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Gulf Fishguide Bureau, Gulf Oil Corp. Fishgide — Freeport, Houston: Gulf Oil Corp., 1960s, Map #75978, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Mapping Texas: The Gulf Coast in the 20th Century

With 367 miles of beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, more than 3,300 miles of bays and estuaries, and hundreds of communities, Texas has one of the longest, most vibrant coastlines in the United States. From the earliest days of European settlement to modern navigation and oil drilling, the mapping of Texas’ coast has always been of vital importance.

To view any of the maps below in greater detail, click on the image to access the map’s database entry, then click on the magnifying glass icon to enter “Zoomify” mode.

Texas’ Gulf region has developed into a popular destination for travelers looking to enjoy its beaches and abundant natural resources. These travelers required guidance — the best routes on the road, the choicest fishing spots, how to navigate the coastal waterways, and more. Maps, especially in the pre-internet era, were an indispensable source of this essential information, as seen on the Gulf Oil Corporation map from the 1960s, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) map made in 1992.

In the mid-twentieth century, the Gulf Oil Corporation created useful tourist maps of the coast, encouraging travel and the use, of course, of their filling stations. Gulf Fishguide Bureau, Gulf Oil Corp. Fishgide — Freeport, Houston: Gulf Oil Corp., 1960s, Map #75978, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Founded by a group of investors after the 1901 discovery of oil at Spindletop near Beaumont, Texas, Gulf Oil Corporation was one of the top ten American oil manufacturing companies of the twentieth century. Innovators of drive-in service stations and well known for their branding campaigns, Gulf Oil Corp. became a household name, their bright orange disc recognized globally.[1]

Gulf Oil logo compass rose

In the 1960s, one of the branding tools the company created was a series of state and regional maps that located their filling stations in relation to other local sites. Along the Texas Gulf Coast, Gulf created “Fishgides” [sic] to map the premier locations for fishing. The Fishgides were detailed maps of specific coastal areas. One of the artistic touches that Gulf Oil included was their logo into the map’s compass rose.

The Fishgide shows all major roadways leading to the coast; creeks, lakes, and rivers; as well as places to rent boats, purchase bait, and refuel with Gulf gas. Also indicated are the best locations to find certain types of fish — trout, redfish, tarpon, and mackerel. The reverse side provides more information on deep-sea boat departures, the types of tackle to use in different areas, and what types of fish are available in different seasons.

[left] Detail of Galveston Island showing the types of fish located in the area. A Gulf refueling station is also indicated. [right] Detail showing river fishing in the winter as well as types of fish in the bay areas.

Maps are also created by NOAA as part of its mission to “understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal marine ecosystems and resources.”[2]

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — National Ocean Service, Sabine Pass and Lake — Louisiana-Texas Gulf Coast, Washington, DC: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — National Ocean Service, 1992, Map #69828, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Published in Washington, D.C. in 1992, this nautical chart of Sabine Pass and Lake — Louisiana-Texas Gulf Coast produced by NOAA’s National Ocean Service is part of a collection of over one thousand charts covering 95,000 miles of shoreline and 3.4 million square nautical miles of United States waters.

Charts like this one of Sabine Pass and Lake provide information about the area for boaters, divers, swimmers, and for tourists planning trips to the lakes and coasts of Texas. As a hydrographic survey, it indicates the coastal and lake shorelines and provides sounding depths in feet with a conversion chart provided for both meters and fathoms (each fathom equals 6 feet or 1.8 meters).[3]

Sabine Pass — Sabine — Neches Canal Channel Depth Chart

This nautical chart indicates the ship channels and canals, and the locations of oil platforms, submerged cables and pipelines, gas and oil structures, obstructions, and shipwreck locations in the Gulf of Mexico. The Texas-Louisiana state line is also shown as it passes through the lake.

[left] Detail showing the location of shipwreck ruins in the Gulf. [right] Detail of Sabine Lake showing the Texas-Louisiana border which passes through the lake.

These maps were part of the exhibit Mapping Texas: The Gulf Coast, which ran at the Bullock Texas State History Museum from June 2016 through March 2017. For more information about GLO exhibits at the Bullock Museum, please visit http://www.thestoryoftexas.com/visit/exhibits/mapping-texas.

To learn more about the Texas Coast today, please visit txcoasts.com

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[1] For more on the history of the Gulf Oil Corp. see: https://gulfoil.com/AboutGulf/CompanyHistory.aspx

[2] For further information on NOAA see http://www.noaa.gov/about-our-agency

[3] Hydrography is the scientific branch that deals with measuring and describing the earth’s seas and coastal areas, especially for navigation purposes.

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