Where the Muddy Brazos Meets the Gulf of Mexico

The Texas Story Project.

Stealing from the opening verses of the defunct band Uncle Lucious, I was born and took my first breaths where the waters of the muddy Brazos empty into the Gulf of Mexico and where the skyline is colored by the chemical plants that dot the landscape of lower Brazoria County.

I was fortunate enough, in my mind at least, to have grown up and lived a good portion of my life on the upper coastal bend in Texas – surrounded by the hardwood river bottoms of the Brazos and Colorado rivers and the salt marsh flats that dominate the Texas coastline.  It has always been home to me – there has always been a calling for me when I see the salt marshes.  Even when I lived in the desert outside of Phoenix, which holds a beauty in its own right, it was never home – something about the marshlands and the shallow Texas bays is just right.  It always has been, for me; it always will be for me.

Lake Jackson is kind of the epitome of most Texas coastal towns – it is a by-product of Dow Chemical, who came to the Texas coast in the early 1900’s to build a petrochemical facility.  When Dow came, Lake Jackson was a swamp – it was the lands leftover from the defunct Jackson sugar cane plantation that thrived in Antebellum Texas and hung on through the early 1900’s before the demise of the Jackson family and ever-changing politics and economics simply forced most of the large farms in the area under.  The great storm of 1900 didn’t help either – that storm wiped out a significant portion of early Texas history along a wide swath on our coastline.  Stephen F. Austin’s cabin on Peach Point was one of the few survivors.  Freeport was to our south, Angleton to our north, Brazoria and West Columbia to, well, our west.  When Alden Dow chose Freeport for his Texas Operations site, it changed the dynamic of the entire area.  Freeport was a shrimping village that had a closed down Sulphur mine, The Freeport Sulphur Company – beyond that, there really wasn’t much to the area that was the birthplace of Texas. 

Dow changed that and over the years the small magnesium production facility at Plant A grew into a monstrosity of various petrochemical facilities, LNG export facilities, a strategic storage facility for crude oil guarded by the U.S. Marines and is still dotted with families descended from the Old 300.  There is a mountain of buried history in Brazoria County, yet I feel much of it is untold or has been lost to the winds of time.  Much of the land is still owned by families that can trace the ownership of their land back to before Texas was Texas – in fact, I hunt on some of that land to this day and it is still as wild and thick as it was when Britt Bailey first settled in the area and the Karankawas hunted the same river bottom that I do now.

I’ve lost count at how many petrochemical facilities there are, who owns them now and when they will stop expansion.  Every time I take a drive through the area, I am saddened over the idea that more expansion is happening, all the while knowing that it ultimately means a better way of living for the area.  Still, seeing land chewed up and turned into flare stacks and distillation columns will always bring a ping of sadness to me because it is a constant reminder that the past is the past and that change is the only real constant in life.

Brazoria County is the birthplace of Texas, yet the rich history of this cradle of our state is sadly not celebrated in the manner that one might expect.  Most of the towns in Brazoria County are not picturesque – all have a great uniqueness about them, but like most coastal Texas towns – there is something lacking in the aesthetics and pride that one might find in another part of the state.  The roots and families run deep here – the legends run just as deep.  Britt Bailey’s Ghost is something every child learns about and hopes to see one day in their lifetime.  Old habits and sometimes the dirty side of small town politics become immovable objects, and sometimes they cannot be overcome it seems.  I would love for little more than to see Brazoria County’s history be polished off and better appreciated for what it is.  The seeds to the Texas Revolution started at Fort Velasco, the first capitol in Texas was in what is now West Columbia, Stephen F. Austin’s first grave was in Jones Creek just outside of his Peach Point Plantation.  If the waters of the Brazos could talk, what stories they might be able to tell us of how a settlement at the mouth of the muddy river eventually led to an independent country and then a state of this union. 

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