Point Bolivar

By: Melanie S. Wiggins

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: April 28, 2019

Point Bolivar, also known as Bolivar Point, is at the western tip of Bolivar Peninsula, north across Bolivar Roads from the eastern end of Galveston Island, in southeastern Galveston County (at 29°22' N, 94°47' W). The point has long held importance for coastal navigation and fortification. It was the site of several lighthouses and served as a rendezvous place for Indians, pirates, freebooters, privateers, filibusters, explorers, and settlers. Among the first to establish a headquarters at Point Bolivar were Warren Hall and Henry Perry, who did so in 1815 but abandoned plans to invade Texas when some of their army of volunteers shipwrecked off the point. Francisco Xavier Mina built an earthwork there in 1816. French general Jean Humbert in 1816 established a Bolivar Peninsula headquarters at a site named "Humbert Point" on Spanish maps that may have been Point Bolivar. The area was named for the first president of Bolivia, Simón Bolívar (1783–1830), perhaps by Louis Michel Aury, who held a commission from Bolivar, Perry, or one of Mina's men. In 1820 James Long established a headquarters known as Fort Las Casas at the point before setting out for Mexico to work for Texas independence. His wife, Jane Herbert Wilkinson Long, spent the winter of 1821–22 at the fort. Point Bolivar appears on an 1825 map at the University of Texas at Austin Barker Texas History Center with a fortification drawing carrying the label "Fort de Bolivar."

Probably the first permanent settler on the peninsula was Samuel D. Parr, who arrived on August 5, 1838, and claimed a league of land beginning at Point Bolivar and extending five miles eastward. According to sources, the place was briefly called Parrsville for Parr, who surveyed the area and was later granted a patent by the Republic of Texas. By the end of the year Parr sold the first 960 acres of his property to Archibald Wynn and William Lawrence, who surveyed a townsite called Ismail or Ishmael and offered lots and blocks for sale. A boat pilot, George Simpton, was listed as owning three lots on Point Bolivar in the 1840 census. In the Civil War Confederate officer Col. Valery Sulakowski of the Galveston Military District used slave labor to erect a sand and log fortification known as Fort Green to protect the bay, but no trace remains of it today. Settlers who arrived in the area as a result of activity at the fort eventually established the community of Port Bolivar. When the federal government began to develop the port of Galveston in 1898, it established the county's second Fort Travis at the point to serve as an outpost for Fort Crockett on Galveston Island. Fort Travis sustained heavy damage in the Galveston hurricane of 1900, and a seventeen-foot seawall was built in 1906. In World War I and World War II the government built concrete gun emplacements at Fort Travis to house coastal artillery batteries to arm it for coastal defense. The property was subsequently purchased by private interests in 1949, acquired for Galveston County in 1976, and converted into a ninety-six-acre county park known as Fort Travis Seashore Park, operated by the county for recreation and camping. The fort's underground fortifications are tourist attractions and provide hurricane shelter for area residents.

The Bolivar ferry, which connects Galveston across Bolivar Roads with Point Bolivar, began as a municipally owned service in the early 1930s with two diesel-powered ferries, each capable of carrying thirty vehicles. The ferry reduced the distance between Galveston and Port Arthur-Beaumont by sixty miles. In 1985 the Texas Highway Department was running four diesel-powered ferries on a twenty-four-hour schedule. The 185-foot ferries each had a capacity of 400 passengers and fifty-two standard-size cars and traveled at twelve knots an hour. Ferries between Point Bolivar and Galveston pass the wreckage of a World War I concrete ship, the Selma, and Pelican Island, formed from Pelican Spit and Pelican Island after they were joined by fill from channel dredging.

John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). Dallas Morning News, December 10, 1958. A. Pat Daniels, Bolivar! Gulf Coast Peninsula (Crystal Beach, Texas: Peninsula, 1985). Maury Darst, "Texas Lighthouses: The Early Years," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 79 (January 1976). Joseph O. Dyer, The Early History of Galveston (Galveston: Oscar Springer Print., 1916). Earl Wesley Fornell, The Galveston Era: The Texas Crescent on the Eve of Secession (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1961). Galveston Chamber of Commerce, Port of Galveston (1928). Galveston Daily News, October 25, 1965. Charles Waldo Hayes, Galveston: History of the Island and the City (2 vols., Austin: Jenkins Garrett, 1974). Houston Post, November 15, 1975. Harris Gaylord Warren, The Sword Was Their Passport: A History of American Filibustering in the Mexican Revolution (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1943). Bill Winsor, Texas in the Confederacy (Hillsboro, Texas: Hill Junior College Press, 1978). Henderson K. Yoakum, History of Texas from Its First Settlement in 1685 to Its Annexation to the United States in 1846 (2 vols., New York: Redfield, 1855).

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

Melanie S. Wiggins, “Point Bolivar,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 17, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/point-bolivar.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 28, 2019