A woman in a purple shirt stands in front of a replica of an airplane in front of a stone courthouse
A vintage fighter jet on the Bee County Courthouse lawn recalls the importance of the now-closed Naval Air Station Chase Field in Beeville, the town where Sylvia Garcia-Smith was born and raised. Photo by Theresa DiMenno
Newcomers to Beeville might assume the town was named for the black-and-yellow pollinators that swarm the South Texas brush country each spring when wildflowers are in bloom. In truth, the town was named for Barnard E. Bee Sr., who served as the Republic of Texas’ first secretary of the treasury in 1836. Originally inhabited by native Karankawa people, the region was later divided by the Spanish into land grants, which attracted Irish settlers. The Irish came by ship to the coastal plains of Texas in the 1830s in search of land for raising cattle, cotton, and corn. Agriculture remains an important part of the local economy, along with oil and gas, which was discovered in the area in 1929. Photographer Sylvia Garcia-Smith was born and raised in Beeville, and she uses her lens to capture the South Texas flora and fauna. “Hunters come here to shoot doves and white-tailed deer,” she says, “but photographers come here to shoot wildlife as well. That’s where I come in.”

Natural Bounty

“I take many wildlife and wildflower photos. Right now, my front yard is full of crucitas, little blue mist flowers. When the butterflies are migrating in the fall, I get queens and monarchs. This area is also a corridor for birds. Everyone’s favorite is the painted bunting, but I like the indigo bunting.”

 

All Abuzz

“We have about 20 or more different bee statues throughout the city. My favorite is in front of the fire department—the bee is decorated like a firefighter’s suit and sits on two flowers painted with flames. Beeville was the first city in Texas to be designated a ‘Bee City USA’ [in 2016], for its commitment to cultivating habitats for pollinators.”

 

Best in Show

“The Beeville Art Museum is the best thing that has happened here in the way of culture and education. It’s in a historic home, and the exhibits are always thought-provoking and rich in diversity. I’ve given photography classes there, and for the past several years, I’ve had at least one piece in its annual Texas Artists Exhibition in August.”

Lady Justice

“The Bee County Courthouse was built in 1912 and designed by William C. Stephenson, a local architect. He designed the statue of Lady Justice for the dome, but he didn’t want to show her blindfolded and holding scales. Instead, he wanted her to have her eyes open and holding a torch. He named her Enlightened Justice.”

 

The Need for Speed

“Naval Air Station Chase Field was in Beeville from 1943 until it was closed in 1993. It was one of the best in the country for training pilots—it’s even mentioned in the movie An Officer and a Gentleman. They used to fly right over my house. You could hear the boom when they went supersonic. We have an A4 Skyhawk jet in front of the courthouse that’s dedicated to Chase Field. Now the old runways are used for the Texas Mile in March and October. People from all over the country come to race their cars.”

 

Grub Hubs

“Elder’s Country Store and Market has been in the same family for generations. It has barbecue and daily lunch specials, and during the holidays it ships its mesquite-smoked hams all over the world. Hattie & Hazel’s downtown has salads and sandwiches made from scratch. Gasthaus Berliner Bear is a German restaurant that serves traditional German food like knackwurst and Wiener schnitzel. For drinks, there is La Linea Wine Bar.”

 

Family Roots

“As treasurer and secretary of the Bee County Historical Society, I help oversee the Historic McClanahan House Museum. It’s the oldest business structure still standing in town [built around 1867]. Beeville was started by Irish settlers, but the Mexicanos were already here, and many of their descendants still are. Mom always told me our ancestors were from the Chichimeca tribes of Mexico. My dad’s family came to Texas around 1865. He was born in Beeville, as was I, and I just love the heck out of it. The people are the best—friendly, outgoing, and always wanting to help others.”

Town Trivia:

Population:
13,641

Number of Stoplights:
10

Year founded:
1859

Nearest City:
Corpus Christi, 47 miles southeast

Marquee Event:
Bee County Western Week, first Saturday in October

Map it:

Beeville Art Museum, 401 E. Fannin St.

The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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