Down on the Rio Grande 3

“Endless highways and wide open spaces / Children smile with their sunburned faces / Down on the Rio Grande” – Johnny Rodriguez, Down on the Rio Grande

I didn’t return to the Starr County courthouse the following morning. There was no reason to. Even better lighting conditions in the morning would not do anything to help that building. Today would be a long day of monotonous driving, and we had to get started. We started the day by driving east, along the course of the Rio Grande, towards the next county. We passed several white blimp-like devices in the sky, which we assumed were border patrol technologies.

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Once in Hidalgo County, #194, we didn’t hit up the current courthouse in Edinburg first. Instead, we traveled to the original courthouse in the small town of Hidalgo, directly across the border from Reynosa, Mexico.

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The courthouse, constructed in 1886, still stands, but not in its original form. The second story and large cupola were destroyed by fire in the early 1900s. After the blaze, a pyramidal roof was built over the remaining first floor, leaving behind a less-than complete courthouse. Here’s what it looked like prior to the fire, circa 1886:

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(Photo Courtesy: Robert Runyon Collection, Center for American History, UT)

What an impressive building! I confidently say that I prefer this over the current courthouse in Edinburg.

Here’s the courthouse without the second floor, circa August 2014:

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 2.59.44 PMWhat a shame! At least it’s still partially standing. The most disappointing feature of this courthouse was that it seems abandoned. Although it’s in the heart of Downtown Hidalgo, it still looks to have been overlooked by the city/locals. The interior is in serious disarray. Now the doors were locked, but I did look through the windows (or at least those that had broken shades).

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All of this aside, I do have some fantastic news. The Texas Historical Commission has elected to add the old Hidalgo courthouse to its list of places receiving funds from its Historic Courthouse Preservation Program. $450,000 dollars being given to the City of Hidalgo means the complete reconstruction of the second story and cupola along with the basic restoration the first floor needs. If I could snap my fingers and come back, I’d return to see the final product whenever they finish. However, due to the distance, there’s little reason to believe I will ever return to Hidalgo.

But while I was still here, I discovered that the oldest post office still in existence is in Hidalgo, a block to the east of the courthouse. I spied this historic building while photographing the courthouse and after investigating its historical marker, I knew I had to take a picture of it. It was constructed in 1889.

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After taking pictures of the post office and other historic buildings all clustered together near the courthouse, I was approached by a Reynosa woman who asked me, “Habla español, verdad?”

She had just come from the municipal court building, a wallet full of pesos in her hands. I tried my best with my knowledge of Spanish to communicate with her. But the summer between my last Spanish lesson and this moment had left my abilities rusty. From what I was able to discern, she needed $20 for a fee at the court building. In exchange, she would give us pesos.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to help her. We weren’t going to Mexico to spend those pesos anytime soon. In fact, now was the time for the exact opposite. From Hidalgo, we headed north, speeding north through the large city of McAllen to get to Edinburg, the current seat. Even though what I just left was only a single story and in disrepair, I’d still prefer it to Hidalgo County’s current courthouse.

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A fierce competitor with Zavala County, this 1950s disaster replaced, not only the courthouse I’d just been to, but a 1909 Misson-style design of architectural pair Atlee B. Ayres and Henry T. Phelps.

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I’m so sorry for the people of Hidalgo County that have to look at this unfortunate building.

There was no need to stay long. We left Edinburg behind, not long after arriving in it, to head north once more. That was fine with me, even though the stretch of lonely highway from Edinburg, north to Falfurrias (the next large town), is long and tedious. It’s similar to the “dreaded sixty mile stretch” between Raymondville and Sarita that I discussed in South Texas Redos & SPI .

Once we got close to Falfurrias, we passed through a border checkpoint that posted some troubling figures.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 3.04.47 PMThe fact that nearly thirty-three thousand undocumented people passed through here is astounding. There’s not another word for it. I am so grateful to have been born a citizen of this country. Trips to the border always reinforce that value in me.

Other than Zapata County’s, #195 in Falfurrias was in the greatest state of any courthouse on this trip so far. That’s probably because it was restored by the THC in 2010. It looks great today.

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Falfurrias is situated in the extreme northern part of Brooks County, and the highway to the west of town is pretty unique as a result. I discovered while riding in the car between Falfurrias and our next stop, Hebbronville, that the highway straddles the county line. One side of the highway is in Brooks County, and one is in Duval County (the county to the north).

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Left: Brooks County, Right: Duval County

We followed this eighteen-wheeler most of the way to Hebbronville. The city exists relatively isolated, nearly lost among the great South Texas plains. I understand that it is a popular area for South Texas hunting.

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The courthouse sits directly on the highway, making it very easy to find. But instead of photographing it first, we asked a local for a good place for lunch. The options didn’t look too plentiful. He recommended either Church’s Chicken or Pepper’s Restaurant. Sticking away from chains, we drove down Highway 359 for about half a mile to Pepper’s.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 3.06.28 PMIt was very good.

We drove back down to the main thoroughfare, Highway 16, and pulled in to the courthouse. It’s a Henry T. Phelps design that has yet to hear from the THC. You can tell it. It’s a nice building, so I hope that the historical commission gives it some help in the years to come.

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Across the highway from the courthouse is the now abandoned Hotel Viggo, constructed in 1915 as a stop for businessmen to the area. Not long after opening day, area ranchers utilized it as a sort of stronghold/fortress when Pancho Villa (the legendary Mexican Revolution general) threatened the countryside around Hebbronville.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 3.06.50 PMAs we left Hebbronville, I noticed a huge church from the road. I wanted to get a better look, so we drove over to it.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 3.07.56 PMI was shocked that for a town so small, there was a church so big. Perhaps it’s the only church and has to accommodate roughly five thousand people every Sunday? I didn’t stay to find out.

We headed northeast, crossing another batch of long highway stretch through the countryside. Only minutes after leaving Hebbronville, we crossed into Duval County. Passing through communities like Realitos and Benavides, it wasn’t too long before arriving in San Diego, Texas.

San Diego is just ten miles to the west of Alice, Texas (where I’d been in early July). This reminded me that I’d really come full circle. Nearly all of South Texas was complete.

The courthouse here is in pretty bad shape (the worse of any on this trip except for Frio Town [to be seen on the next day]).

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 3.08.15 PMWhen the THC comes down here eventually, my hope is that they’ll find a new way to incorporate that fire escape. Just like the red steps in Rio Grande City, this is a bothersome eyesore.

We took a quick jaunt through San Diego next, seeing what we could find in this small community. Like in Hebbronville, we found another large, very beautiful church.

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Not only did we find this church (situated just off a nice public park), but we found some interesting homes as well. The people in one looked like they’d been trying to beat the San Diego heat.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 3.08.55 PMUnfortunately, this is the only similarity between San Diego, California and San Diego, Texas.

Another “sixty mile stretch” was ahead, interrupted only by the regionally large town of Freer. As we passed through Freer, I learned that it’s home of the World’s Largest Rattlesnake. The things you learn on courthouse trips.

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Right as we crested the rise above the small community of Tilden (our next stop), I observed this:

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Looks like a fire scorched the area at some time. This is a cool picture. A scene of both disaster and rebirth. That’s Tilden out there in the distance.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 3.10.57 PMThe courthouse here is a nice, well-kept design of W.C. Stephenson dating from 1930.

This community of Tilden used to be a stop for cowboys on the South Texas plains. Originally called Dog Town (after some drunk men shot fifteen dogs dead in the streets), this town fills the classic design of a Wild West town well. The most important part of Tilden’s history, in my opinion, was its creation of the “Boot Hill Cemetery”. You’ve heard the term in Westerns, but perhaps you didn’t know where it came from.

Tilden has the original boot hill, just north of the courthouse. It’s not on a hill, rather a flat lot directly across from the McMullen County Sheriff’s Department. Definitely not what I was expecting.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 3.11.46 PMThe story goes that the people buried here were interred so quickly after they died, that they still “had their boots on”. Hence, “Boot Hill”.

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Once we’d finished with the courthouse and Boot Hill, we begin the drive to the night’s stop: Cotulla. On the way between Tilden and Cotulla, we encountered a small dust storm.

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Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 3.12.43 PMEntering downtown, I got acquainted with #199.

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 3.13.16 PMScreen Shot 2014-08-15 at 3.13.00 PMThe La Salle County courthouse’s renovation was completed last year, leaving it in fantastic shape. You can tell by taking only a quick glance, that the THC has been here.

Our schedule after leaving the courthouse was similar to last night’s in Rio Grande City. We checked in to the hotel, went out for dinner, and came back for bed.

Just because tomorrow would have the least amount of courthouses visited, that didn’t mean the drive would not be long. We had to make it back to Granbury.

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