The coastal community of High Island sits atop a salt dome at the east end of Bolivar Peninsula. It was named High Island because the hill sits about 45 feet above sea, the only dry land visible during storms and flooding.
Settled by anglos in the early 1800s, nearly all of High Island lies within the Martin Dunman survey, granted in 1837. The pioneers were mostly farmers, though George E. Smith gained fame from his patented bottled water from natural springs on his land.
The town expanded in 1886 when the gulf and interstate railroad began operations in the area. A depot was built along with many new businesses. In 1897, C.T. Cade constructed the Sea View hotel on the hill overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The hotel became a place of refuge in 1900 and 1915 when hurricanes struck the Texas coast, causing flooding over the peninsula.
Oil was discovered on High Island, with successful drilling beginning in 1916. Petroleum deposits found at the perimeter of the salt dome in 1931 started an oil boom and provided employment for the region.
High Island has become recognized internationally as an important habitat for migratory birds, bringing crowds of birdwatchers annually to the area.