The story of McAllen goes back more than 100 years. From a dusty little border town to the international metropolitan destination that it has become today, the history of our city not only offers us a glimpse into our past but reveals the perseverance that has made our community great.
A perseverance and tenacity that endures and is the foundation for future success.
Our place along the Rio Grande borderland has inextricably tied our past, and future, with our neighbors to the south. From the first Spanish settlements that were established in 1749 to modern times, our cross cultural heritage runs deeps.
City leaders at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, the City of McAllen, and McAllen Economic Development Corporation believe that through some contemplation of our past, we can understand the road ahead.
McAllen was situated in a no-man’s land in the late 1800’s. It wasn’t until the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico Railway company came through John McAllen’s Santa Anita Ranch on August 20, 1904, that a semblance of a community began to form.
Who knew then that McAllen would one day be at the center of the 5th largest metropolitan area in Texas? Who could have envisioned that the McAllen metro area would serve as the retail trade center of South Texas and northern Mexico?
The fact that McAllen would become the third-busiest border crossing in Texas in terms of commercial and pedestrian traffic probably never crossed the minds of the city’s founding fathers – John McAllen, James B. McAllen, John. J Young, Lon C. Hill, Uriah Lott – and the catalyst – William Briggs.
William Briggs and the Race For McAllen
In 1907 William Briggs, O.E. Jones and John Closner invested $5000 to develop East McAllen to rival the original town site – West McAllen.
This spurred Manuel Samano in West McAllen to open a general store and restaurant, which would come to serve a small tent city and the residents that began to arrive. Then in 1908, the Rio Bravo Irrigation Canal helped to trigger the growth of East McAllen, bringing building development and trade.
Eventually, the two separate towns converged and continued to carry the name of John McAllen. This bustling community was bound for prominence as noted by The Valley Evening Monitor’s front page for December 11, 1909, which read, “McAllen Now In The Midst Of The Biggest Boom In Its History”.
Though luckily for us, “The Biggest Boom In Its History” seems to be a phrase that we continue to hear year after year in our city thanks to our multifaceted economy which includes retail, healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing.
Continued retail growth attracts visitors from across the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, and Mexico.
La Plaza Mall is currently in the process of a significant expansion to include a new 80,000-square-foot wing that will offer a two-level anchor store, two junior anchors, 50 specialty stores, and up to eight restaurants. That boom continues to echo.
Acre Construction has also recently announced the “Premier Plaza Retail Center” which will focus on providing high-end shopping options for residents and visitors alike. The development will feature national and regional retailers, restaurants, and a number of Class A medical and dental suites.
There’s also the growth of our transportation infrastructure which has helped to increase cross-border trade and spur local industrial growth.
Healthcare is another key component of our economy. In fact, compared to other census places, McAllen has a usually high number of residents working in healthcare. The new UTRGV Medical School, and its residual effects throughout the region, will continue the healthcare boom with hundreds of millions of dollars of expected direct economic impact.
What was once a one-street speck on the map has become an international hub that will continue to see growth and prosperity as long as our local businesses and city leaders continue work in unison as the founders of East McAllen and West McAllen once did.
A Touch of Cross Border History
There are undeniable historical roots between our region and northern Mexico. McAllen is a truly bi-cultural, international city that has felt the effects of changing geographic boundaries, colonization, and political policies.
One of the most prominent areas where we have felt this interdependency has been in our economy. While international trade has always been of value to the region, the creation of the McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge became one of the leading factors that further intertwined our economy with that of Mexico’s.
The International Bridge helped to propel our economy during the 1980s and 90s. It was because of an abundance of affordable labor in Reynosa that the maquila industry boomed and McAllen’s Foreign Trade Zone (FTZ) was created. Since the inception of the McAllen’s FTZ over 410 companies have relocated to the area.
When coupled with the advent of NAFTA in 1994, it becomes clear that McAllen’s cross border history is just as pivotal as the story of the city’s formation. The international trade agreement has helped to grow Texas into the top exporting state, has turned Mexico into the US’s second-largest export market, has increased employment in McAllen by more than 6%, and has turned our City of Palms into the South Texas center of international trade, retail, tourism and health care.
Continuing the Legacy of John McAllen
Mr. Rick DeJulio, 2002-2006 Chairman of the McAllen Historic Preservation Council wrote of the John Mcallen Family – “They epitomize the character, determination, and adaptability of one of the first pioneer families who took the challenges of working and raising their families [in what was then known as] the Wild Horse Desert.”
You see, our history is one of fortitude, energy, and confidence in the face of challenges – in whatever form they may come. Our city did not arise from the desert of the Texas southern frontier and emerge as a regional superpower only to be tossed back out into a barren world.
For over a century we have striven as a community to create a city that our children and families would love and that visitors would yearn to be a part of.
Your leaders at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, the City of McAllen, and McAllen Economic Development Corporation, alongside business owners and community members all throughout the city continue to push innovation, encourage partnership and cultivate economic prosperity to honor this legacy left to us.
We ask that all business owners and city organizations join us in the journey. The seed of success was planted years ago and continues to flourish. “The Biggest Boom In (McAllen) History” in 1909 was just an early rumble. The tenacity of our businesses and the power of our industrial sectors endure, grow, and reverberate.