What a magical time of year. This is a time when traditions are born, and memories are made. It is a time of giving, a time of sharing, a time of remembering. Maybe your memories go back a long, long time before we had rural electricity and all the lights and glitter that make Christmas come alive. Houses and yards are decorated with lights and inflated figures to delight us all. Why not take a nighttime ride through some of the neighborhoods to enjoy the decorations. And while we are enjoying the lights a little history might be added to the entertainment.
Did you ever wonder how our Valley towns got their names? A study of that reveals a lot of history. For instance, the town of Mission. Back in the 1800s Oblate Fathers were riding horse back up and down the Valley to take the Catholic religion to the ranches scattered along the river. The first stop after a long days ride from Brownsville was at La Lomita, a small little mission church near the present day city of Mission. Life must have been very difficult when the little chapel was built… No electricity and no microwaves to heat up leftovers. No electric toasters nor electric irons for housewives to use. Just an outdoor oven to bake the bread and heat the irons for the tedious task of ironing clothes. The outdoor oven sits silent and unused today – but it is still there for us to see and enjoy. And Mission exists because of La Lomita and the railroad that brought settlers to the region.
Continue on down the Valley to McAllen – a family surname. This family has a long history of ranching and giving to the community. The McAllen ranch existed even before the Civil War. They say that bullet holes in the walls of the ranch house testify to this. Those who are interested in history will enjoy reading the book written by one of the family.
San Juan again goes back to the original settlers and the dominant religion in the Rio Grande Valley. This town is home to the Basilica of San Juan of the Valley whose patron saint is the Virgin of San Juan. The original statue of the little Virgin is found in San Juan de Los Lagos in Mexico. This is not the original church either, for it was destroyed in 1970 when a private place crashed into the building. Only the pilot lost his life. It took 10 years with donations coming from around the world to build the structure you see today. Tours of the church are offered and on certain days mariachis furnish the music for Mass. The latest addition to attractions in the Rio Grande Valley is the Stained-Glass Museum that is located near the Basilica.
Alamo – no it is not named for the Alamo in San Antonio. Instead that is the Spanish name for the local cottonwood tree. So, it is back to nature in that area. In fact, it is back to nature in the entire Rio Grande Valley. We live in a natural paradise. Ordinarily we have very pleasant sunny days to enjoy. No shoveling of snow nor driving on icy roads for us. Get out, enjoy and go exploring. What a beautiful time of year to explore.
Donna is another town that has a family name, but this time it is the first name of a doctor’s daughter. Donna was the daughter of a well known and well-loved doctor who practiced in that town. Donna has a clock museum that you might want to visit.
To learn more about South Texas, find a little booklet, The Rio Grande Valley Visitor’s Guide. Your chamber of commerce’s should have copies. The Visitor Information Center in Harlingen has copies along with information on other interesting areas and attractions in Texas. Enjoy your time as you explore the Rio Grande Valley.