Heritage, Summer 2005 Page: 19
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Electrical wiring, outlets, light fixtures,
plumbing and toilets, air conditioning,
insulation, ceilings, doors, and a security
system will be installed. Exhibits telling
the story of Donna and the mid-Valley
will be designed to maximize the elongated
layout of the building. Finally, Phase
III will renovate the facade and provide
landscaping for the small adjacent courtyard.
Restoration has proven feasible
because the museum board obtained the
support of city leaders, ownership of the
property, and enough funds to begin the
project, then took time to develop a
strategic plan. Public events and successful
fundraising projects have helped confirm
the integrity of the museum and
involve local residents.
The restored La Borde Hotel in Rio Grar
is now a centerpiece of the corn
Photographs on these two pages are c
of Mauro Villareal.
These accomplishments have not happened
without a few challenges, however.
Director Laura Lincoln functions as project
manager. "There is no sense of security
about finishing the project due to
breaks in funding. With overall responsibility,
I serve as banker, publicist,
accountant, and fundraiser. Most difficult
of all is raising the money and then waiting
for it to come in." However, Lincoln
added, "I give a lot of credit to our
patrons, the community, and our board of
directors. No restoration project can be
sustained without their support."
In Edinburg, the 1910 Hidalgo County
Jail, part of the Museum of South Texas
History, is not in danger of collapsing, but
parts of the brick building are deteriorat
ing. Because the water table lies only four
feet below the surface, masonry acts as a
wick for moisture, which is high in salt
content. "Rising damp," the condition of
moisture seeping upward through the
walls, is the result. Long ago, a thick coating
of cement was added to the exterior
walls of the jail building. The cement
holds moisture inside the walls and retards
evaporation, which then occurs on interior
walls. Both conditions leave a thin coat
of salt on wall surfaces. If untreated, rising
damp can weaken lower brick courses and
cause walls to buckle; salt damage is not
"Restoration of the jail building, which
also needs roof repairs, will take as long as
a year," states Tom A. Fort, assistant director.
"All exhibits will be removed from
the building. The archives,
occupying two floors in an
adjoining wing, will be left in
, place and sealed off from the
mechanical work. Public access
to the jail building will be limited.
Whatever renovation and
restoration work the museum
decides upon will be based on
our assessment of the building's
Coming full circle, this hisde
City toric tour of South Texas
munity. preservation ends where it
courtesy began in Rio Grande City.
Founded during the 1840s, the
city is home to the Rio Grande
City Historic District, which includes
628 historic properties. Many were
abandoned, neglected, and allowed to
deteriorate over many years. Although
rising damp also affects most of the
buildings, caliche blocks in foundations
and walls, plus brick construction, have
prevented fires and structural collapse.
Rio Grande City joined the Texas
Main Street Program in 2002, and Main
Street Manager Mauro Villarreal (no
relation to Adelina Villarreal) sees the
trend of neglect turning around.
Seventy-five buildings are high priorities
for restoration, and 17 have already benefited
from the program. Restored structures
are now in use both as businesses
and private homes.
The city's first historic restoration
project was the La Borde House. Built in
1877 and added on to until 1917 by
Francois La Borde, the structure housed
his living quarters and mercantile business.
In 1982, Larry Sherrin bought and
refurbished the building in grand
Victorian-era style. Listed on the
National Register of Historic Places, the
La Borde House is presently used as a
hotel and restaurant.
In 2001, the National Trust for Historic
Preservation designated Rio Grande City
as one of America's Most Endangered
Historic Places. Four short years later, the
town has experienced a rebirth. This year,
the historic district was nominated to the
National Register of Historic Places,
joined the rejuvenated Texas Tropical
Trail program, and received recognition
by the Texas Department of Agriculture
(under the Texas Yes! Program) as a
Texas Hard Working Community.
Mauro Villarreal understands his city.
"Local residents know that once these
buildings are gone, they are lost forever.
When that happens, a part of our heritage
and culture also goes. That pride has made
our job of preservation in Rio Grande City
much easier, and interest is still high."
Villarreal added that the preservation
process "must be a grassroots effort where
visible changes and completed projects
bring about a sense of curiosity and envy. I
guess it is human nature not to be outdone
by your neighbor."
Aside from the constant need for funds,
restoration requires an understanding of
long-term benefit. "Buy-in" is critical
because restoration demands creative
funding and great effort from a limited
number of people over a long period of
time. Because fewer historic preservation
professionals and resources are available in
rural areas, there is a greater reliance upon
state and federal help.
However, increasing community awareness
of the value of historic properties
leads to constructive, innovative, and
profitable re-use-powerful threads in the
tapestry of historic preservation.*
Karen Gerhardt Fort is an author and museum
consultant from Edinburg.
HERITAGE SUMMER 2005
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Summer 2005, periodical, Summer 2005; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45369/m1/19/: accessed April 20, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.