Corpus Christi Bay

By: Art Leatherwood

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: December 1, 1994

Corpus Christi Bay is a large saltwater estuary at the mouth of the Nueces River (at 27°46' N, 97°15' W). It is protected from the waves and storms of the Gulf of Mexico by Mustang Island. The bay is entirely in the jurisdiction of Nueces County, though its northern shoreline is the boundary of San Patricio County. Corpus Christi Bay is one of the few natural harbors on the Texas coast. The growth of the city of Corpus Christi is largely due to its maritime location. The port complex, which developed since the opening of the ship channel in 1926, has led the Corpus Christi area to economic prominence on the Texas coast. The port, connected by the ship channel to the Gulf of Mexico, has provided for increasing manufacturing and the processing of seafoods and agricultural food items. The bay has also contributed an array of mineral resources.

Corpus Christi Bay may have been first sighted by Alonso Álvarez de Pineda on Corpus Christi Day 1519, the day he claimed the territory for his king. Alonso De León, who first crossed and named the Nueces River at the head of the bay on April 4, 1689, may also have seen the bay. Capt. Joaquín de Orobio y Basterra was instructed by Governor José de Escandón in 1746 to explore and settle the Gulf Coast from Tampico to the San Antonio River. Orobio describes the great bay at the mouth of the Río de las Nueces and states that he named it for St. Michael the Archangel. The first reference to Corpus Christi Bay by its present name appears in reports by Col. Diego Ortiz Parrilla in 1766. Perhaps the first landowner on the bayshore was Blas María de la Garza Falcón, who had holdings fifteen miles south of the Nueces River in 1746. Henry Lawrence Kinney opened a store on Live Oak Point in 1838. Gen. Zachary Taylor landed troops at the site of present Corpus Christi on July 31, 1845, and the community developed as a result.

Through the efforts of Congressman John Nance Garner, a local harbor was authorized by President Warren G. Harding on September 22, 1922, and a channel twenty-one miles long and a minimum of twenty-five feet deep was dredged connecting Corpus Christi Bay with the Gulf of Mexico. The channel enters through the jetties at Aransas Pass. The bay is also crossed by the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Since the original opening of the port facilities in 1926 the channel has been gradually deepened and widened. Plans to improve the port further to accommodate supertankers of up to 500,000 dead-weight tons-including offshore mooring facilities-have been considered.

Corpus Christi Bay has developed into a major recreational area. The mild climate, the waters protected by the barrier islands, and the abundant sunshine draw thousands of both summer and winter tourists to the area.

Robert H. Ryan and Charles W. Adams, Corpus Christi: Economic Impact of the Port (Bureau of Business Research, University of Texas at Austin, 1973). Bill Walraven, Corpus Christi: The History of a Texas Seaport (Woodland Hills, California, 1982). WPA Writers' Program, Corpus Christi (Corpus Christi Caller-Times, 1942).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Art Leatherwood, “Corpus Christi Bay,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 30, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1994