Val Verde County Historical Commission

Val Verde County Historical Commission

Downtown Area Walking Tour

 

Main Street
The street was first named Perry Street after John Perry, one of Del Rio’s earliest merchants, and originally only ran through what are now the 800-1200 blocks along the very southernmost end of the modern street. The railroad platted the area north of town with its center street called Broadway. As the town grew, Perry Street was extended northward, but then the street had to veer west to connect to Broadway. Once connected, the whole was renamed Main Street. The railroad tracks divide South Main from North Main. Del Rio was named a Main Street City in 2002. Look for historical markers which are noted with italics in the text.

1.  Old Del Rio Railroad Depot
The Union Pacific Railroad tracks form the northern boundary of the Main Street District. The Galveston, Harrisburg & San Antonio RR (as part of the Southern Pacific RR) built the rail line into Del Rio in 1882. The original wooden depot was replaced in 1929 by the brick depot which now houses City offices. The Bus Depot now occupies the site of the wooden depot. The old freight depot, built in the 1920s and still used by the UPRR, stands on the east side of South Main. Other facilities, including a roundhouse, toolsheds, and fuel tanks, are no longer standing. And while only two sets of train tracks cross Main Street, at least eight sets crossed the street in the railroad’s heyday. Several American Presidents—including Harrison, McKinley, and Taft—visited Del Rio in the late 1800s riding this very important rail line. A public parking lot sits on the west side of the Depot.

2.  Club Café Building
Constructed by Italian stonemason John Taini, the structure is over a century old. Across Ogden St. from the Depot, this two-story, stone construction housed a 24-hour café which was popular with railroad men finishing their runs and high school students following Friday night football games. Taini was a leader of Del Rio’s Italian Colony and the builder of many historic Del Rio structures. Much of Main Street from here south has street parking available.

The old wooden depot is surrounded by a welcoming crowd about 1910; the Club Café Building is on the right.
The old wooden depot is surrounded by a welcoming crowd about 1910; the Club Café Building is on the right.

3.  Henson Hotel Building
Now Wipff’s Furniture, the Henson Hotel Building, on the 200 block of South Main, is one of the few survivors of the numerous hotels that once dotted central Del Rio. The Val Verde Hotel, Frank’s Hotel (once directly across the street), and most of the others were demolished as passenger railroad traffic diminished.

4. Laughlin Heritage Foundation Museum
The LHF has opened its Museum at 307 South Main showcasing the history of the Air Force operations in Val Verde County, particularly the famous U-2 spy planes that were based here during the Cold War.

5.  Old Federal Building
This structure at South Main and Broadway once housed the United States post office and federal courthouse and is now owned by Val Verde County, housing two state courts inside its wonderful Spanish Mission style construction.

The Old Federal Building was built in 1912.
The Old Federal Building was built in 1912.

6.  City Hall
Half a block west of South Main Street at 109 West Broadway stands City Hall built in 1960. The first city government started in 1905, but it was disbanded. The second city government was started in 1911. The current city charter calls for a council-manager form of administration. Administrative offices, including the Mayor’s and City Manager’s, are now housed here. "City of Del Rio" stands in front of City Hall.

7.  Hyman Building
This two-story building on the northeast corner of South Main and Garfield was once home to Joseph Hyman "Dealer in a Little of Anything" and is one of the oldest buildings in Del Rio, built by John Taini about 1889.

8.  Old City Hall
Facing Garfield on the 100 block east, the Old City Hall Building now houses the Del Rio Council for the Arts. Built in 1924 as city hall, mayor’s office, tax office, fire station, police department and jail, the building is used for art exhibitions and classes.

Garfield Avenue
Named for slain U.S. President James A. Garfield, this street runs through the middle of downtown Del Rio between the railroad-oriented, industrial portion of downtown and the locally-oriented, commercial retail portion of downtown to the south. North of Garfield was warehouses, hotels, & the railroad facilities; south of Garfield was (and is) a retail and service business area.

Dr. Brinkley produced this 1930s picture postcard of the Roswell, with a few additions made to the image.  (The Brinkley sign was never on the building.)
Dr. Brinkley produced this 1930s picture postcard of the Roswell, with a few additions made to the image. (The Brinkley sign was never on the building.)

9.  Old Roswell Hotel
One block west of South Main on Garfield stands one of Del Rio’s tallest landmarks, the Roswell Hotel. Built in the 1920s and once advertised as the only air-conditioned hotel in Del Rio, the structure now houses shops on the ground floor and is owned by the Del Rio Housing Authority for residences on the upper floors. During the 1930s, Dr. Brinkley used two upper floors for his nationally-known "rejuvenation" clinic.

10.  Greenwood Park
Del Rio’s first city park, named for donors Frank and Mary O. Greenwood, dates to 1914. Refugees fleeing the Mexican Revolution camped here during the 1910s. A bandstand was built during the First World War, and the park is used for craft shows and public events today.

11.  Del Rio National Bank Building
Del Rio National now occupies the whole 500 block of South Main. The Bank is Del Rio’s oldest, chartered in 1904. This six-story landmark was built by First National Bank just as the Great Depression hit. FNB closed its doors, and Del Rio National moved into the property.

The Del Rio National Bank Building is prominent on the left, and the Old Federal Building is on the upper right.  Many of the buildings in between have been razed.
The Del Rio National Bank Building is prominent on the left, and the Old Federal Building is on the upper right. Many of the buildings in between have been razed.

12.  Warner Building
Another John Taini work, the Warner Building on the northeast corner of Main and Losoya is one of the few works that the builder signed (above the doorway on the Losoya side). General stores, furniture shops, and clothing retailers have occupied the ground floor, while professional service offices once occupied the upstairs.

Val Verde County’s courthouse lost the fancy turrets during the 1915 renovation which added a complete third floor to the building.  The trees have grown over the years and now shade the square nicely.
Val Verde County’s courthouse lost the fancy turrets during the 1915 renovation which added a complete third floor to the building. The trees have grown over the years and now shade the square nicely.

13A-B.  Val Verde County Courthouse & Old County Jail
The Val Verde County Courthouse is found one block east of Main at Pecan & Losoya Streets. Val Verde County was organized in 1885, and our courthouse completed in 1888. In recent years, a preservation effort has modernized the office technology inside while restoring the historic façade. The Old Jail Building on the northeast corner of courthouse square was completed earlier in 1886, and the stonework for both buildings was done by the Italians: Paul Commali, John Taini, and G.B. Cassinelli. The Courthouse was heightened from two stories to three in 1915 and still houses county offices. Look for "Val Verde County Courthouse Square" and "Camp Hudson, C.S.A.," and a National Register of Historic Places plaque.

14A-C.  Around Courthouse Square
Around the Courthouse are several historic buildings including 14A Old Methodist Church Building (built in 1904 by Taini to the west, 14B Old Elks Hall (built 1916) to the north with "Old Elks Hall" mounted near the Pecan Street entrance, and 14C Old Sacred Heart Catholic Church Building (built in 1895 by Taini, and rebuilt & enlarged in 1929 by Taini again) with "Sacred Heart Catholic Church" mounted near the entrance facing Mill Street and "John Taini" on that corner. A now-demolished building next to the Old Elks Hall once served as a hospital and City Hall. Several automotive dealerships and repair shops once operated nearby. A public parking lot sits north of Courthouse.

15.  First United Methodist Church
This congregation dates to 1882, as the community was going with the arrival of the railroad from San Antonio. Pafford Street in southern Del Rio is named for an early member who donated a lot for the first (wooden) chapel. This third chapel, on Spring Street, was constructed in 1931. (The cornerstone from 14A is next to the cornerstone of this chapel.) Look for a historical marker for the congregation.

16.  Val Verde County Library
The County Library at 300 Spring Street is housed in a 1964 structure that replaced an old chapel that had served the Presbyterian Church before being recycled into the Library. The Library circulates books in English and Spanish, provides computers with internet access, and houses a local history collection.

17.  Glenn-Dowe House
The County Library at 300 Spring Street is housed in a 1964 structure that replaced an old chapel that had served the Presbyterian Church before being recycled into the Library. The Library circulates books in English and Spanish, provides computers with internet access, and houses a local history collection.

18.  Woolworth Building
This was one of the first properties built by Jewish immigrant Max Stool. The Woolworth Building (700 South Main on the corner with Greenwood Street) is one of the early brick buildings that replaced many of downtown’s older wood and adobe buildings in the 1920s. A county marker sits in the front window.

The 700 block of South Main has many of Del Rio’s landmark buildings and oldest businesses.  Woolworth’s is on the left and the Old Del Rio National Bank Building is on the right.
The 700 block of South Main has many of Del Rio’s landmark buildings and oldest businesses. Woolworth’s is on the left and the Old Del Rio National Bank Building is on the right.

19.  Old Del Rio National Bank Building
Across Main Street is one of Alfred Giles’ last works, the Old Del Rio National Bank Building. Giles was an English immigrant to San Antonio whose architectural skill was known across Texas. More than a dozen of his buildings have been awarded Texas Historical Commission markers. "Old Del Rio National Bank Building" is mounted near the corner entrance.

20.  The Guarantee
Max Stool came to America, then to Del Rio in 1904. Stool’s Store grew and became the Guarantee, a Del Rio institution. Max and Anna Stool also custom-built properties for major national chain stores during the 1920s. The Guarantee closed after a run of 98 years. A historical plaque is affixed to the storefront.

21.  Kress Building
Del Rio’s Kress Building architecture was an example of the “artistic expression” that became part of the store’s marketing with the “signature storefront.” The storefront was known across the US, but the third story on our building is rare on this style. (Watch the façade glow in the light of the setting sun.) The hardwood floors, iron supporting columns and pressed-tin ceilings are preserved intact. The Kress Building was built by Max Stool in 1927, and the Kress stayed open into the 1990s.

This picture postcard shows Main Street (looking northward along the 700 block) at mid-century—and shows the Kress Building and old Rita Theater.
This picture postcard shows Main Street (looking northward along the 700 block) at mid-century—and shows the Kress Building and old Rita Theater.

22.  Paul Poag Theater
This building, dating to the 1880s, was originally the Ware Building, a two-story general store that housed several stores and had a camping ground out back for ranchers in town overnight for shopping and business. Just before the Second World War, Paul Poag, Del Rio’s theater entrepreneur, added a story and converted the building to an art deco façade Rita Theater. In the 1970s, Poag’s widow gave the building to the City of Del Rio for live theatrical performances.

23.  Old Montgomery Ward Building
This was built in 1929 by Max Stool for Montgomery Ward as that mail-order business expanded into storefront businesses. The icon near the roofline is a Ward’s symbol called the "Spirit of Progress." Ward’s moved out in the 1950s, and the building has been occupied by various department and clothing stores.

Max Stool built the Montgomery Ward Building in 1929.
Max Stool built the Montgomery Ward Building in 1929.

24.  Madre Canal
Del Rio exists as a result of its canal system. The main channel, the Madre Canal, diverts water from San Felipe Creek into the heart of the town. Canal Street is named for the canal that now flows under the sidewalk on the north side of the street. While much of the canal is covered, it reemerges between South Main and Griner Streets. The canal heading south along Griner is St. Mary’s Canal which waters South Del Rio (along with two others between the Creek and South Main Street). The Madre Canal continues westward and splits into two other canals. "Canal System of Del Rio" stands at the northeast corner of Griner and Canal Streets.

25.  Stool Home
Max Stool and his family immigrated to the US from the Russian Empire during the years before and after 1900. Some of the family migrated to Chicago, and some to Texas. Max was heading for California, but stopped off in Del Rio and stayed for half a century. Two other brothers, Nathan and David, came to Del Rio as well. Max built several downtown landmarks and operated the Guarantee, a popular landmark department store. Nathan moved to far west Texas, but David operated the Star Store on the corner of South Main and Canal Street. Both stores remained in at the core of the community for decades. A historical marker for "Max and Anna Stool" stands in front of the house.

26.  Price-Woods Home
This house is likely the oldest wooden structure in town, having been built in 1907. Belle Josephine (Price) Woods designed the house. Her father owned a lumber yard, and her mother gave this lot as a wedding present to Belle and her husband W.G. Lee Woods. His parents owned an early Del Rio bank. Gordon Park in South Del Rio (at the end of South Main Street, along Nicholson Road) is named for Belle’s sister Annie Gordon and her children.

27.  Roach-McLymont Store
"When in Del Rio Visit Roach’s…The Largest Department Store in Southwest Texas." Roach-McLymont, often remembered as Roach’s, started in the Ware Building in the 1880s. The store sold everything: clothing, hardware, ranching supplies, fuel, and groceries. It moved to this larger site around the turn of the century and served Del Rio for decades. Beall’s moved in during the 1960s, and the Southwest School of Business occupies it today.

Ranchers across Southwest Texas bought their gear and supplies at Roach’s, which carried everything a person might want to purchase.
Ranchers across Southwest Texas bought their gear and supplies at Roach’s, which carried everything a person might want to purchase.  Note the floor-to-ceiling glass windows in the old Roach’s.

28.  Model Bakery and Seeger’s Bakery
Next to Roach’s, this structure once housed bakeries that loomed large in the hearts and taste buds of Del Rio. The one-story stone structure was built about 1898, housed the Model Bakery beginning 1906, and housed Seeger’s beginning in the 1940s.  The Bakery closed in 1985, and years later, Del Rioans still sigh over the loss of those fresh-baked cream puffs.

29.  Ross Building with The Emporium
The Ross Building is named for Dr. H.B. Ross, an early physician and pharmacist. Established in 1898, the drug store operated for many years.  The building housed other stores until the current owners, descendants of Dr. Ross, bought the property, restored it, and opened the Emporium, an ice cream parlor and gift shop.

The Ross Building is one of the Main Street District’s oldest structures, and it has been nicely restored.
The Ross Building is one of the Main Street District’s oldest structures, and it has been nicely restored.

30.  Cadena Blacksmith Shop
Blacksmithing was a family trade among the Cadenas, and Cadena Blacksmith lasted more years than most, surviving the transition from horses to automobiles. The shop was established on Canal Street, half a block east of South Main, in the 1920s. After horses were no longer used, the Shop continued to produce tools, knives and branding irons, some of which were tested on the walls of the Shop.

 

History of Del Rio and Val Verde County

The community of San Felipe Del Rio began in 1868 as a farming village built around the canal system. The town’s name was later shortened for the benefit of the Post Office (eliminating confusion with San Felipe De Austin in East Texas.) Del Rio’s population increased dramatically in 1882 (from about two-hundred to two-thousand) when the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived, and that growth spurt encouraged community leaders to petition the State to form a separate county. Val Verde County was organized in 1885 with Del Rio as its county seat. The state detached parts of Kinney, Crockett and Pecos Counties and named the new county Val Verde, the name of a New Mexico Territory Civil War battle site and one representative of the oasis-like areas along the rivers that flow through the new county. Del Rio has been known as the City of Roses and the Wool and Mohair Capital of the World. The plentiful canal water once prompted many flower gardens, and the countryside proved very profitable for sheep and goat ranchers. Some historic sites, including those with historical markers, are noted on the following pages.

 

Sites To See Around Del Rio

San Felipe Springs and Creek
The San Felipe Springs is the fourth largest natural springs in Texas, and in ancient times they created an oasis on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. The Springs were frequented by the Texas Paleo-Indians, Spanish explorers, and American travelers in historic times. The Springs were an important resting point for persons traveling to El Paso, northern Mexico, and the California gold fields. The waters formed the foundation for the San Felipe Agricultural, Manufacturing and Irrigation Company that founded the town of Del Rio in 1868. The Springs continue to provide the city’s water supply. Numerous parks line the banks of the Creek. A hike-and-bike trail parallels the south bank of the Creek. Several historical markers, including "Camp Del Rio," "San Felipe Springs," and "U.S. Army Camel Corps" are placed along the Creek.

Brown Plaza
Named for George Washington Brown, a county official and donor of the land, this public square became one of the principal sites of the San Felipe neighborhood (south and east of San Felipe Creek). The business community that once lined the plaza declined in the 1950s, and the Flood of 1998 destroyed most of the structures. The Cinco de Mayo holiday and Mexican Independence Day gritos are still celebrated on the Plaza. The Flood of 1998 devastated the neighborhood, and much of the old neighborhood is now Rotary Park. A historical marker stands on the Plaza, and historical plaques are mounted on two of the surviving structures facing the Plaza.

La Loma de la Cruz
Looking south from town, la Loma de la Cruz is a strange looking hill. La Loma looks like someone piled dirt next to San Felipe Creek. It appears unnatural; hence, the stories that the hill has secrets, is hiding treasure, or is a burial site. Perhaps bandits hid their loot there, or was it refugees from the fallen Aztec Empire? A good view of la Loma can be had at the intersection of Barron and Magnolia Streets in San Felipe. The Cemetario de la Loma de la Cruz near its base is one of the oldest in Val Verde County, in use from 1880s to 1933. "Cemetario de la Loma de la Cruz" stands in front of the cemetery near the base of the hill.

Ciudad Acuña
Founded in the 1870s, Acuña is Del Rio’s twin city in Mexico. Its original name was Las Vacas, but the governor of Coahuila changed its name to Villa Acuña to honor poet Manuel Acuña. (There is a statue.) The town was renamed Ciudad Acuña in the 1950s to reflect its growth. The city has since become larger than Del Rio.

Bullfighting was once a popular attraction for local residents and tourists alike.
Bullfighting was once a popular attraction for local residents and tourists alike.

Whitehead Memorial Museum
The Museum preserves the history of the local area in a variety of exhibits. The Perry Store, the first store in Del Rio, is the heart of the Museum. The building itself is a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark, and the inside shows displays of authentic late 1800s life. Other exhibits cover ranching, border radio, Judge Roy Bean, and Dr. Simon Rodriguez. The Museum also displays (all year long) the Cadena Nativity. The Museum is at 1308 South Main Street. Four historical markers stand on the Museum grounds.

South Del Rio
This part of town is still fed by the canal system, and small farms still produce some crops. Several of the streets were named for the Italians families who settled here. Several historic buildings and historical markers are situated in the area. The Cassinelli Gin House was built during the first decade of the 1900s by G.B. Cassinelli and John Taini. The site became a social center hosting weddings, dances and club meetings. The two-story, stone structure was gutted by fire in the 1970s but has been restored. A marker stands on the corner of Pecan and Academy Streets. The Taylor-Rivers House is the oldest building in Del Rio, built about 1868 and now sitting at the intersection of Pecan, Hudson, and Nicholson Streets. Rancher James Taylor and wife Paula Losoya Taylor (later Rivers) settled here from Uvalde. A marker stands in front of the house. The Mason-Foster House was built by James H. Mason approximately 1887. This house was bought by the Foster Family (who also built several other houses along Hudson Street.) The most famous member of the family is Radney Foster, a country music award-winning singer-songwriter. A marker stands in front of the house. The Val Verde Winery operates at the corner of Hudson and Qualia Streets. Several families of Italians arrived in Del Rio in the 1880s including Frank Qualia who brought the first wine-press. The Prohibition of the 1920s put the Texas vintners out of business, except for Qualia. Hence, the Val Verde Winery is the oldest, continuously operating winery in Texas. Located in South Del Rio on the corner of Hudson and Qualia, the Winery is open to the public for purchases and tasting. A marker stands in front of the business.  Dr. John R. Brinkley may well be the most famous person in Del Rio history. In the 1930s, he operated the world’s most powerful radio station, Radio XERA, which was heard nationwide and in many other countries. The broadcasting facilities were in Villa Acuña. Brinkley made his reputation implanting goat gonads into men for “rejuvenation” purposes. The Brinkley Mansion stands in South Del Rio on Qualia Drive.  Two historical markers stand in front of 512 Qualia.

 

Places to Go Around Val Verde County

Laughlin Air Force Base
During the Second War World, Del Rio became home to an Army Air Forces pilot training facility. B-26 pilots trained over the skies of Val Verde. The post was renamed for Jack Laughlin, Del Rio’s first air casualty; Laughlin was shot down over Java. The post closed at the conclusion of WW II, but was recreated in 1952 as Laughlin Air Force Base. Laughlin was home to a wing of U-2 aircraft during the Cold War and serves as a training facility today. Just inside the main gate (off of U.S. Highway 90, five miles east of Del Rio) is Liberty Park with aircraft displays and service histories. Look for historical markers at a pullout on Highway 90 in front o the base just east of the entrance to the Main Gate.

Amistad Dam and Reservoir
American President Dwight Eisenhower and Mexican President Lopez Mateos met in Del Rio/Acuña in 1960 to begin the Amistad project. Amistad, on the Rio Grande, is one of the world’s largest international reservoirs. Presidents Richard Nixon and Gustavo Diaz Ordaz dedicated the dam on September 8, 1969.
The National Park Service manages the reservoir with several park areas and boat ramps. Amistad Dam, 12 miles west of Del Rio, is topped by statues of two eagles, the symbols of the two nations.

Comstock
Comstock is a small Val Verde town along the old Southern Pacific Railroad, 30 miles west of Del Rio. Named for railroad dispatcher John B. Comstock, the town was built near a spring that provided water for the railroad facilities and the surrounding community.

Val Verde County is home to world-renown archeological sites. Many of them are protected by Seminole Canyon State Historical Park (about forty-five miles west of Del Rio with a museum that sits atop the canyon, named for the Seminole Scouts of Fort Clark), by White Shaman Rock Art Site (established in 1991 by the Rock Art Foundation across on the Pecos River), and the SHUMLA School featuring opportunities to experience the life of ancient residents of the Lower Pecos River Canyon Country.

The High Bridge at U.S. 90 and the Pecos River Canyon can be seen from the Pecos River Scenic Overlook.
The High Bridge at U.S. 90 and the Pecos River Canyon can be seen from the Pecos River Scenic Overlook.

Pecos River
After some 900 miles, the legendary Pecos River flows through tall canyons and empties into the Rio Grande about 45 miles west of Del Rio. The Rivers and the US 90 Highway Bridge can be seen from the Pecos River Scenic Overlook. The Shumla Scenic Overlook, 4.5 miles west of the Pecos on US 90, has a view of the 1944 railroad High Bridge. Look for historical markers at both Overlooks.

Langtry
Granted to the Torres Family in exchange for building West Texas irrigation projects, Langtry became a key spot on the Southern Pacific Railroad due to the copious waters from Torres Spring in Pump Canyon. Judge Roy Bean moved there as the railroad’s construction completed, and he became the “Law West of the Pecos.” The Dept. of Transportation maintains a Visitor Center including the Judge’s home and saloon (make that courthouse) and a cactus garden. And don’t forget to ask about Eagles’ Nest. Langtry sits 60 miles west of Del Rio. Several historical markers are scattered around the town (and another—“Pumpville”—on US 90 15 miles further west.

Photo Credits:
Braudaway Collection: Roswell Hotel Postcard, Kress/Rita Theater Postcard, Bullfight Flyer, High Bridge Postcard.
Institute of Texan Cultures: County Courthouse.
Val Verde County Historical Commission: the Depot.
Warren Studio: Old Federal Building, DRNBank aerial view, Woolworth’s/Bank Building, Montgomery Ward Building, Ross Building, Roach-McLymont’s.

Visitor Guide made possible by the Val Verde County Historical Commission.


 

A map of downtown Del Rio Texas.
Map of downtown Del Rio Texas with the numbers of the referenced paragraphs in the Visitors' Guide.