Elihu Harrison Ropes, entrepreneur and land speculator, joined the Union Army at the age of sixteen. He served for three years and rose to the rank of colonel in the New Jersey Guard. When discharged, he returned home to Elizabethtown, New Jersey, where he held various jobs, including newspaper publisher and advertising manager for the Singer Sewing Machine Company. On a visit to Galveston in 1888 Ropes became interested in developing a deep-water port on the Texas coast, since none existed at that time. He decided to make Corpus Christi the state's first such port. Late in 1888, after surveying Mustang Island, he announced his plan to dig a channel through the island, which was fourteen miles east of Corpus Christi. To carry out the project, Ropes organized the Port Ropes Company, with capital stock of $5 million. He purchased Mustang Island for $25,000 and bought a dredge to cut the pass through the island. From the beginning, the venture was plagued with problems as the dredge frequently broke down.
The Port Ropes Pass was only one of a number of projects that Ropes launched in Corpus Christi. He organized a corporation that acquired real estate along the bluff, and he built the 125-room Alta Vista Hotel. His Corpus Christi Improvement Company owned the city's streetcar lines. Ropes formed the Corpus Christi and South American Railroad Company to implement his plan to build a railroad that would run from Corpus Christi to Brownsville, across Mexico, and through Central America to South America. All that came of the scheme was a few miles of grade thrown up south of the city in 1890. Although Ropes's enterprises stimulated the growth of Corpus Christi and brought about a boom in the local economy, the slump that struck the national economy in the early 1890s caused the "Ropes boom" to collapse. He left Corpus Christi and died five years later at the age of fifty-three.