VELASCO, TEXAS. Old Velasco, (encompassed by present-day Surfside Beach) on the east side of the Brazos River sixteen miles south of Angleton and near the Gulf of Mexico in southeastern Brazoria County, was founded in 1831. Ten years earlier the schooner Lively landed at the site with thirty-eight men, the first of Stephen F. Austin's colonists. Nothing but a single house stood at the site until Mexico set up a customs port there and dispatched troops in 1831 to help the customs collector. Subsequently, more than 25,000 settlers entered through the port. The community developed upstream from the coast by 1835; a customhouse, salt works, and trading posts were located at Velasco during the immigration period. The town was named for a Mexican general, as was Quintana, on the opposite side of the river. According to one writer, Old Velasco became the "Boston harbor of the Texas Revolution," as the site of the battle of Velasco in 1832. A cholera epidemic reduced the population to 100 in 1834, and a mail route from San Felipe to Velasco was established in 1835. After the battle of San Jacinto, President David G. Burnet made the town the temporary capital of the Republic of Texas. Government records were housed at Fort Velasco until the first capital of Texas was established at Columbia. Antonio López de Santa Anna signed the treaties of Velasco on May 14, 1836.
Between the Texas Revolution and the Civil War, Velasco and Quintana served as summer resorts for wealthy plantation families of the region. Galveston businessmen Samuel May Williams and Thomas F. McKinney established warehouses and organized shipping of all kinds at the port. A seminary for young ladies, Velasco Female Academy, and a school for young men, taught by Oxford graduates, were established by 1838. Comfortable hotels were built to accommodate visitors and patrons of the racetrack located a short distance upriver. A local post office operated from 1846 until 1891, when mail was rerouted through Quintana. Antebellum Velasco had business houses, homes, a hotel, boardinghouses, wharves, and a customhouse; riverboats embarked from the wharves for Galveston and New Orleans. With completion of the first intracoastal canal to Galveston Bay in 1856, however, the town began to decline as shipping was diverted to Galveston.
During the Civil War the port of Velasco was fortified by Confederate troops and eight gun batteries, and Union ships were forced to go to New Orleans for drinking water, food, and fuel. The port played an active role in the exchange of cotton for European guns, ammunition, milled goods, and medicines for army and home use. Federal vessels attempted to stop vital trade and fired upon shore defenses, patrols, and small craft seeking to outrun them. With the ruin of the plantation system after the war, Velasco and Quintana declined as resorts. In 1875 a hurricane destroyed even the old town records. By 1884, when its residents numbered fifty and local farmers shipped livestock, Velasco had been reduced to semiweekly steamer service to Brazoria and reported only a general store and a boat builder's shop.
The new town of Velasco was surveyed and laid out in 1891, when a new Velasco post office was established. The port was officially opened by the United States secretary of the treasury on July 7, 1891. A year later over $1 million worth of lots had been sold. Promoters working throughout the Midwest advertised the Velasco Hotel and an area along the river designed as Riverside Park. By 1892 Velasco had 136 business establishments and 167 residences, an electric light plant, and a planing mill. Jetties were built by the Brazos River Channel and Dock Company by 1897, and the newly dug deepwater port ran to a depth of 17½ feet. New settlers traveled to Houston by train, to Columbia on the Columbia Tap branch of the International and Great Northern Railroad, and by riverboat down the Brazos to Velasco. The Velasco Terminal Railway, completed around 1890, allowed passengers to proceed directly from the Columbia Tap connection at Anchor to the new town. According to some sources, much of Velasco, first owned by John A. and William H. Wharton, was later sold to an agent of the English Rothschild family, who planned to establish a great seaport at the site. By 1896 the community had a new lighthouse, several churches, schools, hotels, a national bank, a cottonseed oil mill, cotton gins, special and general stores, and two weekly newspapers, the Times and the World. In that year Velasco shipped cottonseed oil, cotton, lumber, and livestock. Surfside, or Old Velasco, and Crescent Beach could be reached by electric railroad. The population was 3,000 when the Galveston hurricane of 1900 wrecked the town.
Velasco rebuilt slowly, enduring fluctuations of poverty and prosperity. By 1914, with a population of 1,000 and only one newspaper, the World, remaining, the community had a fish and oyster plant and shipped cattle, cotton, cane sugar, and syrup. The population dropped to a low of 400 in the mid-1930s, when the town supported twelve businesses. But diversion of the Brazos River and the formation of a tidal estuary deep enough to accommodate large vessels in the old river channel subsequently revived both Velasco and nearby Freeport. Construction of chemical-industry facilities during World War II increased the population from 900 in 1940, when the city was incorporated with E. F. Roeller as mayor, to 5,200 by 1950. With a population estimated at 4,000 in 1956, Velasco was incorporated with Freeport on July 27, 1957. The post office became Velasco Station. The community subsequently became part of the Brazosport industrial and port area and Brazosport Independent School District.
James A. Creighton, A Narrative History of Brazoria County (Angleton, Texas: Brazoria County Historical Commission, 1975). P. E. Peareson, "Reminiscences of Judge Edwin Waller," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 4 (July 1900). Edna Rowe, "The Disturbances at Anahuac in 1832," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 6 (April 1903). Henry Smith, "Reminiscences of Henry Smith," Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association 14 (July 1910). Velasco Harbor Opening, December 15, 1891: Public Sale of Lots, December 16 and 17 (Velasco, Texas: Texas Land and Immigration Company, 1891). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.