San Juan, TX

By: Alicia A. Garza

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: November 1, 1995

San Juan is on Farm Road 1426 and State Highway Spur 374, about six miles northeast of McAllen in south central Hidalgo County. The townsite is on land that was part of two Spanish grants made in 1767 to Narciso Cabazos and to José María Ballí. The grantees and their heirs occupied the land well into the 1850s, most likely working as subsistence farmers and cattle and sheep ranchers. San Juan was organized in 1909 by John Closner and was reportedly named for him. The town was incorporated on December 29, 1917, and in 1918 a school building was built there; previously classes had been held in the homes of local residents. The Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District, established on March 24, 1919, encompassed all of the schools in San Juan. In 1922 the city invested $42,000 for a new waterworks, and in 1924 a cotton compress, a cannery, and a cotton gin were constructed there. The population was estimated at 1,203 in 1925. In 1945 San Juan had the largest plant in the South for the manufacture of concrete pipe for irrigation drainage; at that time it also had citrus fruit and vegetable packing houses, a shippers' equipment manufacturing plant, and an iron foundry. The community was also known as the home of the Bougainvillea Trail of Texas. In 1945 the community reported forty-seven businesses and a population of 2,264. The Virgen de San Juan del Valle Shrine was constructed there in 1954 and immediately attracted many pilgrims and tourists. The community's population was estimated at 4,371 in 1960. During the mid-1960s the town reported ten churches, three schools, two hospitals, a library, a bank, a newspaper, and a new shopping center. In 1972 the town reported eighty businesses and a population of 5,070.

San Juan made international headlines when, on October 23, 1970, Francis B. Alexander smashed a rented single-engine plane into the Virgen de San Juan del Valle Shrine. He had reportedly radioed a warning that all Methodist and Catholic churches in the lower Rio Grande Valley should be evacuated, then twenty minutes later struck the Shrine, which at the time was occupied by more than 130 people. Two priests were able to save the statue of the Virgin, but damages to the Shrine were estimated at $1.5 million and were a devastating blow to the community. A mass effort was initiated to reconstruct the church. San Juan continued to grow and by 1980 had an estimated population of 7,083 and seventy-four businesses. In April 1980 San Juan again made international headlines when the new Shrine was dedicated; the televised ceremonies were shown nationally on the Spanish Information Network. In 1992 San Juan reported a population of 10,815. Its economy was based primarily on agriculture and commerce; visitors to the Shrine were also important to the community. In 2000 the population reached 26,229.

Guide to Spanish and Mexican Land Grants in South Texas (Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1988). W. Clyde Norris, History of Hidalgo County (M.A. thesis, Texas College of Arts and Industries, 1924). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
  • Communities

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

Alicia A. Garza, “San Juan, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 07, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1995

San Juan
Currently Exists
Place Type
Town Fields
  • Has post office: Yes
  • Is Incorporated: Yes
Belongs to
  • Hidalgo County
  • Latitude: 26.19087500°
  • Longitude: -98.15179000°
Population Counts
People Year
1,203 1920
1,615 1930
2,264 1940
3,413 1950
4,371 1960
5,070 1970
7,608 1980
12,561 1990
26,229 2000
33,856 2010
38,110 2019