By 1860 Lavaca had fallen further behind Indianola, with a white population of 526 to Indianola’s 1,150. During the Civil War
, Lavaca was a hub of military activity. Several garrisons were stationed at different times in the town, which also had a large Confederate arsenal and small-arms manufactory. Federal gunboats bombarded the port on October 31 and November 1, 1862, but the city, defended by two waterfront batteries, did not surrender, and the gunboats withdrew. During the war a Lavaca resident, Capt. Edgar Collins Singer, designed an underwater mine, which he tested successfully in February 1863. Singer subsequently manufactured the mines in Mobile, Alabama, for the Confederate government. Lavaca was occupied by Federal troops in December 1863. In April 1864 voters elected to change the county seat back from Indianola to Lavaca, reportedly because some county officials in Indianola had sworn allegiance to the Union during the Federal occupation of that city. Federal troops evacuated the Matagorda Bay area in June 1864. In September 1865, after the end of the war, Indianola again became the county seat.
In addition to the disruption of commerce as a result of the Federal blockade, Lavaca suffered from the destruction in the winter of 1862-63 of its wharves and railroad, an action ordered by Confederate authorities. The railroad was rebuilt in 1866. In 1870 Lavaca reported a white population of 429 and a “colored” population of 339. The hurricane of 1875 (see HURRICANES
) so damaged the railroad near the town that the five miles of tracks from Lavaca to Lavaca Junction (later Clark’s Station) were taken up. Thus Indianola, which enjoyed better access by water than did Lavaca, now had the only rail connection as well (having completed a road to Lavaca Junction in 1871). By 1880 the population of Lavaca had fallen to 100, and by 1884 it had declined to seventy. In 1884 the only businesses reported there were a general store and a combination dry-goods and grocery store; at that time the town also had two churches and the district school. The abandonment of Indianola after the hurricane of 1886, however, removed Lavaca’s chief rival in the Matagorda and Lavaca bays region, and the town began a long period of steady growth. In November 1886 Lavaca once again became the county seat, and in 1887 its railroad connection with the track to Victoria was restored. About this time the community began to be known as Port Lavaca.The 1890 census reported a town population of 365, though another source claimed a population of 500. By 1896 the estimated population of Port Lavaca had risen to 800, and the town had two hotels and a weekly paper, the Port Lavacaen. With the expansion of railroads in the state during the 1880s, Port Lavaca never regained its prestige as a shipping point for cattle. Instead, the shipping of seafood became an important part of the town’s economy. Tourism
also became important, with the train bringing weekend excursionists to Port Lavaca pavilions and oyster roasts from places like Houston, San Antonio, Cuero, and Victoria. Sportsmen also traveled there for fishing and hunting. Port Lavaca incorporated as a general-law city in 1909 and almost immediately thereafter established an independent school district, voting sufficient taxes to keep the school open for the full term. By 1910 the town had two banks and two cotton gins, in addition to a broom factory, an oyster-knife factory, an ice factory, an electric plant, and a local telephone company. In 1910 the federal government dredged a channel from Pass Cavallo to Port Lavaca, and in 1913 the section of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway
below Galveston was completed, giving Port Lavaca an inland water link with that major port. The Port Lavaca city government functioned until November 1916, when the city went bankrupt. It incorporated again as a general-law city in November 1919. In 1920 a seawall, designed to protect Port Lavaca from high water and erosion, was completed. The export of shrimp (see SHRIMPING INDUSTRY
) became a major industry during the 1920s and in 1928 contributed to Port Lavaca’s leading the nation in the amount of seafood shipped. A municipally owned quick-freezing plant opened during the Great Depression
. Originally intended for vegetables, it proved ideal for freezing seafood and further enhanced that feature of the town’s economy. Natural gas was discovered near Port Lavaca in 1934 and oil in 1935. In the latter year an ample supply of artesian water was also made available.