Laredo, Texas (population 250,000), a colonial city of New Spain, was initially named San Agustin de Laredo. In 1755, Captain Tomás Sánchez, along with three families, was granted permission to settle 15 leagues of land near an Indian ford on the north bank of the Rio Grande. The Sanchez estate ran cattle, sheep, goats, horses, mules, and oxen. In 1767, the city was laid out, and ranching became the sustenance of the community. Since no missions or presidios were associated with its founding, Laredo is considered the oldest independent settlement in Texas, and is the only remaining Spanish colonial settlement on the north bank of the Rio Grande.
The first Texas cattle drives took place along the San Antonio-Laredo road to Saltillo in the 18th century, and Laredo became an important frontier outpost on the lower Camino Real, or King’s Road. The settlement became a Mexican city in 1821 when Mexico gained its independence from Spain. Trading became important to the local economy during the 1800s; wool and hides were traded south in exchange for food and household necessities. Agriculture, especially raising onions, was important from the 1890s until WWII, and petroleum and natural gas ventures became significant in the early 1900s and again in the 1970s.
The Republic of Texas, which won its independence from Mexico in 1836, attempted to claim Laredo. Many from Laredo supported the constitutional convention which created the short-lived Republic of the Rio Grande, uniting parts of northern Mexico and South Texas, in 1840. Laredo became the capital of the new republic, which, after several skirmishes with the Mexican army, came to an end after only 283 days. After the defeat, Laredo’s citizens remained loyal to Mexico. In 1845, the annexation of Texas by the United States led to war with Mexico. At the war’s end, the Rio Grande was declared the boundary between the United States and Mexico, and Laredo officially became a part of Texas. Those who wanted to retain their Mexican citizenship moved across the river and named their community Nuevo Laredo. Over the years, Laredo has been governed under seven flags. Its history is reflected in the names of its downtown streets, which alternate between Mexican and American heroes.
Laredo is today the county seat of Webb County, the principal port of entry into Mexico, and the largest inland port in the United States. One of the fastest growing cities in the nation, its historic heart has benefitted from careful planning and adaptive reuse. One recent project involved a Mexican colonial home known as Casa Ortiz (1830), a Texas Historic Landmark now used as the downtown campus of Texas A&M International University; offices related to downtown economic development; an event venue; and a museum.
Many of Laredo’s historic treasures are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Barrio Azteca Historic District, Fort McIntosh, the San Agustin de Laredo Historic District, and the U.S. Post Office, Court House, and Custom House. Laredo hosts the largest and oldest George Washington Birthday Celebration in the country and is the setting for the famous cowboy song, “The Streets of Laredo.” The City works with community partners, including Laredo Main Street, the Webb County Heritage Foundation, downtown property owners, merchants, and residents to revitalize the historic downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods. Laredo is a Certified Local Government, participates in the Texas Heritage Trails program and the Los Caminos del Rio Grande National Historic Trail program, and offers walking and trolley tours tying together several museums and other heritage sites.
Designated a Preserve America Community in January 2011.