Other Views from 1887

Where is Corpus Christi?

Above: Augustus Koch (1840–?). Bird’s Eye View of Corpus Christi. Nueces County, Texas. 1887, 1887. Lithograph, 21 x 28 in. Lithographer unknown. Corpus Christi Public Library.

Corpus Christi in 1887

Although various Indian bands had inhabited the area at the mouth of the Nueces River for centuries, the Spaniards never successfully settled Corpus Christi. Anglo merchants established a trading post there in 1839, following the war between the United States and Mexico, but it did not prosper until the decade of the 1870s, when sheep and cattle ranching became widespread in South Texas, with Corpus Christi as the primary supply and marketing point.

Before the economic advantage of the long trail drives north to Kansas became apparent, Nueces County had hosted ten packeries, as they were called, and Corpus Christi had shipped cattle to New Orleans and Havana and had developed a mini-market in hides, tallow, and other cattle by-products. As the cattle and sheep markets declined—because of the collapse of the wool market and the success of the trail drives—Corpus Christi struggled to maintain its commercial advantage by dredging its main sea channel to allow deeper-draft steamers and by helping to build the Corpus Christi, San Diego, and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Railroad to Laredo. By the time Augustus Koch visited the city in 1887, Corpus Christi boasted a population of more than 4,200 and maintained a diverse regional economy that was served by steamships from both the Mallory and Morgan lines as well as the Texas Mexican Railway Company and the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway.[1]

From an imaginary point above Corpus Christi Bay, Koch depicted the city, with its “bluffy shores,” looking westward.[2] As usual, Koch’s street grid mirrors available maps, with the streets generally running north to south and east to west. The spidery, eroded ditches that he depicted as rising at Leopard and Artesian streets and draining that portion of the bluff into an unnamed channel that flowed across Mesquite and Chaparral streets and into the bay is confirmed by one of Conrad Blücher’s maps. Blücher, a well-known Corpus Christi surveyor and map-maker, noted that the ravines drained a portion of the prairie that “does not drain well.” as The small, unnamed lake on the west side of town (upper center of the print) is Salt Lake.[3] The old Bayview Cemetery, established by the American army in September 1845 to bury seven soldiers killed in the explosion of the steamer Dayton’s boiler, is shown on Ramirez Street at the north edge of the bluff in the right-center of the image. As usual, Koch omits fences, cisterns, outhouses and other smaller architectural features. He does call attention to both an African American (#8) and Mexican church (#11).