Ask someone to name the largest cities in Texas, and you’ll probably get the correct answers. But rewind the clock to the mid-1800s and you’ll find that some of Texas’ biggest cities were much lesser-known locales, including one that was practically wiped off the map. With my history books in hand, I drove south to explore the disappearance of Indianola.
I started at the Calhoun County Museum in Port Lavaca, a great place to get some perspective with numerous exhibits, paintings and models of the once-bustling city, which had been a camping site for Karankawa natives. It’s likely Germans were the first Europeans to arrive, in 1844, and two years later, Indianola was on its way to becoming one of the new state’s major ports of entry.
The town grew to more than 5,000 residents as European families immigrated through Indianola to begin their new lives. Indianola grew in influence until 1875, when a terrible hurricane decimated the town and killed hundreds. The city rebuilt on a smaller scale, only to be leveled by a second hurricane in 1886. Within a year the townsite was abandoned.
I followed the edge of Matagorda Bay about 12 miles south, where very little evidence remains of Indianola’s former glory. The smattering of residents there are Victoria Electric Cooperative members. I read the historic markers and found remnants of old foundations, including the original courthouse, which sits submerged in the bay as erosion has moved the waterfront.
In the old cemetery, home to more than 2,000 graves, only a few dozen tombstones remain. It is fascinating and sobering to think that a town so vibrant could be almost completely lost. But as long as we keep telling the story of Indianola, it will never truly disappear.