The Matagorda Maddens

Chapter 2

"Uncle Willie and the Times"

In order to understand Uncle Willie one must understand the times in which he lived. Not only are each of us a product of our past relatives, we are also placed in a specific time and place in which to carry on our lives. This was true with Uncle Willie as well.

Willie was born William Archie Madden 23 October 1887 in the little coastal Texas town of Seadrift to William Hanna Madden and Margaret Wilkinson Madden. At the time he had four other older siblings, three sisters Ruth Elvira, Aura and Jane “Janie”, and an older brother Frederick John “Fred.” A younger sister, Margaret “Maggie” had not yet been born. His parents had moved around before his birth, but always on the south Texas coast.  Both his father and his mother were born in Louisiana and had come to Texas to make the most of their lives as did many of their friends and relatives. The town folks also knew his father as “Willie”, so Uncle Willie was known to others around town as “Billy” in order to separate the elder Willie and son in conversation.

What we know about Uncle Willie is that he had been married to Nona "Noni" Cherry at one time. They were married by John Juliff, Justice of the Peace on 9 May 1914 in Calhoun County when he was 27 years old. By 1941 when he was 54 years old, he and his father with whom he had been living on Matagorda Island, had left the island. All of the residents of the island were evicted by the U.S. government on February 6 and by then Nona was living with a man named Sam in Port O’Connor. She and Sam were planning to operate a restaurant in the back of Ray Madden’s Madden Mercantile where she worked. Sam would be the cook and she would be the waitress. Joey Madden Oglesby, Ray’s daughter, remembers only one time when Willie came into the store and he and Nona saw each other. She didn’t remember any other instances of them together.

In researching both the Calhoun and Aransas County archives neither a divorce decree for he and Nona nor a marriage license for her and anyone else could be found. More than likely he and Nona had separated without filing an official divorce.  Sometime after their separation Willie lived with his father and Nona met and moved in with Sam.

By the time Willie was born in Seadrift, the Madden family had been in Texas for twenty-seven years. His father, William Hanna Madden and his mother Margaret Wilkinson Madden were listed in the 1900 U.S. Census as living in Calhoun County, Texas. He and his five brothers and sisters were all listed as living together. He was listed as a 13-year-old.

Port O’Connor had been a thriving coastal town before being damaged by several big hurricanes even before Carla. Uncle Willie had chosen to live on the little island across the Intracoastal Waterway by himself and trade the fresh seafood that he caught with the Port O’Connor residents.

According to Wikipedia, “Port O'Connor was laid out in the late 19th century as a fishing settlement called Alligator Head. As it grew in popularity with both permanent residents and tourists, the community took on more municipal like characteristics, earning the formal designation finally in 1912 as the town site of Port O'Connor. It was named after its main landowner at the time who was Thomas M. O'Connor who owned 70,000 acres (280 km). Aside from local cattle herding and fishing, the town was also a producer of figs and citrus fruit.
Its initial population growth spanned the ten years from 1909 to 1919. Excursion trains used to run on weekends to Port O'Connor and an estimated 10,000 tourists came every summer. Quite a building boom occurred during that time.

Four times in the history of Port O'Connor it has been struck by hurricanes. The 1919 Florida Keys Hurricane brought the "good old days" to a halt, destroying the town. It rebuilt slowly but the 1942 and 1945 hurricanes so close in time were hard to overcome. In 1961 Port O'Connor was in the midst of another growth boom due to the increase of military personnel on nearby Matagorda Island Air Force Base (History of Matagorda Island). That same year Hurricane Carla destroyed the town again; but times reflect its will to survive, fueled by tourism, commercial fisheries and the petrochemical industry."

Today the town of Port O’Connor is growing again. It is attracting summer and year round residents in large numbers and they are building their houses where many have been built and destroyed in the past. Of course everyone knows it is not if the next hurricane will come, but when!