Bentsen Palm Shares Rich History of the Rio Grande Valley and the Port of Brownsville
November 17th, 2016
The early days of American and Texas history have deep roots in the land known as the Rio Grande Valley and the prosperous Port of Brownsville. Brownsville is at the southernmost tip of Texas and is a major port of entry to Mexico. It is also the terminus point of Hwy 77 and Hwy 83 and the Missouri Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads.
The area was explored as early as the seventeenth century, but did not bring settlers to its lands until the later part of the eighteenth century. José Salvador de la Garza was the first to be granted the land including what would become Brownsville with a grant of fifty-nine leagues of land on the northern bank of the river by Spanish authorities. By 1836 a small settlement had formed when Texas declared her independence from Mexico. General Zachary Taylor arrived in 1846 to build Fort Texas, which later became Fort Brown, to set up a defensive position during the Mexican War. Following the war, there were a few legal battles over ownership of the land, but it was eventually settled and Charles Stillman and Samuel Belden laid out the town called Brownsville, which was 4,676 acres at the time.
As the county seat of Cameron County, Brownsville began to boom and soon became the major trade center for shipping goods, particularly to avoid paying high Mexican duty fees that were required for shipping through Matamoros across the border. During this time the enterprising young man from New York City, Richard King, founded what would become the famous King Ranch in 1853, now one of the largest cattle ranches in Texas with 825,000 acres today.
The Civil War also brought a great deal of prosperity to the Rio Grande Valley and Brownsville as the Union Army succeeded in blocking the majority of southern ports. The Confederate Army used the Port of Brownsville to ship their biggest export to Europe, cotton, in exchange for supplies needed for the war. Brownsville also played another role in the war with the final battle of the war taking place just outside of the town at Palmito Ranch.
Following the Civil War major reconstruction efforts were undertaken to rebuild the Fort and town, but it took more than a decade to recover and several more to attract a railroad link to the north. Finally in 1904 the railroad was built and with it came an influx of farmers from the north who built extensive irrigation systems and began the large scale truck farming that would become one of the major sources of economic growth for the area. The 1920s brought another boom of landseekers streaming in daily buy the hundreds in search of land to build Rio Grande Valley new homes and find prosperity in the thriving port town.
Completion of the Brazos Santiago Pass to allow for deepwater vessels to dock in Brownsville was key to helping the area also weather the effects of the Great Depression. And with the ability to easily export goods through this major port the city and the Rio Grande Valley continued to prosper with the growing agricultural business including cotton, citrus and vegetables. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway was extended to Brownsville and the ship channel was expanded to accommodate larger vessels in 1949, continuing to attract more and more businesses, industries and trade to the Rio Grande Valley.
Today, the Port of Brownsville remains a cornerstone of the Rio Grande Valley economy as the 4th busiest port in Texas. The area continues to show tremendous signs of growth bringing more and more people to look for new homes for sale and the same promise of prosperity that so many have sought for centuries here in the land of the Rio Grande.