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Brownsville

A Brief History

A scant 27 years after Christopher Columbus made his first voyage to the New World, the first European arrived in the Brownsville-Matamoros area. Francisco de Pineda came to these parts in 1519 and stayed a brief time. Alonzo de Leon visited here in 1689 and, in 1746, Jose de Escandon brought several families to populate settlements already in existence along what is now called the Rio Grande.

Those early settlers began a trend in building and development that has never stopped and, in fact, continues unabated in 2011-2012.

The Texas Revolution of 1836 and the dispute over the boundary between the fledgling Republic of Texas and the Republic of Mexico simmered even as Texas joined the U.S. in 1845 and was finally settled by the War With Mexico. The war began May 8, 1846, with the battle of Palo Alto, followed by the battle of Resaca de la Palma.

It was during this time that Brownsville had its beginning. U.S. Army Major Jacob Brown was killed by cannon fire in Fort Texas on the Rio Grande and, in his honor, the fort was renamed Fort Brown. The settlement that sprung up around the fort was called Brownsville; a founding date of 1848 is generally accepted for the city.

Incorporated in 1853, Brownsville was already the county seat of Cameron County. Its location on the river helped establish Brownsville as a trade center for southern Texas.

Then came secession in 1861. With Texas part of the Confederate States of America, and as a result of the ensuing naval blockade, Brownsville’s importance was further magnified. The “back door of the Confederacy” and its proximity to the Mexican port of Bagdad made Brownsville that much more important to the rebels and their fight against the U.S. Of particular local interest is the fact that the last battle of the Civil War took place just east of Brownsville on May 13, 1865, with rebel Col. Rip Ford besting the Union forces in that last fight. Brownville thus claims the first battle of the War with Mexico and the last battle of the Civil War.

After the war, many merchants turned their attention to the developing cattle industry, which was supported by the Chisolm Trail and several big ranches supplying cattle for drives to railheads in Kansas.

Steamboats were still a major transportation provider after the Civil War, with traffic going as far upriver as Camargo and Roma. In the late 1860s, a group of Brownsville investors, led by Simon Celaya, built the first South Texas railroad from Brownsville to Point Isabel.

Firsts for Brownsville continued in 1929 with the first Pan American flight to Mexico City, piloted by none other than Charles Lindbergh. And In 1936, the port of Brownsville was opened, providing a deep-sea outlet to and from any port in the world.

Today Brownsville is the largest city in the Rio Grande Valley with a population nearing 200,000. It covers more than 192 square miles and has more than 400 miles of paved streets. With an assessed valuation of more than $5 billion, the city has nearly quadrupled its wealth in the past 18 years.

Brownsville stands as one of the most historic cities in the entire State of Texas and is a leader among state cities in historic preservation and historic tourism.

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