.
Before long, the new channel was almost completely closed. The Island might have healed itself if it were not for the intervention of the Army Corps of Engineers.
Bringing in modern dredges, the Corps began re-dredging the channel in July 1962.
The initial operation proceeded smoothly until the day the dredge ran its hoses over the final resting spot of an ancient Spanish galleon. There was a loud groaning sound as the rotted wood of the sunken ship yielded to the irresistible suction…. Suddenly an arc of twinkling silver flashed in the afternoon sun as a fortune in Spanish treasure spewed onto the spoil banks. Work was briefly stopped as the workers scrambled into the mud to gather as many of the coins as possible. After a short time, the hoses were once again lowered and the men resumed their task and by year’s end the new jetties were in place.
Today, the Port Mansfield Gulf Channel, now known as the East Cut, provides a much-needed access to the protected Intracoastal Canal and provides access by boat to both North and South Padre Island.
By STEVE HATHCOCK