Texas Treasures: Tarpon Inn

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Story and Photos by Marshall Altom

Back in 1856, a Union barracks was constructed in what would later become Port Aransas. The barracks consisted of two buildings. The first building was blue and housed white Union soldiers and officers. The second building was green and housed black Union soldiers. This barracks assisted in the Union blockade of the Confederate States during the Civil War. After war was over, the barracks no longer served a purpose to the Union. The buildings were turned into a hotel in 1886 by Frank Stephenson, a boat pilot and assistant lighthouse keeper, and it has been operated that way ever since.

The Tarpon Inn has seen its fair share of natural disasters. It has survived several fires and hurricanes. It has withstood hurricanes due to the main supports of the building installed in 1919, which are 40’ telephone poles in 10’ of concrete. This allowed the building to sway in the high winds. In 1929, a fire caused the second story of the green building to burn. The insurance company went belly-up due to the Great Depression and, instead of rebuilding the second story of the building, the owner decided to roof over it. There are still burnt rooms up in the now attic of the green building. The green building became an event building after the fire.

A disaster more recent to The Tarpon Inn would be Hurricane Harvey. Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 Hurricane and decimated Port Aransas and everything in its path. The estimated cost of damage to the city was approximately 1 BILLION DOLLARS. The city also estimated that 100% of businesses in town had damage from Harvey. The Tarpon Inn was no different. The Tarpon was classified as totaled by insurance adjusters and said to be beyond repair; however, the owner of the Tarpon called in a specialty construction group that restores historic landmarks. After 8 months of renovations and repairs, The Tarpon Inn was back open for business. Unfortunately, the event building is still undergoing repairs and renovations. The building is on track to be repaired by the beginning of November.

Going back in the Tarpon’s history, it has seen numerous items of note that may seem beyond comprehension. In May of 1937, Franklin D. Roosevelt was staying on his yacht off the coast of Port Aransas. He was fishing for tarpon and had caught a whopper. He plucked a tarpon scale, signed it, and gave it to The Tarpon Inn. FDR had good relations with The Tarpon Inn, even though he never stayed there. While he was on that fishing trip, the German airship Hindenburg crashed in New Jersey. FDR sent Adolf Hitler a message of condolence from the lobby of The Tarpon Inn. The scale of the tarpon that FDR signed is framed and hung in the lobby for all the visitors to see. The Tarpon Inn opened a restaurant called Roosevelt’s in honor of FDR. Roosevelt’s is said to “provide the finest fine dining on the island.” (We ate there, and the food was amazing. They have an appetizer called Roosevelt Bread that is to die for!)

Another part of history for The Tarpon Inn is the use of the inn for sport fishing. The Tarpon Inn gets its name from the numerous tarpon fish that are near Port Aransas. Port Aransas used to be named Tarpon, Texas. The Inn catered to fisherman who would come to the coast to fish. The Inn would house you, feed you three meals, and provide a boat and a guide for you. The old watchtower of the barracks would fly different color flags to tell which guide was going out that day. The Tarpon became famous for housing people for fishing tournaments and hosting tournaments such as the Tarpon Rodeo.

If you are a believer and fan of the paranormal, The Tarpon Inn is also said to have supernatural activity. There have been several guests that complain about kids running up and down the porch and babies or children crying. Every time these complaints happen, there are no children checked into the hotel. Room 26, called the “Honeymoon Suite,” has a terrible backstory. A couple was staying in the room for their honeymoon. The newlywed husband went out for a pack of smokes and never returned. A couple of days later, the bride hung herself from the rafters. The most haunted room in the Inn is said to be room 40. General Manager Amiee Van Winkle told us she will not even enter that room anymore because of a heaviness that sets upon her when she enters. People have reported seeing a woman at the foot of their bed. There was also a group celebrating a birthday and doing some ghost hunting. When they were getting ready for bed, they began playing back recordings from the room. Clear as day, you can hear someone say, “I’m watching you.” The group promptly left after that. The property also has another business building on it that is available to rent. No business has ever succeeded in that building. When Harvey hit, the entire restaurant was destroyed except for one table, and that table was still perfectly set without a crack on any dish. The restaurant recently had a fire, and all the dining tables were lost, except for the same table that survived Harvey, still perfectly set.

In 1979, recognition was given the Tarpon Inn as it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as a Texas Historic Landmark. The Tarpon Inn has 24 rooms including 3 suites. It is located at 200 E Cotter Ave, Port Aransas, TX 78373. You can book your stay at thetarponinn.com or call (361) 749-5555. 

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