Port Lavaca, originally called Lavaca and the county seat of Calhoun County, was laid out in 1841–1842 on the west shore of Lavaca Bay, an extension of Matagorda Bay into which the Lavaca River and Garcitas Creek drain. The name Lavaca (Spanish for “the cow”) is a Hispanicization of the French La Vache,the name given to the river by seventeenth-century French explorer René Robert Cavelier de La Salle. Located on a bluff about twenty feet above the bay, Lavaca competed unsuccessfully with Indianola, farther down the bayshore, for dominance between the 1850s and 1870s. Despite construction of a railroad from Lavaca to Victoria between 1856 and 1860, Indianola triumphed until two hurricanes, in 1875 and 1886, prompted its abandonment. Because of problems with navigation in the shallow bay, Lavaca failed to gain advantage from Indianola's disappearance and Victoria instead became the dominant regional city.
Dominating the view from downtown is the Alcoa Point Comfort Operations plant across Lavaca Bay. Together with the Formosa Plastics Corporation plant at Point Comfort, the Union Carbide/Dow plant at Seadrift, and the DuPont plant at Bloomington, Alcoa contributes to a dispersed industrial and petrochemical complex that has dominated Port Lavaca economically since 1950. Port Lavaca's architecturally interesting downtown is in an advanced state of decline.
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