Brownsville (population 167,493), county seat of Cameron County, was founded in 1848 near the site where the first battle of the Mexican-American War had been fought two years earlier. The town was named for Major Jacob Brown, who was killed during the opening days of that conflict.
Located on the Rio Grande River near the Gulf of Mexico, Brownsville became a major port for the shipment of cotton and other goods. Strategically important, the community changed hands several times during the Civil War. The war’s last battle was fought at nearby Palmito Ranch—five weeks after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.
During the late 19th century, U.S. government troops, state militia, and Texas rangers were stationed in the area to control raids by bandits, Mexican revolutionaries, and American outlaws. Despite such lawlessness, the community continued to grow, and the advent of the St. Louis, Brownsville, and Mexico Railroad in 1904 helped to cement the city’s prosperity.
Erection of a bridge in 1909 across the Rio Grande to neighboring Matamoras, Mexico, further promoted trade. For 70 years, Brownsville and Matamoros have celebrated their shared heritage during the annual Charro Days festival.
In 2006, Brownsville created the Downtown Revitalization Advisory Committee (DRAC) to help promote renewal in the community’s historic downtown core. DRAC has become a clearinghouse for preservation and heritage tourism efforts. DRAC has supported numerous preservation projects and will be helping to shape Brownsville’s new comprehensive plan, which is currently under development.
Designated a Preserve America Community in March 2007.