McAllen has a long history even before it was officially incorporated on February 20, 1911. Some records have the development of the city going as far back as 1767 when some land grants were granted to Juan Antonio Villarreal and Antonio Gutierrez by the Spanish crown. The City of McAllen was developed from parts of these grants.
Although, some of the dates might be skewed, most of the history of McAllen was gathered by the McAllen Library years ago before being shared with the McAllen Heritage Center when they opened. The Center says the information might not reflect full or fully accurate information, but it is as close as they have to the history and development of the City of McAllen. The full outline and videos of the history of McAllen can be viewed on the McAllen Heritage Center’s website at mcallenheritagecenter.com. I will try to relay some of this history here as we discover some of McAllen’s important landmarks.
It is said that John McAllen arrived in the Rio Grande Valley in the early 1850’s. He worked as a clerk in John Young’s store in Edinburgh, which is now Hidalgo area.
At the time, Young recorded over 5,000 head of cattle, and even more sheep. McAllen was buying commodities such as cotton, sugar, and salt. These goods were then shipped on steamboats to the port of Brownsville. Land acquisitions for Young were also handled by McAllen.
One of the original Spanish Land Grants was inherited by Salome Balli – the granddaughter of Jose Manuel Gomez who he received the very large land grant in 1797. The land was called the Santa Anita Ranch and was in what is now northern Hidalgo County.
Young marries Salome Balli Dominguez in 1853. Unfortunately, Young died in 1862 and McAllen then marries Salome. After the marriage, McAllen continued to acquire land for the ranch. By 1904, James McAllen’s land holdings are well over 80,000 acres.
In 1904, when the railroad reached Santa Anita Ranch, McAllen established a townsite on the rail line, just eight miles north of Hidalgo. Later that year, John McAllen, James B. McAllen, Uriah Lott, Lon C. Hill and John J. Young launched McAllen Townsite Company, but there was little interest shown in developing the new townsite – McAllen.
A lot of things were happening in the area at the time. The La Piedad cemetery was founded in 1895. The coldest recorded temperature of 12 degrees was recorded at the Brownsville weather station. The Hidalgo Irrigation Company was founded in 1903. A railroad depot was opened in 1905. A McAllen post office was established in 1907. In 1908, the Roselawn Perpetual Care Burial Park was founded.
The original land McAllen had established was named West McAllen. While William Briggs, O. Em. Jones and John Closner started their own tract of land and named it East McAllen in 1907.
The first buildings in East McAllen included a Presbyterian Church, a grocery store, and the Osborn and Dewey residence. There was also a two-story building that Mr. Briggs moved from West to East McAllen. It operated as a hotel for the McAllen Townsite Company.
By the end of 1908, there was a new hardware and furniture store being built. There was a total of five stores, two taverns, two lumberyards and a population of over 300 in East McAllen.
Big things in 1909 included the establishment of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce and the McAllen Monitor. Businesses continued to develop and relocate in the vicinity of Main Street in McAllen in 1910. On February 20th, 1911, the City of McAllen was incorporated, and Frank G. Crow was elected mayor. O.P. Archer was elected Mayor in 1912.
By 1916, the population, although unofficial, was about 1,200. This is after the town experienced a boom in economic growth due to 12,000 national guard soldiers arriving to stop border banditry.
In 1917, Archer deeded a one block square tract of land to the City of McAllen. After his death in 1930, the park was renamed Archer Park in 1933. Archer was a prominent businessman and civic leader. Archer Park features a bandstand that has seen many events during its years. The McAllen Public Library was housed in the basement of the bandstand from 1936 to 1949. The park has been the site of many community activities and celebrations.
Across the street from Archer Park is the grand Casa de Palmas Hotel that was built in 1918. The building has served as a business, social and civic center for McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley. The hotel is now part of Wyndham hotels.
A small hospital was opened in 1925. The first international bridge to Reynosa opened in 1926 making commerce and trade between the two cities much easier.
By 1930, McAllen’s population reached just over 9,000. With the growth of the area, building a suspension bridge from Hidalgo to Reynosa after the original collapsed; the discovery of oil in Reynosa, making McAllen a top tourist market; the population grew to 20,000 in 1950, and 32,728 by 1960. The town quickly grew into a retail shoppers’ mecca, a hub for international trade, and a desirable location for Winter Texans.
Things went up fast in McAllen. The first Convention and Civic Center was built in 1946 with a newer McAllen Convention Center being built in 1959. Runways for Miller Field – McAllen’s Airport – were paved in 1947. In 1950, the McAllen Memorial Public Library opened for business. Valley Memorial Gardens Cemetery was also founded that year.
When reading the outline of the history of McAllen, it notes all the hard freezes, large rains, and other things that affected the City, it’s people and the agriculture. Several freezes and rains damaged sugarcane, citrus and other crops in McAllen and surrounding areas.
A new airport was built, along with a new hospital and other growth occurred in the late 70’s to early 90’s. Big companies such as Sam’s and Office Max open locations in McAllen and STC is established by Ann Richards. Many medical buildings opened in the 90’s bringing heart care and other types of specializations to the McAllen Area – making a medical center area on the south side of the highway.
By 2001, the City of McAllen was dedicating new community centers and branch libraries to serve the community. In the last 20 years, the city has done even more to help its community. They have a new public safety building, a recycling center, boys and girls club, a veteran’s home, an arts district, remodeling and additions at Palm View Golf Course, celebrations of culture, a Veteran’s War Memorial, a new state of the art McAllen Convention Center, and so much more to offer visitors and residents alike.
Take a walk downtown on Main Street between the Expressway and Pecan Blvd. and there is a lot of history to see including businesses, churches, and homes. On 15th Street between Business 83 and Pecan you will find a historic area with some older homes. The downtown business area will feature some of the old buildings that are still there today including the McAllen Heritage Center and the Nelson Building.
Other top sites to see in McAllen include Quinta Mazatlan, the McAllen Convention Center District on Ware and Highway 83, McAllen Nature Center, La Plaza Mall, and the McAllen Hike and Bike Trails.
For more information about the City of McAllen visit these websites: http://www.mcallenheritagecenter.com/index.asp, https://visitmcallen.com/about-us/, https://visitmcallen.com/about-us/, and https://mcallen.org/.