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Published on September 21, 2021

Tarpon Inn was Freeport’s shining light for 42 years

By Janice R. Edwards
The Bulletin

When Freeport’s Tarpon Inn opened for the general public in 1912, newspapers across Texas acclaimed it the “outstanding hotel of the Coastal Plains.”

The Houston press turned out en masse, and reporters were taken on a trip to Bryan Mound and treated to boat rides and a baseball game.

The menu for the gala included grapefruit, crab cocktail, oysters en brochette, fillet of Red Snapper, cucumbers, breast of duck, fried hominy, strawberries and coffee.

Once the stories were published, it was several months before a room was available on the weekends.

The Tarpon Inn was “the” place to go for entertainment, social gatherings, fishing and doing business – the social and cultural center for the entire area. Most of the sulphur company’s business was transacted in the Tarpon.

In February 1914, Southwestern Telegraph and Telephone located its central office and installed Freeport’s first telephone exchange in a back room of the Tarpon Inn. The initial switchboard had a capacity for 130 phones.

By 1915, Freeport had a population of 1,300 and sulphur production was skyrocketing. By 1916, Bryan Mound produced 1,500 tons of sulphur per day to support World War I efforts.

Before its closure in 1935, the Freeport Sulphur Co. had produced more than 5 million long tons of sulphur. During the time of the sulphur operations, the Swensons led the effort to build a deep-water harbor and divert the Brazos River. In 1929, the Intracoastal Canal was finished.

But in 1930, Freeport Sulphur Co. notified employees of the limited life of Bryan Mound. Employees transferred, some to Hoskins Mound and some to Plaquemine, La.

When Hoskins Mound could not absorb Bryan Mound personnel, people left, and Freeport became a ghost town.

Freeport’s economy stagnated in 1935 with the closing of the Freeport Sulphur Co., and the Tarpon Inn was no longer a profitable venture.

Then, E.D. “Spot” Brockman, a county resident, was hired to manage the inn, which he continued to do for 20 years. He was the inn’s final manager. He, along with World War II, Dow Chemical and magnesium again brought prosperity to Freeport and gave the Tarpon Inn a rebirth.

Nat Hickey, Freeport’s “historian”, remembers caddying for “Spot” Brockman on the old Freeport golf course.

“The Tarpon was the place to go for any kind of entertainment in the city of Freeport – and you did NOT pass up the opportunity to go,” he said.

For instance, for several years in the mid 1930s, the Tarpon Inn hosted an annual outboard motor regatta, which attracted the nation’s best drivers.

The judge’s stand was behind the inn on the harbor bank. Forty or 50 boats would run in heats while a prison band played. It was a carnival atmosphere, and the inn was in the middle of it all.

In 1939, Willard Dow and P.P. Beutel selected Freeport as the site for a new magnesium plant because of the availability of raw materials to make magnesium (saltwater, fresh water, oyster shells and natural gas).

In March 1940, Dow purchased 823 acres at Freeport and set up operations there, breathing life into Freeport and the Tarpon Inn. On Jan. 21, 1942, the first magnesium was poured at Dow Plant A. In 1942, state Highway 288 into Freeport was completed, and sulphur production was completely abandoned.

The Tarpon Inn was host to war bond drives during the 1940s. Around 1945, the Freeport Jaycees organized and held their first meetings at the Tarpon Inn. But this did not last long because the inn became too crowded with high-paying guests, leaving no space for much else.

D. M. Moody and W. M. Dickey, Houston developers, purchased the Tarpon Inn property on Sept. 15, 1954 and closed the historic hotel. It was demolished in 1956 to make room for a “modern” shopping center.

Plans for the shopping center (named The Tarpon Inn Shopping Center) included a new home for Freeport National Bank and various retail stores with off-street parking.

While plans were developed for the Tarpon, it housed engineers and technical personnel at Hoskins Mound. It was the oldest building in Freeport at the time (42 years old), but no one tried to save her. Many parts were sold to area residents – some because they needed the items, but most as mementos of the good times.

The site where the Tarpon Inn stood remains vacant. There is no modern shopping center, just memories of what used to be.

Maybe, with a little bit of magic, the Tarpon Inn can rise, like a Phoenix, out of the sea fog to become a part of Freeport’s future.

Who knows? They might even find a Tarpon to hang over the hotel guest registry.

(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)