The first serious attempt to study the possibility of construction of a deep water seaport in this part of South Texas was undertaken in 1854 when a survey was conducted by United States Army engineers. At that time, the only natural harbor in the area was located at Brazos de Santiago Pass near Point Isabel (16 mi. NE). Shipping through that pass dated to the 16th Century, but the presence of shifting sandbars prevented large vessels from anchoring at that point.
In 1906 Louis Cabolini, a commercial fisherman in Point Isabel, took on the cause for a deep water port. He compiled data that convinced U. S. Army engineers that such an undertaking was practical and deserved federal economic support. During the next 20 years, various attempts at dredging channels and eliminating the sandbars were made without much success. Recognizing the need for deep water transportation to assure sound economic growth, the citizens of Brownsville created a navigation district in 1929 to provide local support for the Federal Government to build a deep water port. Between 1934 and 1936, this ship channel, linking Brownsville and the Gulf of Mexico, was dredged. The port facilities were formally dedicated in May 1936.