El Copano was the first port in use in south Texas and rivals Galveston’s port in antiquity. The port was officially opened in 1785 by a decree from the Spanish Governor Bernardo de Galvez, but may have been used much earlier as a landing site. The site was named for the Copane Indians while the bay was still called Aransas Bay.
Many of the Irish immigrants of the 1830s came ashore at El Copano and reported that there was nothing there but a guard shack manned by two Mexican soldiers. The immigrants camped on the beach until the customs inspector traveled down from Goliad. Mexican law prevented the immigrants from settling near the coast, so no structures were built there until the time of the Texas Republic.
Joseph E. Plummer built the first house in 1840 and eventually about a dozen shellcrete houses and stores lined the bluff north of the mouth of Mission Bay. Three long wharves were built out into Copano Bay because the depth of the bay never exceeded 10 to 12 feet. Despite the shallow water, El Copano and its sister town, St. Mary’s of Aransas, founded in 1857, were the most important ports in south Texas from the 1830s to the 1870s. Both were abandoned after a devastating series of hurricanes in 1869, 1875, 1886 and 1887. Some ruins of the original shellcrete buildings are still visible from the bay.
An archeological survey of El Copano was made in the summer of 2005.