Heritage, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2000 Page: 16
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Valley Citrus Pioneer, John H. Shary
BY S. ZULEMA SILVA-BEWLEY
One of the leading entrepreneurs of
the Lower Rio Grande Valley during the
early 20th century was John H. Shary.
Noted journalist Ernie Pyle once described
Shary as a promoter who "got to
believing his own spiels," and Pyle was
probably right. Not only was Shary an
avid promoter of the Valley, but he was
the man responsible for much of the citrus
production in Hidalgo County.
John H. Shary arrived in the Valley
in 1912. By the time of his death in
1945, he had developed thousands of
acres of irrigated land and ventured successfully
into banking, newspaper publishing,
and politics. He had commercialized
the citrus industry, selling fruit
under the brand name "TEXASWEET."
Shary had also organized the Texas Citrus
Fruit Growers Exchange and established
the Valley's first grapefruit juicing
Long before he arrived in the Valley,
Shary's knack for enterprise had been
keenly sharpened. He was born on a
farm near Wilber, Nebraska,
to immigrant parents. Shary's
first paying job was washing
bottles at a drugstore in
Crete, Nebraska, during his
high school years. At the age
of 18 he became a registered
pharmacist owning an interest
in three drugstores, but
after a few years he left the
pharmaceutical business to
work as a salesman for a San
Francisco lumber company.
It was during his travels
across the country with this
company that he began to seriously
consider engaging in
His first venture in this
area occurred between 1900
and 1904 when he and some
Texas friends decided to buy
a 30,000-acre ranch south of
San Antonio for $50,000.
Within three years they had
sold 23,000 acres of it at $100,000 profit.
Then, with partner George H. Paul, Shary
bought and developed about 268,000 acres
of ranch land near Corpus Christi.
In 1911, Shary and Paul began running
out of land in the Corpus Christi area, and
before long they split as partners. It was also
during this time that someone suggested
Shary go to the Valley in search of land.
When Shary arrived in the Valley he was
struck by the quality of the soil and the
grapefruit that grew on about a half dozen
one-acre orchards in "backyards" at the
time. He was so enthusiastic about the fruit
that before he returned to Nebraska, he
purchased 10,000 Valley acres, which he
quickly sold as farm land.
In the next 10 years, Shary bought several
tracts in the McAllen-Mission area.
Under his direction, much of these 49,000+
acres (generally referred to as Sharyland)
became the most highly developed citrus
land in the Valley.
Shary married Mary E. O'Brien in 1922.
The Sharys never had any children, but
John Shary as Citrus Festival royalty;
image from The University of Texas-Pan
American Library, Special Collections.
they adopted Marialice, one of Mary's
nieces from Elkhorn, Nebraska. In 1937,
Marialice married Allan Shivers who
served as lieutenant governor of Texas
from 1946-1949 and as governor from
Shary has'been given mucY credit for
the economic development of the Valley
during the first part of the 20th century.
At the time of his death, Senator
Tom Connally sent a telegram to the
Mission Times, which read in part:
"In the death of John H. Shary the
State has suffered a grevious [sic] loss. He
was an outstanding figure in the business
and economic life of Texas. His success
was entwined with the advancement and
development of the Magic Rio Grande
Valley but in a larger way with the economic
and business development of the
What started off as a gamble for Shary
paid off. He invested not only his money,
but much of his life in the Valley. He
began construction of his immense house
on Shary Boulevard only two years after
his arrival in the Valley. Perhaps this
single act speaks more clearly to the fact
that Shary loved this part of the country
and had great faith in its potential for
The remains of Shary and his wife,
who passed away in 1959, are resting in
a small private chapel across the street
from the former Shary home in
Sharyland. The caskets lie above ground
and are surrounded by stained-glass windows
depicting Valley life. Beautiful
ebony trees surround the chapel, and
beyond them one can see a large citrus
grove like the many that covered the area
during Shary's lifetime.
Zulema-Bewley lives in Mission and received
her master's degree from the University of
Texas Pan American.
HERITAGE * 16 * SPRING 2000
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 18, Number 2, Spring 2000, periodical, Spring 2000; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45390/m1/16/: accessed May 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.