Col. Sam and the Beach

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: Cameron County, Texasmap
Surnames/tags: Robertson-3810 Boca Chica Beach Space X
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"Civilization follows transportation."

The Del Mar resort was built by Col. Sam Robinson, a civil engineer, who arrived in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas in 1904. (and his wife Maria Seidler Robertson) After completing the railroads and irrigation systems (and a dozen other careers) he dreamed of turning the Valley into the next great resort destination, even advertising the area as the same latitude as Miami, Florida.[1]

In 1926 Colonel Sam Robertson resigned as Sheriff of Cameron County and organized the Brazos de Santiago Pass Ferry Company. (He had "tamed" the Valley as Sheriff and it was time to "move on".) The new company provided ferry services to both Padre Island and the piers at Brazos Santiago Pass, located across from the southern tip of the island.[2]

He installed a car ferry over Aransas Pass, on the north end of Padre, to Harbor Island. He promoted and built the Don Patricio causeway, 18,000 feet, over the Laguna Madre from the northern tip of Padre Island to a point near Flower Bluff, seventeen miles southeast of Corpus Christi. At the same time, he acquired 79,000 acres for himself and Mr. W. E. Callahan on Padre Island from Pat Dunn.

Col. Sam's next big dream in 1926 was Padre Island... what you see today. Never in his life could he "standstill", he always had to be "movin' on". First, he stretched telephone lines from one end to the other, then began construction of Ocean View Driveway, 135 miles of sweeping curves washed by the combers of the Gulf of Mexico. Another big engineering job to be done pioneering transportation on "the front".

Hart Stilwell, then a "scrub reporter" for the Brownsville Herald in the 1930's, remembered in a 1975 article for the Houston Chronicle a trip up the island with Col. Sam. "I remember that little telephone line because he drove me all the way to the northern end of it...Driving along with Col. Sam, in a Model T that wouldn't go over 40 miles an hour, was wilder than a trip to the moon."."[3]

In 1928 Col. Sam and Callahan went "flat broke" and sold their land on Padre Island, including ferries, causeways, and railroad lines to Albert and Frank Jones and a Mr. Parker, wealthy oil and gas men from Kansas City who expected to improve the property by building great hotels akin to those in Miami at the time. One of the Mr.. Jones died in 1929.

Colonel Sam received Brazos de Santiago Island, located at the mouth of the Rio Grande River, and the Boca Chica toll bridge as payment for a debt from Mr. Parker in 1931. Col. Sam announced the opening of the Del Mar Beach Resort by throwing a party for Newsmen and Friends. Col. Sam and Maria began operating the resort together. He devoted the remainder of his life to the development of his seaside village, Del Mar.

The toll bridge was a trough bridge across a swampy stretch of land. Hart Stillwell said " He used his rule-of-thumb methods...He took two huge boards, about 20 X 20, and nailed them together to form a trough--actually a "V". It never occurred to him that the wheels of a car might climb the sides of the through, especially if the driver tried to steer the car."[4]

"Robertson constructed an asphalt road that ran from Brownsville east to Boca Chica Beach. About a quarter-mile north along the shore he built the Del Mar Resort, which was home to the “Twenty-Five Mile Hotel,” also known as the “Surf Side Hotel.”[5]

(“Twenty-Five Mile Hotel,” and the “Surf Side Hotel” may have been other Robertson enterprises on Padre Island during the 1920s)

About 20 day-cabins were available for rent and two recreation centers were established and a ballroom and a bathhouse.[6] The village of Del Mar also had a restaurant and it's own post office. Col. Sam was the first postmaster of Del Mar and San Benito.

Col. Sam, Maria, Mr. and Mrs. Niel Hanson, and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Hicks rode out the hurricane that came ashore at the resort. Col. Sam was calling the action into the Brownsville Herald as the Hurricane began its ferocious damage to the Del Mar Resort

The Tampico Hurricane turned to the west and struck near Del Mar early on September 5, 1933, with winds estimated at 125 mph.

To hear Col. Sam's nephew, Frank Selden Thomas, tell the story, "Uncle Sam and the palm tree he was lashed to were about the only things left after the 1933 hurricane." Frank had his own unique twist to his Col. Sam. stories, but that doesn't account for the other five survivors with Col. Sam. Del Mar was not totally destroyed.

Col. Sam and wife, Maria, a classical pianist, and a native of Vienna, Austria, constantly provided entertainment at the pavilion. Almost every type of entertainment conceivable was presented at Del Mar from beauty pageants to aerial displays.

April 1933 Col. Sam and Maria promoted a skydiving exhibition. The parachute of William G. Swan failed to open and he fell to his death over open water. The family back east was notified of his bravery by a letter from Col Sam printed in the Brownsville Herald[7]

After the storm of 1933 Col. Sam collected many Civil War relics reveled by the hurricane. Evidently this piqued Col. Sam's interest in the Civil War, a war that had devastated his father's life and took his grandfather's life. He collected interviews with ancient locals and documents, including a 1867 map of the island, which were presented to an attorney Harbert Davenport, a founding member of the Texas Historical Society who in turn presented them to Lota M. Spell of the Advisory Board of Texas Historians. Lota Mae Spell was the first director/curator of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Presently, Col. Sam's donation is unaccounted for.

The April 11, 1934 issue of the Port Isabel Pilot contained a glowing report about the future of Del Mar Resort.

“The Colonel says he will reopen the resort about April 15,” the reporter wrote. “There will be 26 new cottages ready for occupancy. The cottages this year will have every modern convenience including a private shower and bath, and a telephone in each room. Having learned from the destruction caused by the storm Robertson built his new cottages stronger, locating them above the storm tide line and bolting them to deeper, more secure foundations and using re-enforced walls and roofs.”.[8]

The sounds of Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw and other standards of the big band era could be heard echoing over the dunes, even after the 1933 hurricane nearly destroyed the area. [9]

The brochure below touts the benefits of the sea air, and it's effects on hay fever and asthma and speculates that the health benefits are due to the iodine of potassium from the kelp and seaweed impregnated breezes that washed the resort.

Boats were available for charter and the granite jetties had been decked for fishing. In 1934 Col. Sam, the Missouri Pacific Railway and city fathers of Port Isabel partnered to create what was then known as the Tarpon Rodeo and started about the task of letting the nation know that the fish were biting. Oct. 1st. 1934 Sam and Maria promoted a fishing tournament for Red Fish, Trout, and Catan. Paul Usher won most trout for a day (28) winning $ 2.50, Librado Perez won the largest redfish (19 ¼ lbs.) winning $ 5.00 prize money, and C.A. Pinkley won longest Catan, winning ($1.00 ) prize money.

August 25 th., 1937 they had a crowd of 3250 visitors and on April 25 th., 1938 they had 1650 visitors. May 13 th., 1938 they again promoted Cottages, Casino action, and Redfish competition at the Del Mar Beach Resort.

Thank you Leo!

The Robertson Brothers at Del Mar

1938 July 4th The Brownsville Herald announced FOUR ROBERTSON BROTHERS REJOINED AFTER 42 YEARS. San Benito-- "The fourth of July saw the first reunion of Frank and Sam Robertson, prominent Valley men, and their two brothers since 1896, 42 years ago... The Missouri brothers visited Del Mar Beach Resort where Col. Sam Robertson is head of the state's most popular beaches." [10]

At the time of this meeting Maria and Col. Sam was aware of his failing health. Col. Sam Robertson was suffering from Myocarditis Ply nephrites, and a 20-year standing Diabetic Condition. Col. Sam’s attending physician was Dr. Jas L. Rentfro. Following the reunion Col. Sam passed away on August 22nd, 1938. He was buried alongside his first wife Adele, her mother Meta Wedegartner, and Maria’s mother Adi Siedler, at San Antonio’s Mission Park South Cemetery. His brother, Frank Selden Robertson Jr., recorded Col. Sam's last week.

Following Col. Sam’s death, Maria requested that her sister Adi, daughter Mitzi, and husband Paul Walter Meyer come to live at Del Mar Beach Resort to help her manage the daily activities. They relocated from Los Angeles, California.

In 1942, Nov. 26th Maria announced on Thanksgiving Day the closing of the Del Mar Beach Resort, as requested by the United States Coast Guard. The U.S.Coast guard needed the beach area to maintain an Observation Post and provided her with a lease of the property. At the time of the closing, Maria was the President and Treasurer, and Col. Sam’s brother Frank Robertson was the Vice President and Secretary. Paul Meyer, her brother-in-law, was the Manager.

Del Mar Resort, Boca Chica Beach, Valley Beauties

Mother Nature demanded her due and Colonel Sam’s progeny melted back into the sands of Boca Chica Beach.[11]


Brazos de Santiago Island today:

"Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, is a space transport services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by former PayPal entrepreneur and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. SpaceX was founded with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonization of Mars." [12] The proposed location for the new commercial-mission-only spaceport is in south Texas near Brownsville. Governor Rick Perry and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced SpaceX selected a location near Boca Chica TX. [13] The paved launch site near the end of U.S. Highway 4 at Boca Chica should be complete in 2015, with the first rocket launch taking place as early as late 2016.[14]

Col. Sam was fond of an axiomatic saying: "Civilization follows transportation."

Return to Colonel Sam's Profile


Thanks to the staff of the Dolph Briscoe, ( © The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin), for guiding me to the Cameron County Texas Scrapbook in the vertical files, containing the Del Mar brochure and articles.

  1. Brownsville Herald Boca Chica Beach has storied past
  2. Valley Morning Star Hathcock History: Early days of Island resorts
  3. By Hart Stilwell, The Legendary Col. Sam of old Padre Island, Houston Chronicle, Texas Magazine, Sunday, April ^, 1975
  4. By Hart Stilwell, The Legendary Col. Sam of old Padre Island, Houston Chronicle, Texas Magazine, Sunday, April 1975
  5. Valley Morning Star Hathcock History: Early days of Island resorts
  6. Brownsville Herald Boca Chica Beach has storied past
  8. Brownsville Herald Boca Chica Beach has storied past
  9. Brownsville Herald Boca Chica Beach has storied past
  10. 1938 July 4th The Brownsville Herald
  11. Valley Morning Star Hathcock History: Early days of Island resorts
  12. Wikipedia SpaceX
  13. Office of the Governor, Press Release, Monday, August 04, 2014
  14. Brownsville Herald SpaceX could fly from Boca Chica as early as 2016


Thank you to local historians Rod Bates and Steve Hathcock for keeping the history of Port Isabel and Padre alive. G.U.S.B.T., and Tootie Madden for the road trip to the site of Del Mar Resort.

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