The Museum of South Texas History is located in downtown Edinburg, Texas, at 200 North Closner Boulevard. The cornerstone of the museum complex was originally the Hidalgo County jail (referred to today as the 1910 jail). In 1908 the citizens of Hidalgo County voted to move the county seat from the river town of Hidalgo to the newly-established, inland town of Chapin. (A few years later, in 1911, the city changed its name to Edinburg.) Among the first buildings constructed were a new county courthouse and a county jail. Both opened in 1910. Like the courthouse, the jail was designed in the Spanish Mission Revival style with stucco-covered brick walls and a tile roof. Atop the corner tower, which contained the gallows, was an open cupola. Outgrown after ten years, the building was replaced as the county jail by a larger facility nearby.
Through the 1920s and 1930s Edinburg became a lively hub of economic activity for the surrounding ranching and farming communities. The former jail served the growing city in a number of ways—first as a community meeting place, then as Edinburg’s city hall. In addition it housed the volunteer fire department and by the 1950s the police department as well. In the early 1960s the city departments moved to new, larger facilities, and the 1910 jail stood vacant. Then, under the leadership of Margaret H. McAllen and other citizens, the newly-organized Hidalgo County Historical Museum acquired the 1910 jail as its home. After renovation it opened to the public on April 19, 1970.
The museum’s successful growth brought expansion in the form of a north wing, constructed as a Bicentennial project in 1976–77. In the 2010s that wing housed the Margaret H. McAllen Memorial Archives. In 1988 the still-growing museum bought an adjacent building (a one-time H-E-B grocery store) as an annex to house administrative offices, collections, and a large exhibition gallery. In the most recent expansion, a large two-story building was constructed in 2001–02. Featuring Spanish Colonial Revival architecture (with an eighty-foot tower surmounted by a cupola, echoing the 1910 jail’s design), this main building has permanent exhibits about regional history, along with a collection storage area, the museum store, and a soaring “Grand Lobby.”
With the opening of the main building, the institution changed its name to the Museum of South Texas History (MOSTHistory) to better reflect its regional mission: to preserve and present the borderland heritage of South Texas and Northeastern Mexico.
To tell about the region’s history the museum has three main long-term exhibit areas under the overall title of Rio Grande Legacy. River Frontier, the first section, takes visitors from geological origins through Spanish Colonial settlement and Mexico’s War of Independence. River Highway presents the nineteenth century, from the republics of Mexico and Texas through the Mexican War, the steamboat era, the Civil War cotton trade, and the cattle kingdom of the late 1800s. Located in the annex is the third section, River Crossroads; it details the twentieth century, mainly in the Rio Grande Valley, from railroads and irrigated farming through the Mexican Revolution, the 1920s and 1930s, World War II, and Post-War era to the end of the twentieth century. Adjacent to the River Crossroads is a permanent exhibit dedicated to the memory of Sgt. Alfredo “Freddy” Gonzales, an Edinburg native who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously for valor in Vietnam, during the battle of Hue City early in 1968.
Along with its buildings, the museum has developed its outdoor areas as well. A “Heritage Courtyard” connecting the original jail-and-archive-wing with the 1988 annex was opened in 1993. In 2008 MOSTHistory dedicated Will Looney Legacy Park, in memory of the son of Cullen and Carol Lynn Looney, longtime supporters and trustees of the museum. A wooden Eclipse windmill was donated to the park by James A. McAllen, a museum founder and son of Margaret H. McAllen, in honor of the region’s deep-rooted ranching heritage and the early vaqueros who built South Texas. Most recent of the museum’s major projects is the preservation of the historic 1910 jail. Built along with the now-demolished courthouse and several other brick structures, the jail is one of the few surviving buildings from the earliest days of Edinburg. Following a 2006 master plan, roof repairs were carried out first. The remaining steps, including moisture barriers to stop rising damp, were scheduled to begin in 2017, with completion scheduled for 2018. The refurbished 1910 jail, a Registered Texas Historical Landmark, will house exhibits that include the hanging room (used once, in 1913) and changing exhibitions.