Mission, TX

By: Dick D. Heller, Jr.

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: June 20, 2020

Mission, known as the "tourist mecca of South Texas," is in southwestern Hidalgo County on U.S. Highway 83, the Missouri Pacific line, and State Highway 107. It is 3½ miles north of the Rio Grande, four miles northeast of Anzalduas County Park, five miles northeast of Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Scenic Park, and twenty-three miles northwest of Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. It is midway between the beaches of South Padre Island and International Falcon Reservoir. Mission lies between 100 and 143 feet above sea level in the wide agricultural delta of the Rio Grande. It is known as the home of the grapefruit. For nearly 250 years the descendants of the original Spanish settlers in this area have ranched the huge porciones-oblong blocks of land nine-thirteenths of a mile wide at the Rio Grande and extending up to sixteen miles north. The settlement of La Lomita (see LA LOMITA MISSION) began in the area with a small chapel built by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Land surrounding the chapel was deeded to Oblate fathers Pierre Yves Keralum and Pierre Fourrier Parisot. The town was first located at La Lomita chapel and was built about 1865 on the farm that later became the mission.

The city of Mission was founded in 1907, when John J. Conway and J. W. Holt purchased the 17,000-acre La Lomita Ranch from the Oblate fathers, along with 10,000 acres from John Closner and James B. Wells, and began to sell tracts to settlers arriving in the area. The Missouri Pacific line was extended from Brownsville in 1904 but stopped at Mamie, which lay 5½ miles from La Lomita by way of a terrible mud road. A new station and railroad siding, along with a gift of twenty acres of irrigated land, enticed the railroad to move its agent from the community of Sam Fordyce to a site called Mission, to which the new settlement moved also. On December 8, 1908, the post office was moved to the railroad site, where it was renamed Mission because there was already another post office called Lomita in Texas. A local school was established in 1908, and a pharmacy was built. A newspaper and a hotel were in operation at Mission by 1909, and the city incorporated in 1910. Irrigation allowed the fields to produce three crops a year, drawing farmers to the area. Beginning around 1910 citrus fruit culture was started there, and John H. Shary rebuilt the local irrigation system and sold small irrigated citrus farms. He founded the community of Sharyland and its school, helped develop the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, and financed the local newspaper. In the 1930s oil was discovered nearby, contributing to the area's growth. In 1941 Shary and other businessmen bought land northwest of Mission for an air base and then sold it at cost to the United States government. From 1941 to 1946 there were always about 3,000 men in training at Moore Air Force Base. Many trainees and their families returned to Mission after World War II, when the base became Tri-Cities Airport and then the Weaver H. Baker Memorial Tuberculosis Center (see SAN ANTONIO STATE CHEST HOSPITAL). The air field was reactivated in 1953 for the Korean War, and more than 4,000 pilots were trained before the base finally closed again in 1960. In 1962 the United States Department of Agriculture developed half the base into a biological pest-control center.

The Mission area population reached 2,000 by 1915 and 5,982 by 1940. The population nearly doubled during World War II, reaching 10,756 by 1950. It rose to 14,081 by 1960, but dropped to 13,043 by 1970. Growth in tourism and in the numbers of "winter Texans"-residents of colder climates who winter in Texas-led to the building of seventy-four trailer or motor home courts, with a total of 10,000 spots; the population of Mission had risen to 22,589 by 1980. At that time the city had three main areas-south Mission, historically Hispanic; north-central Mission, mainly third-generation settlers and retirees; and Sharyland, the northeastern part of the city (adjacent to McAllen), which served as a bedroom community for employees of nearby industries and large farms.

In the late 1980s Mission had seven Catholic churches, several Baptist churches, a number of independent conservative Christian churches, and several Methodist and Presbyterian churches. It had two Christian schools. Two public school systems, the Mission consolidated and the Sharyland independent school districts, served 12,000 students. At that time most residents of Mission tended to vote for members of the Democratic party, though the Sharyland district tended to vote Republican. Elections for city government were nonpartisan. In the late 1980s the principal cultural organizations in Mission-in addition to those of various church groups-included the Mission Historical Society, the Friends of Mission, a chapter of the International Good Neighbor Council, the Xochil Art and Culture Center, the Two-Banger Museum, the Pan American Round Table, the Mission Service Project, and the Nature Club. Mission also had posts of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Catholic War Veterans. The annual December Tourist Fest in the second week of December typically had more than forty squares of dancers-including country clogging, Mexican Ballet Folklorico, and mariachi music dancers-and a poinsettia show, along with the annual meeting of the American Poinsettia Society (headquartered in Mission). The Citrus Fiesta began in 1932 and in the 1980s was held in the last week in January; it salutes the Ruby Red and Star Ruby grapefruits. Also in the 1980s, the home and chapel of John H. Shary and the home of William Jennings Bryan (three-time candidate for President), though both privately owned, could be viewed from Shary Road and Mile Two Road. The movie She Came to the Valley, by Mission author Cleo Dawson, was filmed nearby and released in 1978. La Lomita Chapel and St. Peter's Novitiate, parts of the Oblate mission founded in 1877, were three miles south of town.

In October 1909 The Missionate newspaper, which later became the Mission Times, was founded by R. A. Jeffreys. Other papers included a regional newspaper, South Texas Agri NEWS; a seasonal publication, the Winter Texas Times; and the weekly Progress Times. By the late twentieth century a number of trucking companies provided daily motor freight service, while major airline service and charter, air-freight, and air-ambulance service were available from Miller International Airport, six miles away. Mission had many growing housing additions. Architecture was varied, but most homes were a single story, with no basement. Many were Spanish style and enclosed by fences. The tropical climate fostered use of a wide variety of palms and other exotic trees in landscaping. Historical homes were maintained by the Mission Historical Society, in cooperation with the Hidalgo County Historical Commission and the County Historical Society. In 1990 the population of Mission was 28,653, and the combined population of the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metropolitan area was 383,545. The city's population rose dramatically in 2000 to 45,408

James Lewellyn Allhands, Railroads to the Rio (Salado, Texas: Anson Jones Press, 1960). Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936–58; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Sonja E. Jahrsdoerfer and David M. Leslie, Jr., Tamaulipan Brushland of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of South Texas (Washington: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, 1988). Emilia Schunior Ramirez, Ranch Life in Hidalgo County after 1850 (Edinburg, Texas: New Santander, 1971). Florence J. Scott, Historical Heritage of the Lower Rio Grande (San Antonio: Naylor, 1937; rev. ed., Waco: Texian, 1966; rpt., Rio Grande City, Texas: La Retama Press, 1970). Valley Morning Star, January 1, 1988. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Mrs. James Watson, The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas and Its Builders (Mission, Texas, 1931).


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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Dick D. Heller, Jr., “Mission, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed October 20, 2021, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/mission-tx.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 20, 2020