Matagorda lies on the east bank of the Colorado River just north of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. The town was platted in 1829 by Elias Wightman, Hosea H. League, James E. B. Austin, Thomas M. Duke, and William Selkirk after Stephen F. Austin secured from Mexican authorities an exemption to the National Colonization Law of 1824, which prohibited foreign immigrants from settling within thirty miles of the coast. For the first one hundred years of its existence, Matagorda lay at the mouth of the Colorado River, where it emptied into Matagorda Bay. Although Matagorda seemed destined to become a seaport, competition from Galveston up the coast and Indianola down the coast in the 1840s, the shallowness of Matagorda Bay, and the “raft”—a log jam on the Colorado River ten miles upriver from Matagorda noted by Spanish expeditions in the late seventeenth century, which inhibited river navigation—meant that Matagorda never fulfilled the expectations of its founders. Yet until 1894, when Bay City was founded, Matagorda was the only formally organized town in Matagorda County.
In 1929 the raft was dynamited and the river channel cleared. By 1936 the river's current had propelled the Colorado through the bay and the Matagorda Peninsula, a barrier island, to form a new mouth, opening directly into the Gulf of Mexico. Matagorda Bay was split in two by the river's new delta and the town of Matagorda ceased to have a bay front. Today, Matagorda has lost its historic business district as well. The town consists of houses isolated on town blocks, with some blocks completely vacant. But what remains in Matagorda is compelling. It is like looking at a nineteenth-century bird'seye view of a newly developed Texan town, where the grid of wide streets and ample blocks proclaims its urban aspirations and widely spaced cottages strive to fill in a semblance of urban coherence.
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