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Pharr, Texas

History

City of Pharr. For many centuries, nomadic Coahuiltecans lived in the Lower Rio Grande area. In the 1500s, Spanish explorers came through the region, and the Spanish government began to colonize both sides of the river by the late 1700s. At the close of the U.S.-Mexico War in 1848, the Rio Grande was established as the official boundary. In 1909, John C. Kelly, Henry N. Pharr, W.E. Cage and R.C. Briggs formed the Pharr Townsite Company, platting and registering the new town. Kelly donated lots in the original plat for early churches, including the Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal and Presbyterian denominations. Pharr schools began in 1911, and the community later joined with San Juan and Alamo to create the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School District. The city founders were also involved with the Louisiana-Rio Grande Canal Co., organized in 1910 to furnish irrigation and domestic water to 40,000 acres in the Pharr area by means of a Rio Grande pumping plant. The water system led the economy to shift from ranching to crop production, and the railroad, which came through the area in 1905, made it possible to ship produce around the country. The city of Pharr was incorporated in 1916. Given its location at the intersection of two major developing highways and the growth of commercial transportation, Pharr became known as the "Hub City of the Valley." Agricultural shipping and packing businesses were mainstays in the city economy. With the continued growth of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Pharr remains a vital business center, and an international bridge now provides an important commercial link to Mexico. Historical Marker text, 2004. Marker location: 118 S Cage Blvd, Pharr.

Old City Hall, Pharr.   This structure was completed in 1911 by the Pharr Townsite Company, operated by John C. Kelly (1862-1937), a co-founder of Pharr. It housed the first bank, the post office, a confectionary, a drugstore, and the first irrigation and canal company. The building became the first City Hall in 1916, when Pharr was incorporated. Due to a shortage of policemen during the depression, an electric light was placed on top of the building to alert officers to trouble. When the city government moved in 1951, the Old Pharr City Hall housed businesses and offices and was used for civic meetings. Historical Marker text, 1984.  Marker location: Cage Blvd. (US 281) at Park, Pharr.

Pharr Volunteer Fire Department.  In July 1916, the same year voters incorporated the city of Pharr, a large fire laid waste to an entire downtown city block. As a result of the blaze, the community lost Pharr Lumber Co., Pharr Mercantile Co., Folsum Hardware Co., National Theatre and several other businesses. During that same era, National Guard troops were stationed in the area to combat incursions from revolutionary forces in Mexico. When the troops left at the beginning of World War I, they left behind hose reels that the community adopted as its first fire equipment. Judge L.J. Polk, Sr. and D. "Chief" Simmons led local residents in loosely organizing a group of 10 to 12 volunteers, and they directed citizen efforts in fighting fires. During the winter of 1921, the Pharr Volunteer Fire Department officially formed with J.E. Rogers as chief. During the next 10 years, the number of volunteers grew and the department organized into three companies: engine, chemical and hose. In 1928, the city comissioned assistant fire chief O.C. Brown to build the first fire station; a room in the rear of the building briefly served as city jail. Two years later, the fire department received a state charter. In the 1980s, as population grew in the Pharr, San Juan and Alamo area, a control room in the station enabled volunteers to respond to tri-city fire alarms. Citizens worked to preserve the original fire station when it faced demolition in 2001, and the city later built new facilities for the fire department. Historical marker text, 2006.  Marker location: 114 W Cherokee, Pharr.

First Pharr School.  Erected in 1911 as a one-story structure, this building housed the first school in Pharr. John Bales, the contractor, built a number of the town's early structures. Classes were held here until 1915, when enrollment had grown from nine students to almost 80. During that time, the building also served as a community church. In 1915 Pharr and San Juan joined to construct a two-story school on the east edge of Pharr. This structure was used for many years as a residence. It was remodeled as a convalescent center in 1949. Historical Marker text, 1985.  Marker location: 206 E. Cherokee, Pharr.

First Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School.  The common school district of Pharr and San Juan began construction of this school in 1915. First used for the 1916-1917 school year, its enrollment was 143, with twelve teachers and a graduating class of nine. The name was changed in 1919 to Pharr-San Juan Independent School District. Although the town of Alamo was also founded that year and contributed students to the school, the Alamo name was not officially added until 1959. In 1961 this became Jefferson Junior High. It was named Memorial Junior High in 1979 in honor of all Pharr-San Juan-Alamo veterans. Texas Sesquicentennial 1836-1986 Marker. Marker location: old US 83 at Fir Street, Pharr.

First Baptist Church of Pharr. This church was established by seven charter members in 1913. The Rev. A. J. Seale served as first pastor. Early worship services were held in a school building until 1916 when a sanctuary was built on land set aside by the Pharr Townsite Company. A Sunday School, youth organization, and Women's Missionary Society were organized. The congregation, which helped establish two local Hispanic churches, has added several facilities over the years. A new sanctuary was built here in 1994. First Baptist Church of Pharr continues to serve the area with a variety of outreach programs. Historical marker text, 1995.  Marker location: 400 W. Ridge Road, Pharr.

Eli Jackson Cemetery.  In 1857, Nathaniel Jackson came from Alabama and established a ranch in this area. A former slave owner, Jackson, who was white, came with his wife Matilda Hicks, who was black, their children and his freed slaves. On his 5,500-acre ranch, Jackson raised livestock and grew vegetables, cotton and sugarcane. He also established a chapel that served family and friends. He was known for his generosity and hospitality, and many, including runaway slaves, came to the ranch in need of lodging and other resources. Upon Jackson’s death in 1865, his heirs divided the property. The share to his son Eli included this site, the family cemetery. Eli and his wife, Elizabeth Kerr, and their children continued the family tradition of hospitality. Eli served a county official, as did his son Nathaniel “Polo” Jackson. Polo’s daughter Adela operated the ranch and cared for the cemetery until her death in 1992. Today, the Eli Jackson Cemetery represents the early area ranching communities. The burial ground is a tie to the Jackson family, and to their friends and neighbors from the past who share this as a final resting place. Historic Texas Cemetery, 2005.  Marker location: 7.4 mi. S on Doffin Rd. near Stewart Rd., Pharr.

Guadalupe Cemetery. This cemetery, named for Mexico's Patron Saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe, was established in 1913 as a public burial ground for residents of the Pharr Community. The Pharr townsite was laid out in 1909, and though ranch graveyards existed south of here, there were unavailable to newcomers. The earliest interment here, of Roberto de Leal, an infant, dates to 1913. Other burials include civic leaders, area pioneers and military veterans. The burial ground features religious statuary, curbing and interior fencing. The city of Pharr is the caretaker of the cemetery, and in 2003 joined volunteers of the Texas Main Street Program for a project to improve the burial ground. Historic Texas Cemetery, 2007. Marker location:  intersection of Bella & Canna Sts., Pharr.

Resources

Pharr Memorial Library
121 E Cherokee Ave
Pharr, TX 78577
Phone: (956) 787-3966  Website

Location

Pharr, TX 26° 11' 41.2656" N, 98° 11' 1.0392" W