PALACIOS, Texas — I’m a small town boy at heart. Born and raised. I live and work in a big city during the week but weekends are for getting out if I can.
It’s a bit of a haul from Houston, but Palacios fits my little town fancy just nicely.
Don’t let this sleepy Gulf Coast fishing village fool you. It’s dripping with historical significance depending on which version of the city’s lore you find more romantic.
As an aside, I’d do a Texas-sized disservice if I didn’t clarify pronunciation. You’re probably saying Puh-LAH-see-os. And you’d be correct. It’s Spanish for “palaces.” But, somewhere along the way, the name got caught up in that thing we Texans do with our mouths when pronouncing syllables. What we spit out by the time our mouths are finished with the word is Puh-LASH-us. I don’t know why–I was just born here.
Anyway, one story goes more or less like this: Some Spanish explorers shipwrecked on the Gulf of Mexico coast near the present-day town. Once they gathered themselves, they claimed they saw visions of three palaces on the horizon and tried to make their way toward them. (Likely dune ridges or the small cliffs along this portion of the Texas Gulf Coast causing a mirage of some sort.)
The second, more historian-accepted version is the town was named after Jose Trespalacios, who served as governor of the region when Mexico owned Texas. Someone decided to drop “tres” from the name at some point.
I kind of prefer the shipwreck story, even if it sounds like it was generated for some creative chamber of commerce pamphlet. Looking around town, so do the townsfolk. There are a few small murals and paintings all depicting coastal scenes with palaces on the horizon. There’s at least some basis in historical fact. The Spanish would have passed through the area while exploring in the 1500s.
An even more intriguing connection to yesteryear’s voyages happened several miles due south of Palacios. Tres Palacios Bay is an arm of larger Matagorda Bay. In the channel where Matagorda Bay enters the Gulf, French explorer La Salle lost one of his ships, the La Belle. Marine archaeologists found the shipwreck in 1995 and have since been reconstructing the remnants.
Now, the city is mostly a fishing and shrimping center of about 5,000 people. The shrimping industry brought processing plants, a wave of Vietnamese immigrants in the 1980s and 1990s and a good fleet of shrimp boats at its port. A tall statue of Jesus with outstretched arms faces the bay at the port, a memorial to lost fishermen.
I think what I like most is while towns on either side of it like Matagorda, Sargent and Rockport-Fulton have been invaded by Houstonians, San Antonians and Austinites throwing up gaudy weekend homes, Palacios remains untouched — so far. Realty signs about coming developments are beginning to pepper roadsides along Texas 35.
For now, it’s just a town going about its business. There are RV resorts primed for “winter Texans.” Stately homes face the bay along Bay Boulevard. The seawall attracts families for barbecues, the pier lures fishermen and the palms line the 113-year-old Luther Hotel that has withstood countless hurricanes.
There’s the downtown museum (that I’ve been meaning to go to) and my favorite stop any time I’m in town: the Mexican restaurant simply known as Palacios Mexican Restaurant.
It is decked from wall to wall with red, white and green Mexican-themed decorations, statues, flags and paintings. Its an all-around gathering place, where it isn’t uncommon for diners to interrupt their meals to walk over and chat with friends about crops, church, family or local gossip, then slip back to their tables to finish their enchiladas.
There’s a city gazebo and small park shaded by an oak tree grove.
It’s good to know towns like this exist in this fast-paced world that fastens its success to how many and how quickly developments clog up a place.
I’m sure there are local leaders pushing for that to happen. Growth and progress are, on balance, a good thing. But a curious thing happens when you’re in large parts of town. Cell service comes and goes. Perhaps that’s what keeps this, one of the last few Gulf Coast fishing villages in Texas, frozen in place.