In previous columns, we learned that the East End Lagoon is a borrow pit, where sand was dredged from and pumped to back fill the easterly extension of the seawall in the early 20s.
We also learned that all of the lagoon was within that land claimed by the USA.
When the Galveston Yacht and Beach Club was created and sited on the ship channel, the lagoon, with its then-sandy beaches, was an alternative to swimming channel side.
In 1932, there apparently was some attempt to extend the GYC’s lease to include the lagoon.
But the Galveston Boosters Club took some exception having concern that the lagoon might be off limits to the public.
The GYC’s main concern, however, was rumor that a wealthy Houstonian had interest in obtaining a permit to create a resort at the lagoon and would potentially affect Galveston Beach Club’s interests.
The Red Cross, quite innocent of any other lease requests, had applied for and received a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to open a public swimming area at the East End of the lagoon with life guards and to give lifesaving lessons, commencing May 15, 1932.
The Corps created a 10-foot diving tower and swimming lanes, and the water depth was 15 feet to 25 feet. Attendance in 1933 was estimated at 800 people per week.
This was not the first time the lagoon had been so publicly used.
On Sept. 15, 1929, 24 ace local swimmers engaged in a 1-mile handicapped swim, and reports of the day indicated that similar events were run in the two years before.
The race commenced at the West End and ended at The Galveston Yacht Club grounds.
At that time, the lagoon was only 150 feet wide, and fans were lined up along the sides.
The late Mr. George Mitchell once said he almost died trying to swim the entire length of the lagoon.
Through the subsequent pre-war years, the east end of the lagoon became a favorite location for swimming, fishing, crabbing, kayaking, dinghies and numerous staged events.
One, in particular, commenced in 1934, when arrangements were being made for an aquatic meet in connection with the Oleander Fete and involving aquaplaning, swimming races and life-saving demonstrations.
This activity was repeated in several subsequent years.
In late 1941, police reported on youths being rowdy and a nuisance at the lagoon’s east end by throwing mud at children swimming there.
Soon after, the lagoon was closed to the public for the war years and officially reopened the first war-free July 4.
But swimmers found the bottom covered with considerable debris and the police posted “danger” warnings.
Since the Seawall Road was still closed and the South Jetty Road had been badly damaged by a hurricane in 1942, the police also pointed out that this posed huge troubles for them providing any timely help.
By late July 1950, the beach road — now named Boddeker Road — with a new large bridge spanning the mouth of the lagoon, once again was usable and relieving traffic using the more westerly located East Beach drive traffic.
The long shape of the lagoon caused it to function much like a lung, swelling at high tide and shrinking at low and not circulating a great deal.
Shortly after the postwar reopening, the water was deemed to be polluted and swimming was prohibited.
Some years later, the connection with the ship channel was enlarged with 7-by-36-inch culverts, and efforts were made periodically to keep the entrance free of sand accretions.
With an OK on water quality, the Red Cross Life Saving Corps was back giving lessons.
The easterly half of the East End Lagoon was deeded back to the city of Galveston by the United States in 1976.
Today’s lagoon is not quite the same as its genesis. It is three times as wide and at its edge, the land is less sandy and more marshy and vegetated, often with more northward migrating black mangrove bushes than marsh grass.
While the simple pleasures of life that it satisfied in pre-war days might have been blunted by time, the lagoon is still a wonderful asset that continues to serve those young and old, active and less so, and to be a home for many productive animal and plant species. It could still have a glorious future.
The westerly half of the East End Lagoon continues to belong to the United States; while some public use originating from the East End has been allowed, its history has been more one of labor and research than recreation and pleasure.
Title to its 140 acres was transferred from the U.S. Army to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Commercial Fisheries in 1958.
The fisheries has established a biological laboratory in the decommissioned Fort Crockett.
Among the early uses of the lagoon was for research on the effects of copper sulfide on red tide. Twenty tons of copper ore was dumped into the water and is still there.
In 1960, the Galveston Lab constructed an elevated flow-through seawater building and some ponds on the north edge of the lagoon and it became a shrimp aquaculture and oyster research center for 13 years.
When the fisheries moved to be part of the NOAA NMFS department in 1970, research turned to sea turtles.
After Hurricane Alicia in 1983, the facility was no longer used and was later demolished.
From the seawall, a gated and damaged road is the entrance.
From the air and on the ground, the pond outlines are still visible.