Padre Island Developer



Photo from "Rio Grande Heritage" by Brian Robertson

Plans set in motion by Col. Sam Robertson 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-1920s, the ex-developer, ex-war hero, excounty 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.

By 1927 he had completed a trough toll bridge to Brazos over Boca Chica Pass (now part of the mainland), established auto ferry service from Point Isabel to South Padre and North Brazos Islands, built a trough bridge between Padre and Mustang Island (now merged with North Padre), and constructed a two-way trough causeway across Laguna Madre from Flour Bluff, east of Corpus Christi, to Padre Island. Though segments of the beach road sometimes washed out, it was possible to drive by car 135 miles from the Rio Grande mouth to Aransas Pass. Starting at Aransas Pass on the Texas mainland, he constructed a causeway consisting of wooden troughs to accommmodate the wheels of Model Ts.

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.

His confidence in the islands' resort potential was undiminished but for the first time his capacity for raising money to finance his projects had reached its limit. Having an extraordinary grasp of industrial financing, he had been making contacts in circles where investment money was available. In July 1928 he sold his joint island venture without profit to Frank E. Jones and Albert E. Jones, Kansas City millionaires, and a Col. Parker.

Their plans for development costing $3 million were abandoned after the 1929 stock market crash. The brothers gave Colonel Sam their interest in Brazos Island and the Boca Chica toll bridge in return for $6,000 credit on their debt to him. He devoted the rest of his active life to his Del Mar beach development near the mouth of the Rio Grande. Refusing to seek safety, he nearly lost his life in the 1933 hurricane which swept away the pavilion, beach cottages and three years' work. The storm filled Boca Chica Pass and completely destroyed the trough bridge near Corpus Christi.

Photo from "Brownsville, a Pictorial History" by Wooldridge & Vezzetti