Historic Tour Downtown Rockport

Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Rockport

1.  Home of Judge John Hynes
John Hynes moved from Beeville to Rockport in 1867.  He purchased this lot in the center of town.  In 1874 he built a 1-1/2 story Victorian style home on this site.  The long leaf pine was shipped to Rockport by schooner (fishing vessel of the 1940s) from Calcasieu, Louisiana.  The home went through several owners.  It was used for Catholic Services conducted by traveling priests.  It was also used as a hotel and boarding house. In 1906, it was moved to its current location at 801 South Church Street.  C J's Sign & Crane Services is on this site today.

2.  Aransas Hotel
On August 22, 1888, the Rockport City Council read and approved an ordinance to sell the tract of land known as Merchants Square to the Aransas Pass Land Company for $500.00.  Merchants Square was the block bounded by Austin, Wharf, Water and Main streets.  The purpose of the sale was to build (within one year) a hotel on the square.  The hotel was to be “four stories high including the roof story.”  The Aransas Hotel opened in 1889.  It was open all year and could house 300 guests.  In the 1890s, it was the hub of Rockport social life.  There were parlors where guests visited and played cards while orchestras performed.  Dances were held nightly during the summer. Later the name was changed to the Hotel Del Mar and became nationally famous.  The building burned in March 1919.

3.  Magnolia Service Station
From the 1930s until about 1964, J. Ed Moore’s service station was at this location.  From the August 18, 1938 Rockport Pilot:  “The Magnolia Service Station is being remodeled and modernized this week.  It will also be enlarged with new electric pumps and more space for cars.”  In 1964 the service station was torn down and a new United Savings Association building went up.  This building is now the home of Victoria’s Gold.

4.  Del Mar Grill
The Del Mar Grill was the home of “Dorothy’s famous crab cakes.”  It was also the first home of the famous big blue crab.  The 18 ft. wide paper mache crab perched on the corner of the building overlooking the intersection of Austin and Main streets.  The restaurant closed in 1965, and the crab was moved to the harbor.  Many people had their picture taken while standing beside it.  By the late 1970s the crab had deteriorated and was laid to rest.  Efforts are currently under way to “bring back the big blue crab” with a more durable fiberglass replica.  Popo’s Art Studio is now located at this site.

5.  Finish Saloon
The Finish was a gambling house and saloon, which was famous in South Texas.  It was supposedly called the “Finish” because many cattlemen “finished up” a drive by gambling and drinking at the saloon.  One famous story is that when the Methodist Church needed $500.00, the minister (old and blind Uncle Myers) went to the saloon and asked the patrons for the money.  They gave him the money, and he invited them to church.  They all went.  Another, more colorful, version of this story is that one of the parishioners rode into the saloon on his horse and passed his hat to collect the money.  The First National Bank of Rockport was in a three-story building on this site for many years.  Today it is a vacant lot.

6.  Sorenson-Stair Building
Simon Bulrup Laurits Christian Sorenson, a native of Denmark, bought a wooden two-story store on this site in the late 1880s. The Finish Saloon (see number 5) was located to the east of the Sorenson store.  In 1890, the Finish caught fire and many wooden buildings in that block, including the Sorenson store, burned with it. Simon Sorenson rebuilt his business in a new two-story brick building.  In 1895 another devastating fire raged through downtown Rockport, and the store was damaged.  This time, Sorenson rebuilt the store as a one-story brick building.  At this time, the business was called Sorenson & Hooper.  In 1913 the business became Simon B. Sorenson, Sr. & Sons.  In 1935 the name was changed again to John C. Sorenson & Sons.  Three generations of Sorensons displayed weather warnings in the store windows and hoisted weather signal flags on a tower behind the store.  The building was badly damaged by Hurricane Celia in 1970 and the business finally closed.  It was sold to local artist Estelle Stair and, beginning in 1978, the Estelle Stair Gallery and the Rockport Art Association were housed in the building.  This building became a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 2008, and is currently undergoing restoration.

7.  Bruhl’s Drug Store
A. L. Bruhl moved to Rockport during the boom years of the early 1890s and opened a drug store.  The original building was destroyed by the 1919 hurricane and was rebuilt.  In 1946 the business was sold and became the Ballard Drug Store; and then Roaten Drug Store, which later moved to the southwest corner of Austin and Wharf.  A fire destroyed the building in 1959, and it was again rebuilt.  Today it is St. Charles Art Gallery.

8.  Rio Theatre
The Rio Theatre was built on this site in the late 1920s.  The old building was replaced with a new one in 1936.  During the 1940s, it was renamed the Surf.  On Saturday afternoons, local kids could go watch serials and then stay to see Tarzan, Roy Rogers, or Gene Autry.  Evening movies were well attended.  Later, in the 1950s, a drive-in movie was built south of town.

9.  Johnson’s Drug Store
Johnson’s Drug Store was at this site for many years.  The soda fountain was a popular hang out for the high school crowd.  When the Aransas County Emergency Corps was formed in 1938, Joe L. Johnson offered the land behind his drugstore as a location for a fire hall.  The structure that was both fire hall and City Hall is gone now, but the Johnson Drugstore building is still there.  The Austin Street Gallery is now located in that building.

© 2010 Janie Collier White
Courtesy of the Aransas County Historical Society