Located on Matagorda Bay in Texas, Port Lavaca is the seat of Calhoun County. Port Lavaca is just over four nautical miles (almost seven kilometers or 4.3 miles west-southwest) across the Bay from Point Comfort, to which it is connected by a causeway. Port Lavaca is about 93 nautical miles (117 kilometers or 73 miles) northeast of the Port of Corpus Christi. For much of its history, Port Lavaca was a seafood processing and marketing center. Ocean-going vessels travel to Port Lavaca through a deep-water ship channel from the Gulf of Mexico through Matagorda Peninsula and Bay. The economy of Port Lavaca is based on the aluminum and chemical plants in Point Comfort, oil and gas production, and tourism. The 2010 US Census reported a population of over 12.2 thousand in Port Lavaca.
No longer an organized tribe, the Karankawa people populated Matagorda Bay and the future Port Lavaca long before Europeans arrived there. A nomadic people perhaps descended from Carib Indians, the Karankawa first met Europeans when Spanish explorers arrived there in 1519. By 1793, some of the Karankawa were Christians living at a mission in Refugio on Copano Bay. Those who did not convert lived with the Lipan Apache.
When Stephen F. Austin led American settlers into what would become Port Lavaca in the early 1820s, conflict was common. Allied with Mexico during Texas' War of Independence, Chief Jose Maria and his band of warriors were killed during that war. In 1858, many Karankawa were killed by Juan Nepomuceno Cortina and his men.
For over three centuries, Matagorda Bay has been a seaport. In 1685, Frenchman René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle sailed into the Bay. One of his ships was found in the 1990s, and artifacts from the shipwreck can be found at many museums on the Texas Coast. Until hurricanes destroyed it in the late 19th Century, Indianola was a busy port on Matagorda Bay's southwest shores.
For the first half of the 20th Century, Port Lavaca was a fishing port. When the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway reached Matagorda Bay, large ocean-going cargo vessels began to call at Port Lavaca. Barge shipping on the waterway attracted heavy industry to Port Lavaca in 1948 when Alcoa established a plant there. In 1954, Union Carbide arrived.
Port Lavaca facilities were built in the early 1960s, bringing ships to the docks in 1965 after the Matagorda Ship Channel was dredged to 11 meters (36 feet). Since the 1980s, Formosa Plastics, BP Chemical (now INEOS), and DuPont have become users of Port Lavaca. Since the late 1990s, Port Lavaca has created state-of-the-art chemical cargo-handling facilities to support these industries and link them to world markets.
Port Lavaca is an important economic hub for the Matagorda Bay area, as many of its residents work at the nearby manufacturing plants. Fishing is an important segment of Port Lavaca's economy. Tourism is also part of the economy with fishers, sports hunters, and "Winter Texans" populate its RV and camping parks.