McAllen - Leading The Way

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The First 100 Years. "Leading the Way" provides three views of McAllen's past. The first examines the city from several perspectives: the turning points in its history, the visionary leaders and the facets of the community that formed the residents. The second approach provides a year by year overview of McAllen events. The third presents stories of McAllen families and businesses.


  • 9 780578 082400

    54595>ISBN 978-0-578-08240-0 $45.95

  • 9 780578 082400

    54595>ISBN 978-0-578-08240-0 $45.95

  • McAllenL E A D I N G T H E W A Y

    The First 100 Years1 9 1 1 - 2 0 1 1


    A publication of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce

  • Sparsely settled in 1908-1909, McAllen drew farmers to town to shop and to ship their produce.Windmills pumped water for use at the McAllen Hotel, in the foreground, and for residences.

  • The First 100 Years1911 - 2011


  • 4McAllenL E A D I N G T H E W A Y

    The First 100 Years1 9 1 1 - 2 0 1 1


    First EditionPrinted in the United States of America by Signature Book Printing,

    Copyright 2011 McAllen Centennial PublicationsAll rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,

    including photocopying, without permission in writing from the publisher. All inquiries should be addressed to:McAllen Chamber of Commerce

    1200 Ash AvenueMcAllen, Texas 78501


    ISBN: 978-0-578-08240-0

    A publication of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce

    Published and managed byTopp Direct Marketing

    1117 N. Stuart Place Road, Suite 103Harlingen, Texas 78552-4344

    John W. Topp, President

    Alan Hollander / Tequila Group AdvertisingArt Director / Graphic Designer / Photo Editing & Digital Retouching

    Geoff Alger / Curator, McAllen Heritage CenterEileen Mattei - Writer

    Frank Birkhead - HistorianJeffrey Millar / Tequila Group Advertising

    Lynne Lerberg Editorial Assistant / AdministrationBracken Millar / Tequila Group Advertising

    While the young city's dusty streets could turn to mudwith seasonal rain, shoppers kept clean and dry thanksto wooden and, later, concrete sidewalks.

  • 5ForwardL E A D I N G T H E W A Y

    Explorers and ranchers had traveled this land for hundreds of years, but the

    history of McAllen the city begins with the pioneers who decided that a patch

    of thorny brushland near a railroad track was going to be their home. Leading

    the Way: McAllen's First 100 Years honors the legacy of those who had the

    gumption and passion to settle in this spot six miles from the Rio Grande.

    Those people had a belief in themselves and a belief in what McAllen could

    become. On one of the nation's last frontiers, they went after the American

    Dream. Over the past century, people have come to McAllen with faith that the

    city was the best place to build a home, raise a family, or open a business.

    Decade after decade, children grew up to become part of our community while

    newcomers kept arriving to put down their own roots. Working together,

    people settled in, and with time, blended their cultures and their families, their

    traditions and languages. The result is our vibrant and forward-looking city.

    The stories here recall the people and events that shaped the city's future and

    its prosperity. Here we see the foundation of McAllen's future.

    Richard Cortez


    McAllen, Texas

  • 6AcknowledgementsL E A D I N G T H E W A Y

    Photo CreditsWe gratefully acknowledge the many individuals and organizations who contributed the photographs in this book.

    The photographs appear courtesy of:

    Sylvia S. Alanis, Geoffrey Alger, Arts District Business Center, Spud Brown, Bruce Lee Smith Estate, Bryan TumlinsonPhotography, City of McAllen, First Presbyterian Church, Girl Scouts of Greater South Texas, Lucille Graham, Enrique E.

    Guerra, Cecilia Guillot, Harlingen Arts & Heritage Museum, Alan Hollander, Jones & Jones, John Kreidler, McAllen Chamber ofCommerce, McAllen Economic Development Corporation, McAllen Heritage Center, McAllen Public Library, Bob McCreery,

    Museum of South Texas History, John A. Paris, Rio Grande Valley Ballet, William H. Sanborn, Bill Stocker, The Library ofCongress, The Robert Runyon Photograph Collection CN, CT, di_ore_number 3035, 3036, 3038, 3043, 3053, 3055, 3059, 3062

    & 3067 The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin, Tom Weekley, Bill Whalen.

    ReferencesAllhands, James L. Railroads to the Rio, 1960. Amberson, Mary M. M. et al. I Would Rather Sleep in Texas, 2003. Falls, History of theSeventh Regiment. Jacobson, Lori. Soldiers in the Valley 1916-17 1982 MIM. Johnson, Marjorie. History of the Rio Grande Valley,

    2001. Osborn, Frank. Before and after coming to the Lower Rio Grande Valley. McAllen High School. McAllen, A BicentennialReflection, 1976. McAllen Library files. Monty's Monthly, 1920-1935. Spence, Ruth G. The Nickel Plated Highway to Hell: A politicalhistory of Hidalgo County, 1986. Ramsey, Closner Files. Robertson, Brian. Wild Horse Desert, 1985. Sasse, Fred. Memories of Men of

    the D Batteryat McAllen Texas-1916. The Monitor. Vickers, Paul. City of Palms: Historical Facts (50th Anniversary).

    Without the priceless assistance of Geoff Alger and Frank Birkhead, this book

    would not have been possible. John Topp organized and managed the entire

    publication, an enterprise of daunting dimensions. Alan Hollander artistically

    merged design and countless photographic images. Lynne Lerberg provided

    invaluable backup. People like Sylvia Alanis, Spud Brown, and Enrique Guerra

    Jr. told me family stories that brought McAllen to life and supplied photos. So

    many helpful individuals have contributed their knowledge and enthusiasm.

    I thank them for the privilege of working with them and for expanding my

    appreciation of McAllen.

    Eileen Mattei

    In 1942, young soldiersfrom Moore Air Fieldnorth of Mission came to McAllen to jitterbugwith USO hostesses.

  • 7Table of ContentsL E A D I N G T H E W A Y

    Turning Point I: The Tale of Two Townsites 1908-1911 8

    Turning Point II: Troops Spark Changes 1916-1918 14

    Panoramic Foldout: McAllen 1916 19

    Turning Point III: Rolling Out the Welcome Mat 1960 24

    Turning Point IV: Shifting into High Gear 1973-1976 28

    The Visionaries 32

    Open for Business 36

    Destination McAllen 46

    Shaping the Community 52

    Arts and Culture 58

    Taking Time Off 64

    The Next 100 Years 72

    Timeline: McAllen Through the Years 76

    Family and Business Profiles 106

    Index 152

    For decades, ArcherPark, shown here inthe 1960s, has provided a place torelax, sit in the shade,and listen to music inthe cool of the evening.

  • 1TURNING POINT I 1908-1911

    The Tale ofTwo Town Sites

  • On May 16, 1907, the McAllen Town Company

    was founded by William Briggs, John Closner and

    O. Ems Jones on land Briggs had purchased for

    three dollars per acre. The new townsite company

    cleared the brushland and began selling lots in the

    town called East McAllen, located on 640 acres

    two miles east of the first McAllen train depot.

    The Dewey and Osborn families were among those arriving inthe new town of McAllen in 1908. Tent camps like theirs dottedthe brushland while people waited for houses to be built.

  • 10

    Briggs and Closner had jumped at the opportunity to establish their town.Four months earlier, on January 26, 1907, James B. McAllen and his half-brotherJohn Young had dissolved their McAllen Townsite Company. In its two years ofexistence, the McAllen Townsite Company had done nothing to develop theproperty at the McAllen train depot, neither platting the tract nor promotingthe land. It's unknown if the family felt they were protecting their commercial properties to the south in the county seat, now known as Hidalgo, by not developing a rival town at McAllen or, maybe they had no interest in townbuilding, preferring to focus on ranching.

    Back at the beginningThe story of two townsnamed McAllen actuallystarts around 1902 whenland and canal companiesbegan developing farmtracts north of the RioGrande. William Briggsand various partnersbegan purchasing over

    12,400 acres of porciones (long, narrow north-south strips of land with RioGrande frontage dating to the Spanish colonial era), most owned jointly andindividually by John McAllen, James B. McAllen and John Young.

    In the summer of 1904, the Sam Fordyce rail line, a branch of the St. Louis,Brownsville & Mexico Railway, pushed straight west from the Harlingenjunction. Land owners and developers granted the railroad rights of way andbonus land in acknowledgment of the traffic the train would draw to their property. When our grading forces came through McAllens fat slice of HidalgoCounty land, nothing existed, recalled railroad construction administrator J. L.Allhands. John Closner told him, John (McAllen) would never do anything to

    The roof on the right advertises Guerra BrothersGeneral Merchandise, opened by brothers Enrique andModesto before their father joined them in business.Cantina La Esmeralda, Proprietor A. Saenz, wasreportedly the first building erected in the new town.

    The McAllen LandCo. founded in 1908sold town lots to buyers who openedlumberyards and general merchandisestores.

  • 11

    promote his town. He never gave us an acre towards the bonus until after therailroad was put through.

    With the train track laid down, on December 5, 1904, Uriah Lott, JohnMcAllen, James B. McAllen, Lon C. Hill, and John Young formed the McAllenTownsite Company with a $40,000 investment. Railway service began onDecember 19, 1904. In 1905 Closner cleared a road from the isolated McAllendepot straight south to the county seat. Wagons rumbled down Depot Roadconnecting the river to the rail. By 1906 Samuel Samanos general store and atiny lumberyard huddled near the depot. The station agent, it was said, sat at thedepot and shot deer that wandered past his lonely post.

    But in December 1906, two years after a steam locomotive first went throughthe point named McAllen, railroad coordinator J. McManus issued an ultimatumto James B. McAllen. He could choose either to develop the McAllen townsite

    The PresbyterianChurch, on the right,was completed in1910, a year after theMethodists built theirown church. Oillanterns illuminatedevening services.Looking north, theMcChesney Brothersstore, the train depot,and the ice plant are visible in the background.

    By 1901, the twice daily arrival of trainsbrought crowds to the depot to find out thenews and see who was traveling. Note thesemaphore accessed by the roof ladder. Thisdepot burned down in 1914 when storedammunition exploded. (The 1905 westMcAllen depot had vertical planks.)

  • 12

    by clearing the land and laying out streets or else he could deed half of thetowns 400 acres to the St. Louis Union Trust Co. representing the railroadsownership and dissolve the townsite company. The townsite company wasclosed down, although Horace Dennett later opened a grocery and dry goodsnear the still-operating depot and a few houses were built.

    In the meantime, Briggs canal companies had been clearing land and digging amain channel north. Engineer Rowland E. Horn was hired to plat the town ofEast McAllen, lining up gridded streets east of the canal. He placed the townscenter around the railroad track at Main Street and the privately-built railroaddepot. The town site stretched from 10th to 18th Street and from RailroadAvenue to Houston Avenue. A saloon at 17th and Railroad Avenue was the firstbusiness opened followed by the McChesney Brothers General Store.

    Briggs moved a two-story wooden building from 17th Street to Main andRailroad Avenue, where it became the McAllen Hotel. Mrs. O.P. Archer managed the hotel which had no electricity or running water, although a windmill out back supplied water for the single bathroom and for water basinsin the rooms. A tent city sprang up and served as home for the Dewey andOsborn families and many others as they waited for their houses to be built.

    The main canal of the Rio Bravo Irrigation Company crossed the rail line in thevicinity of present day South Bicentennial Street, in September 1908. Thecoming of the Rio Bravo Canal ...injected life and spirit into things and spurredMcAllens growth, Dr. Frank Osborn told Allhands. Wagon tracks crossed the

    McAllen Schoolstudents, posedwith a donkey in1909 or 1910,brought lunchesof cold biscuitsand chicken.

  • 13

    dusty streets where, by the end of 1908, East McAllen had a population around300. The young town had two saloons, five stores including the Guerra brothers,two lumberyards and a one-room school house with 20 students of all ages.

    In 1909, the Rio Grande, unrestrained by levees, flooded the new town threetimes. Years later, Frank Osborn wrote, you could get in a boat a little this sideof the country club and go all the way to Reynosa if you had anything to go for.Osborn, named postmaster, moved equipment from the untended westMcAllen post office into his new drug store building. The first edition of theweekly The Monitor hit the streets on December 11 and reported that a $10,000public school was to be built and that Dr. R. S. Pershing would open a 20-tonice plant. Two years ago not a house was standing where McAllen now stands, trumpeted the paper. It was April 1908 when the first house waserected.

    Arriving in 1910 to manage the McAllen Town Co., T. Jud Powell recalled, Youcouldnt get very far from the hotel or the general merchandise store withoutrunning into dense brush. Yet that year The Monitor reported that McAllenfarmers had shipped 52 cars of cabbages, 62 cars of onions and 15 cars of watermelons. By this point, west McAllen had disappeared. The new BusinessMens Club, the predecessor of the Chamber of Commerce, installed a horsewatering trough on Main Street.

    On February 13, 1911, following a vote by 45 men who had at least six monthsresidency within city limits, McAllen was incorporated. Frank Crow was electedmayor. An early ordinance prohibited four-legged livestock from roaming insidecity limits. The town had turned a corner.

    A wagonload of merrymakers prepared for a trip to Missions Independence Dayparade in 1910. O.P. Archer, who came to McAllen to run the first hotel, openednumerous businesses: a feed and seed,ice cream parlor, auto dealership.

  • 2TURNING POINT II 1916-1918

    Troops Spark Changes

    Troop trains brought12,000 wool-cladNational Guardsmenfrom New York toMcAllen in a rainy July 1916.

  • Following the 1910 Mexican Revolution, bandit

    raids erupted across the Rio Grande Valley,

    alarming McAllen residents. Texas National

    Guardsmen, arriving in 1914, had little success

    controlling the escalating number of robberies,

    kidnappings, and killings attributed to border

    bandits. The discovery of the treasonous Plan of

    San Diego with the arrest of Basilio Ramos at the

    Guerra brothers store in McAllen brought the

    Mexican conflict to the heart of the city. It was

    in earshot already.

    Trumpeters of the 71st New York Infantry summonedsoldiers to meals, formations, and endless gun drills.

  • 16

    On quiet days in school, the teacher would let us stand on the roof and listen

    to the fighting in Mexico, Lucille Rich Eskildsen recalled about her school days

    during the bandit era. It was always a game for us children.

    President Woodrow Wilson increased the military presence in the Valley to a

    total of 111,000 troops in 1916. The McAllens Business Mens Club

    contributed $2,500 to secure land for a military camp in the town,

    according to pioneer Dr. Frank Osborn. From July 2 to July 12, 1916...