In the early 1920’s the economy of Palacios was largely dependent on the growth of citrus and fig orchards, truck farms and oyster harvesting. In the late 1920’s successive freezes wiped out many of the citrus and fig orchards. About this same time, the young and budding shrimp industry began with the arrival of some shrimp trawlers from Alabama.

The Crawford Packing Company, headed by Mr. Carlton Crawford and aided by Roland and Matthew Burton and Henry and Ed Barrett, immediately realized the enormous potential of the shrimp industry. This, together with the decline of the fig industry, prompted them to convert the canning plant, which had been canning figs and tamales, into a shrimp canning plant. They added trawlers of their own in order to enhance the growing fleet of individually owned boats. They constructed unloading docks and peeling sheds and dredged a channel from the bay to their docks to a depth to safely accommodate the boats. Later, fuel and ice facilities to service the fleet of boats were added; still later, the company built a machine shop and shipyard. Because the working hours began about 4:00 am., and lasted until the last shrimp was peeled (sometimes late at night), a small restaurant was opened that sold hamburgers or a bowl or chili or a bowl of soup for 5 cents.

In the mid 1930s, Crawford Packing Company employed approximately 400 people. Not only were most of the townspeople employed by the company but also workers from surrounding communities and some from as far away as Florida came to work. Among the workers were many former high school and some college graduates who, because of the depression, could not find jobs elsewhere. Among these young people were “would-be” athletes who got together in their free time to play football. The Crawford Packing Company organized a football team and coaxed other companies in Houston and other places along the coast to organize teams. They formed what they called a semi-pro league and played the “OYSTER BOWL” in Palacios during the Christmas-New Year’s holiday. The company furnished all the equipment and uniforms for the “Crawford Blue Jackets”. They also bought musical instruments and organized their own band. They later donated all the instruments to the high school. This was the start of the very first Palacios High School Band. Crawford Packing Company became affectionately known as “Crawford University”.

The shrimp production became so good and the cannery so successful that Southern Pacific Railroad extended their tracks to reach to Crawford’s warehouse to make loading the boxcars more efficient. Crawford’s shrimp were shipped all over the world and to such houses as Libby’s, Del Monte, etc. IN the early 1940’s most of the shrimp were sold to the U.S. Government for troop consumption. The war, however, took its toll. Many of the employees left to join the service; others took jobs in defense plants, many worked at Camp Hulen. Also, the 1942 hurricane made a direct hit on the plant. It was rebuilt, but the quick freeze business was igniting and caused a tremendous decline in the canned food market. The company began to sell the shrimp without peeling to places like Colter Corporation in Palacios and Clegg Shrimp Company in Port Lavaca.

Hurricane Carla in 1961 finished wiping out the canning plant. The boat operations and the machine shop and shipyard were taken over and operated by Ed Barrett in the early 1960s, who later sold the entire business to Ed Dumas in 1976.

Winifred Thompson

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