When going into Weslaco, there is one prominent structure that kind of calls out and is noticed by all that travel down South Texas Blvd. or Business 83 – El Tinaco Tower. The tower stands at 100 feet tall on six concrete pillars. Upon its completion in 1941, the tower was proclaimed a marvel of modern construction. It received a Texas Historical Landmark designation in 1982. There was even a working Tower Theatre in one of the buildings at the base of the tower. But, the tower isn’t the only thing interesting about the City of Weslaco.
On a recent visit, I was able to peruse the museum and drive through downtown and enjoy the architecture and feel of the community. It is definitely a downtown I would not mind walking around while peeking into the store fronts.
An intriguing building was the beautiful Fire Department and old city hall off of South Texas Blvd. and 5th Street (120 E. 5th St.). The fire station is located on part of a Spanish land grant known as Llano Grande. It features some great architecture and additions to the buildings, including the city hall, that have kept that colonial Spanish architecture.
The City of Weslaco was founded in 1919 and the name was derived from the W.E. Stewart Land Company – who bought 30,000 acres for $90 an acre in 1917. The town site was then sold to Ed. C. Couch, Dan R. Couch, R. C. Couch, and R. L. Reeves who planned to develop the site. Some of the original partners backed out of the venture, and even nearby communities discouraged people from settling in the area before the sale of lots was held.
On December 10, 1919, the sale was held. Lots ranged from $50 to $400 and all individuals had to do was choose a lot and camp out on it until the day of sale. At the same time, the city offered free lots to representatives of Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist and Christian denominations.
And, as they say, the rest is history.
Weslaco was founded much like the rest of the Valley was. It was a diamond in the rough for agriculture, and landowners and investors saw the potential of the land. When irrigation and trains came to the area, the land prospered even more. You can drive around the more remote areas of the city – and the Valley – and see crops for miles.
The 1015 Onion was developed in Weslaco. It was named such by its suggested planting date of October 15th. The city celebrates the development of the 1015 onion with an Onion Fest. The event is usually celebrated with an onion eating contest, food, and entertainment.
Also, much like the rest of the Valley, several churches in the area have been around almost as long as the town has been called Weslaco.
At 600 S. Kansas Avenue you will find the First Baptist Church of Weslaco. Visiting Evangelists from the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board encouraged area Baptists to organize a church in Weslaco in 1921. The congregation first met at Stephen F. Austin School before moving into its own building. Many of its beginning members were community leaders who were vital to the development of the city. Since its beginnings, the church has focused on missions and the organization of four Spanish-speaking churches in the city.
Another church in the area is the First Christian Church at 205 W. 6th St. This church, organized with 44 charter members, has remained on its original site since December 16, 1921. And still another church to visit is the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church.
The Weslaco Independent School District was formed in 1921. They had previously been a part of Donna ISD but petitioned the state to separate and be their own entity. The Weslaco High School building that holds the historic landmark, sits at 503 E. 6th St. The one-story building features a raised basement built of reinforced concrete and hollow tile, faced with dark Butler brick and lighter bands near the roofline. Its recessed central entryway has a prominent door surround and pediment. The building, and the adjacent Weslaco Junior High, were threatened with demolition before being rehabilitated in 2006.
The Weslaco Cemetery, established in 1921, interred its first resident in the same year. Many of the city founders can be found buried there. Throughout the cemetery, grave markers indicate military service and fraternal organization memberships.
Another building with beautiful architecture is the Villa de Cortez. This building is located at South Texas Blvd and Bus. 83. It features architectural elements of the period, crystal chandeliers and elegance that takes you back in time. You can learn more about the building at https://www.villadecortezweslaco.com/.
If you only have the opportunity to make one stop while visiting or driving through Weslaco, stop by the museum.
The Weslaco Museum has one floor that features rotating exhibits. The other floor is like taking a step back in time. Sheila Shidler, executive director, loves to give guided tours when she has time and can tell you about each exhibit and the importance it plays in the history of Weslaco. You will learn about the city’s development, agriculture history, its product costume regalia, and more.
Currently on the first floor is the history of Fort Brown and a residents’ post card collection. The post card collection adds a bit of fun and whimsy and features post cards from the entire Valley and other areas.
There is also a military area, paying tribute to those in the area that have served. Weslaco is the proud home of Harlon Block, who served in the Marines. Block was killed in action during the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. In 1944, he was one of the Marines who raised the second U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi on February 23, 1945. The photo is a very well-known photo, and the museum features a painting of it in the museum.
The museum is located at 500 South Texas Blvd. and is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Visit www.weslacomuseum.org for more information.
Photo One: First Baptist Church
Photo Two: Tinaco Tower
Photo Three: St. Joan of Arc
Photo Four: Villa de Cortez
Photo Five: Courtesy Weslaco Musuem