SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (ValleyCentral) — It was 50 years ago South Padre Island was incorporated into a city. Over the past half a century, the island has seen tremendous change.

“Everything was so calm and quiet, and you can hear the surf all the time in the background,” said Steve Hathcock vice president of the Cameron County Historical Commission 

Hathcock remembers when the island was just that; an island covered in sand with a few businesses. 

The city was incorporated on April 10, 1973, by then Cameron County Judge Ray Ramon after a ballot was cast, where 128 people voted in favor.

Before that, a Brownsville resident established one of the first official beaches on the island. 

“They sold lots, they had a clubhouse, there was a casino, and was very, very popular. There were several fishing shacks and, and shops and things on the island,” Hathcock said. 

In 1954, the first bridge connecting the island to the mainland of Texas was opened. The two-lane bridge allows thousands of vehicles to enter the city.

“By the 10th month of operation 107,000 people had crossed the bridge,” said Hathcock. 

On Wednesday, South Padre Island held its annual State of the City address where they celebrated the anniversary. Community leaders from across the Rio Grande Valley traveled to attend and show their support.   

“South Padre Island has been blessed to have a lot of growth over the last 50 years and we are celebrating our 50th anniversary of incorporation,” Patrick McNulty, SPI Mayor. “We’ve continued to grow and we’re so happy and so excited to see our continued future.”

The mayor said the city has seen tremendous growth since then. Officials say more than 8.9 million vehicles traveled across the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway last year filled with visitors wanting to enjoy the beach. 

Hathcock has been a resident of South Padre Island for over 40 years. He says tourism plays an important role in the area’s economic growth.   

“Those people that are coming here to visit there, what’s keeping our island alive. That’s why we have the infrastructure that we have is because of our visitors,” Hathcock said. 

Just last year, the mayor said a new free boat ramp was built and 11 new businesses opened. He said the increasing number of tourists has made the island a top vacation destination for Texans and others across the country. 

“South Padre Island’s number one economy is tourism and we really appreciate the Rio Grande Valley and the rest of Texas and all the way up to Minnesota and Canada. For all the tourists that come here to the best beach in Texas,” McNulty said. 

All the funds collected at the State of the City event are going back into the city’s economy.