Cabeza de Vaca was the first European to visit the present day Victoria area in 1530 after becoming shipwrecked. Along with three other survivors they encountered a friendly Native American tribe, de Vaca successfully returned to Spain to write about his experiences in the new world.
Other Europeans returned to the area 50 years later as part of Robert Cavelier de La Salle’s expedition from France. La
Salle left France in 1684 in search of the Mississippi River. He entered Matagorda Bay in February 1685 and began construction on Fort St. Louis on the banks of Garcitas Creek in Victoria County. One of four ships that brought the
French explorers to Texas was La Belle, which sank during a storm in Matagorda Bay in January 1686. It has since been recovered. Indians overran the fort in January 1688, but by then only about 25 of the French colonists remained. Indians and disease had taken their toll.
Spanish General Alonso De Leon was sent by the Spanish government to find and destroy the fort. The Spanish were concerned the French would try to claim Texas. He located the fort’s remains in April in 1689. He returned to the fort a year later and burned it to the ground. It is believed the Spanish founded Presidio La Bahia on the site of Fort St. Louis in 1721. The presidio had been moved to the Guadalupe River near present-day Mission Valley by 1726 after possibly being located in Victoria’s Riverside Park for a couple of years in the interim. It was then moved to Goliad in 1749.
In 1824 Mexican Rancher Don Martin de Leon received permission from the government of Mexico allowing him and 41 families to create a settlement on the lower Guadalupe River. He called the settlement Nuestra De Guadalupe de Victoria. The name was shortened to Victoria after Texas won its independence from Mexico. De Leon planned the city like most European and Mexican cities by building around the market square, which today is where City Hall is located.
A d d i t i o n a l l y Main Street was at one time called La Calle de los Diez Amigos (the Street of Ten Friends) because Martin de Leon, established ten of his friends in homes along here. These men served as financeial and political lead-ers of the new Mexican colony. The community prospered, with cattle and horses being the chief source of income. A cholera epidemic struck the city in 1833 taking many lives including de Leon’s, he did not live to see much more than the beginning of his work.
Following the Texas Revolution the city began taking on more Anglo-American characteristics. Under the New Republic Victoria received the third charter issued. Victoria County was created on May 17, 1836 with Victoria becoming the county seat. Oil and gas were not discovered until during the Great Depression, at a time when the price of oil had reached its lowest level. Over the years with steady growth it eventually became a great industry and added to the wealth of the area.
Many interesting things to see in Victoria include a landmark old grist mill, made from hand-shaped logs fastened by wooden pegs and homemade nails made by early German farmers. South Texas winds once turned giant blades, grinding corn into feed for livestock, or cornmeal for the family table. Mechanical parts of the mill were brought from Germany before 1860. Located at Commercial and DeLeon Streets. The Texas Zoo is home to native species displayed in a natural environment with no cages. Located in Riverside Park which is 562 acres of woodland bordered by the Guadalupe River. The park features 200 picnic areas with tables and barbecue pits, several playground areas, an AARS accredited public rose garden featuring over 1,050 rose bushes representing 105 varieties. The park also borders fairways of the 27-hole Riverside Golf Course.
Cultural activities include the Victoria Symphony, the Victoria Community Theatre, The Victoria Civic Chorus and the Children’s Choir.
Today the city offers excellent medical facilities, several petrochemical plants, ranching, oil and an abundance of natural resources. Victoria is also a crossroads for highway, rail, air and canal transportation. Combined this with warm favorable climate, fertile soil and friendly people the future continues to look positive.