160-year-old Port Aransas business still going strong 5 years after Hurricane Harvey

The famed Tarpon Inn has withstood storms, transitions for a century and a half

PORT ARANSAS, Texas – The Tarpon Inn is one of the oldest buildings still standing in Port Aransas, not because it’s the strongest structure in the area but because the owner and community care so deeply about keeping it open and preserving its history.

Originally constructed in 1862, the Tarpon Inn lies on a firm foundation of grit and gusto.

Owner Lee Roy Hoskins said it was used as a barracks for troops during the Civil War and then converted into a hotel.

Over a century and a half, the building has made transition look easy, even when it wasn’t.

“The hotel was severely damaged in a hurricane in 1916. So they had just gotten done rebuilding it when another hurricane hit in 1919,” Hoskins said.

About 100 years later, Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas coast.

“Windows and doors got blown out. The floors were damaged. The office here was one of the most severely damaged parts of the structure,” Hoskins said. “I had a lot of soul-searching to do after the storm.”

Five years later, that office looks like it had never been damaged. The sturdy building is still decorated with the iconic tarpon scales, dating back to the 1800s. Since then, those who catch the large tarpon fish in Port Aransas have stripped a scale, signed it and added it to the collection.

However, a few fresh coats of paint across the building don’t erase the challenges Hoskins has faced over the years.

“Between the hurricane, COVID and the (Winter Storm Uri) freeze, we’ve had three or four really tough years out of the past five,” Hoskins said.

After everything he and his staff have been through, they’ve taken on the attitude of the rest of the community -- there is a silver lining in everything.

They’ve taken the downtime to restore all the rooms and the restaurant on the property, The Roosevelt. That effort has meant more to locals than Hoskins may have realized.

While KSAT toured the building, a woman approached Hoskins and shook his hand, telling him her emotional story.

“My parents have been living here every winter for 30 to 40 years until they died this year,” said Brenda Schmitt, who now lives in Port Aransas.

Harvey took her parents’ and brother’s homes.

“Everything they had was destroyed,” Schmitt said.

But her family rebuilt, just like Hoskins.

“I was just thanking him for keeping this hotel working and living. I’m glad that there are people that built back the old places and could keep the ambiance that Port Aransas has always had for me,” Schmitt said.

Those types of connections make it all worth it for Hoskins.

“This is really not an economic decision as much as it is a pride of ownership decision,” he said.

There is community-wide pride to be from a triumphant town that, in recovery, is somehow both shifting and rooted at the very same time.

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About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.