If you've never been to Indianola, get on the highway, and follow signs placed alongside the gently curving roads heading down toward Port Lavaca and take a look.
You won't find much. It's a quiet place, so still you can hear the palm trees rustle in the wind, and register even the faintest slap of water along the shore.
The thing is, Indianola wasn't always this way.
Once, it was a town bursting with life, the supply line to West Texas, the place to be. Once, Indianola was a town that was going to become an important city. They had a deep sea port. They had docks that jutted half a mile out into the ocean. Elegant houses looked out on the water, businesses lined Main Street, and trade was booming.
The town was the county seat of Calhoun. There was even a courthouse, built of crushed oyster shells, burnt wood and lime. The town was known as "The Mother of West Texas". They even had a collection of camels, a gift from the U.S. Congress, sent in the hopes the animals would be a good fit for the arid Texas climate the congressmen had heard so much about. The camels broke into gardens, and caused property damage. The people of Indianola took to spraying them with water and pelting them with sticks when the beasts approached, until someone penned them in an old beer garden.
The railroad had a stop here. Thousands of tons of silver, beef, and other supplies went up the rails to be dispersed across Texas. On windy days, sails were attached to the cars pulling them up and down the tracks.
Then came the 1875 hurricane, wiping out three quarters of the town.
Many left, but some chose to stay and rebuild.
Then the hurricane of 1886 struck. The town was wiped out, and the survivors gave up, abandoning the place.
It was one of the biggest port towns on the Texas coast. If your family came into Texas in the 1800s, odds are they came in through Indianola. Family stories have it that some of my kin, at least the German ones, arrived in America that way.
Anyways, standing on the shore in the dead silent place is pretty odd feeling. It is silent, but it's an electric silence. You can almost feel the energy of what once was, or maybe what might have been. Once, this was an important place, brimming with promise. Now it's just forgotten, a patch of sand and marsh grass slowly being reclaimed by water.
On this day, Aug. 19, 1886, a whole town lived here. Adults went to work, children went to school. They probably never imagined the town would be forgotten, that they would be forgotten. That it could all disappear tomorrow.
I've been writing about the town that once was, so I went down to Indianola today. I stood on the shore of Matagorda Bay, looking out at the water. The old Calhoun County Courthouse is there, 50 feet from the shore, completely covered by smooth green water. The people who built that courthouse probably thought it would be there forever, or at least that it would be here now. Which it is, of course, just underwater. It's hard to get away from history, even when we forget it.
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