Oysters and old Port O'Connor days
Nov. 25, 2013 at 5:25 a.m.
PORT O'CONNOR - Port O'Connor has always attracted visitors, but tourism and commercial fishing were its main industries before chemical plants, fishing tournaments and oil businesses flourished.
Fish and oyster houses, a sandy beach, a hotel and a pier with a pavilion once livened the quiet coastal town - a much different Port O'Connor than the one known today.
Agnes Valigura, 91, remembers this Port O'Connor well.
Born in 1922 in the O'Connor Ranch House, she was the youngest of 10 children.
Valigura's father moved to Port O'Connor in 1912 to run an oyster house based in Biloxi, Miss. His job was to haul oysters in wooden barrels to Bloomington by mule and wagon to load them on the train, Valigura recalled.
As for the shellfish, she said, they were distributed across the country by rail.
"As long as they were in the shell, no ice was necessary," she said.
When the Mississippi oyster business shuttered, Valigura's father depended on shucking oysters and selling them locally for $1 a gallon. He fished full time from a small rowboat, which eventually gained a motor.
"My dad could predict bad weather before fishing by looking at the clouds," she said.
Valigura heard tales of early tourism in her hometown through family and community members.
Tales recall a lively town, which at one point had a hotel overlooking Matagorda Bay until the storm of 1919 destroyed it.
Dances were held under the canopy of a pier on the water, and swimmers dived from diving boards anchored to the wharf, she said. Out-of-towners traveled by train to stay in the hotel or visit their summer homes.
This has been home to Valigura most of her life except for when she moved to Biloxi for a time as a child and to Galveston for six years while married.
Then, in 1947, she lost her husband in the explosion at the Texas City Monsanto plant, which killed more than 500 people.
The incident resulted in a class-action suit against the U.S. government, which paid Valigura and her two children $25,000.
Her brother, a Port O'Connor shrimper, went to Galveston to load her belongings onto his boat, and she returned back home to her roots.
For the next decade, Valigura helped care for her mother. In 1957, she went to work for the post office, where she worked for nearly 40 years. She served as postmaster from 1980 to 1994.
Today, the Coast Guard station, an oil rig, a commercial fish house and chemical plants are still in operation, but still, residents rely mostly on seasonal service industries, such as guided fishing, guided hunting, restaurants, home rentals and motels to earn their livings.
In addition to the seasonal influx of part-time residents with second homes, fishing competitions like Poco Bueno and Cula Roja attract visitors who help support the area economy.
"I have a lot of friends here ... and I appreciate them," she said. "I have drivers, and some bring me fish already cleaned - I wouldn't live anywhere else."