Col. Sam Robertson

Plans set in motion by Col. Sam Robertson of San Benito to open Padre Island to vacationers by the thousands, instead of the dozens who came by launch or sailboat, inspired others who years later were able to bring his dream to reality. In the mid-1920's, the ex-developer, ex-war hero, ex-county sheriff, was fired with the idea of creating a Miami Beach type development on the island. To most, his project sounded impractical, even preposterous. Characteristically, he was not dissuaded. He recognized that he faced problems aplenty, but it would be a classic understatement to say that the man who built the track for the Valley's first railway against heavy odds and in Europe during World War I laid railroads to the front lines while under fire, was resourceful.

Starting at Aransas Pass on the Texas mainland, he constructed a causeway consisting of wooden troughs to accommodate the wheels of Model T's. The span terminated on Mustang Island across the bay. Ferry service for the cars was provided from Mustang across a pass that no longer exists to Padre Island. Here began-or ended-Robertson's Ocean Beach Toll Road. The beach near the shoreline served as the roadbed. At dangerously soft spots and at the Old Shell Bank the route was reinforced with chicken wire and cement. The toll included ferry service for transporting cars between Port Isabel and South Padre Island.

Col. Sam Robertson

Photo courtesy of San Benito Historical Society

 

The farsighted Robertson was dogged all his life by lack of funds to bring his plans to completion and many others benefited later from projects he launched. As usual, he was unable to finance his Padre Island undertaking and sold his holdings to a Kansas City partnership, the Jones Bros. and a Colonel Parker. The project was shelved with the 1929 depression and abandoned after the September 1933 hurricane. The storm destroyed all improvements on Padre and also swept away the small vacation resort Robertson had established at Boca Chica after building a causeway to the southern tip of Brazos Island, which now is joined to the mainland.