What to See on Bolivar Peninsula
Bolivar Peninsula is a good place to get away from crowds, relax, and maybe catch a big fish. We enjoyed the bucolic setting of farms and ranches and lack of tourist traps.
Although the peninsula had a country feel, it did not lack shopping or restaurants. The Big Store and Ace Hardware had everything on our shopping list. We passed a surf shop that advertised clothing, sandals, and novelties. We ate at Stingaree Landing Restaurant, which served up fresh seafood and steaks. Other restaurants range from BBQ, Mexican fare, burgers and beer, and comfort food.
The beaches on Bolivar Peninsula are unique, at least from a California perspective, in that drivers can drive their vehicles on the sand. It would have been fun to cruise up to the seashore, but our truck is set up for asphalt or concrete roads, not deep sand. Having to call AAA for a tow would have spoiled any pleasure from the ride.
Fort Travis Seashore Park
Always looking for a bit of history wherever we go, Bolivar Peninsula did not disappoint. Fort Travis Seashore Park consists of sweeping green lawns, picnic areas, a playground, seawall, along with bunkers and gun battlements that once protected Galveston Harbor.
An interpretive trail includes information signs that give the historical perspective of the fort’s remains as well as facts about the populations of Blue Crab, Brown Pelican, and other wildlife.
Point Bolivar’s history of protection begins in 1816 when Frances Xavier Mina constructed an earthen levee to ward off attacks from the Karankawa Indians who occupied the area. Dr. James Long brought 300 troops, his wife Jane Herbert Wilkinson Long, and daughter to Texas to fight for independence from Spain in 1818. In 1820, Dr. Long selected Port Bolivar as his base of operations, establishing Fort La Casas.
In 1821, leaving his pregnant wife and young daughter with a servant and a few soldiers to defend the fort, Dr. Long left the peninsula for La Bahía to gain support for his fight against Spain. A bitterly cold winter and dwindling supplies chased the men away. With only a twelve-year-old servant and her six-year-old daughter, Jane delivered her daughter Mary James Long on December 21. Determined to stay at Bolivar Point until her husband returned, it was not until early 1822 that Jane left with her family after learning of her husband’s death.
Other uses of Bolivar Point and the fort include:
- The 1836 establishment of Fort Travis to protect the Galveston harbor entrance. Built in 1898, Battery Davis contained two eight-inch guns, and Battery Ernst contained three small caliber pedestal guns and ammunition magazines.
- After the 1900 hurricane, a 17-foot seawall was installed to prevent the pounding surf during violent storms from damaging the fort.
- Soldiers occupied the fort during both World Wars, and it operated as an internment camp for German prisoners during World War II.
- Battery Kimble, built in 1922, contained twelve-inch guns.
- Battery 236, built in 1941, defended the Galveston harbor from submarines.
- Residents settled in the fort with their cattle and other animals in 1961 when Hurricane Carla ravaged the peninsula.
- Galveston County commissioners purchased the fort in 1973 for use as a public park.
Remnant of Gun Emplacement
Mother of Texas
A Texas Historical Marker pays tribute to Jane Herbert Wilkinson Long just outside of the entrance to the park.
The pioneer woman known as the Mother of Texas returned with her family in 1825 as part of Stephen F. Austin’s First Colony and received land, settling in San Felipe De Austin. She also was instrumental during the war for independence by gathering information from Mexican officers and storing arms and munitions in her boarding house.
During the runaway scrape in 1836, Jane fled the Mexican army along with others. She finally settled in Fort Bend County operating a boarding house and plantation. I was impressed with Jane’s devotion to her family and the risks she took to aide Texas gain its independence from Spain.
Port Bolivar Light
We were disappointed to learn that a private party currently owns Port Bolivar Light. I was hoping for a tour and up-close look the lighthouse. The first cast-iron lighthouse was built in 1852 and operated until the Civil War when it was dismantled to provide scrap iron during the war.
The replacement lighthouse began operation on January 19, 1872. The lighthouse sheltered over 120 people during the Great Hurricane of 1900, which destroyed much of Galveston and killed nearly 6,000 people. In August of 1915, sixty people huddled on the spiral staircase during another storm. The light was turned off on May 29, 1933, and the property transferred to the war department in 1935. In 1947, Rancher Elmer V. Boyt purchased the lighthouse and property, which his family still owns, from the war department for $5,500.
Rollover Fish Pass
Advertised as a great place for fishing, we headed out to Rollover Fish Pass. The 1,600-foot long and 200-foot wide pass allows fish to travel to and from East Galveston Bay and Gulf of Mexico. Large cement walls frame the Gulf side and steel bulkheads contain the sides of the rollover bay side northwest of the highway.
When we arrived, the four quadrants were empty except for a few anglers. Either the day before was a good fish day with lots of anglers vying for position, or someone hadn’t been around to empty the trash barrels in a while.
Amid protests from anglers and local residents, the county voted in 2016 to use eminent domain to acquire the property and close the pass. Studies had revealed that it causes erosion. The Gilchrist association and the gun club cited a study that showed significant economic harm would result to the East Bay if the Rollover Pass closed.
In 2017, the gun club agreed to a settlement for sale of the property. However, the Gilchrist Community vowed to take the case to the federal courts, and perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court. A search for more current information regarding the status of the settlement and court case did not reveal any new information. So for now, the pass is still a good place to fish.
Bolivar Peninsula Events
If visitors prefer more of a party atmosphere on their travels and vacations, Bolivar Peninsula also holds several annual festivals and events. Can’t make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras? The island has one of their own. I hear the Texas Crab Festival, a three-day event in May, is not to be missed. For foodies, try the BBQ or Cajun Chef’s cook-off competitions. And in October, join the party at Fort Travis for the Jane Long Festival. Oh, and don’t forget. Galveston Island is only a ferry ride away.
Next up we head to the Texas Hill Country to visit with friends, then on to Waco, Texas.