PHARR AND AWAY
The city of Pharr originated as a train stop along the St. Louis, Brownsville, and Mexico Railroad and was named after a Louisiana sugarcane grower who arrived, along with his partner John C. Kelley, to mint a fortune in sugar. Pharr and his partner spent a half-dozen years in the first decade of the 1900s constructing irrigation canals and planting sugarcane, only to see their aspirations collapse with the crash of the Rio Grande Valley sugarcane industry. The irrigation company they set up, however, continued to thrive due to the influx of Midwestern growers who arrived to take advantage of the year-round growing season. Visitors can get a taste of the sugarcane era at the former Alamo Land and Sugar Company building, now a B&B catering to nature enthusiast and those wanting a full local experience (literally just down the block in Alamo). Try jumping on the Historic Trolley Tour happening every Friday or plan your visit around one of the many art or food festival events. In nearby San Juan (again, just down the block) the stunning Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle National Shrine features the beautiful icon of Our Lady of San Juan, a surviving artifact of a small plane crash that destroyed the shrine's previous incarnation.
Pharr spent the first 70 years of the 20th century as a segregated community, long after much of Texas had moved forward in civil rights issues. It took a demonstration by local Mexican American citizens and the "Pharr Police Riot" of 1971, a confrontation resulting in unlawful gunfire by Pharr police, to shine a national spotlight on the bias. Today, Pharr, like its neighbors Alamo, San Jaun, and McAllen, is a predominantly Hispanic American community and important contributor to the Rio Grande Valley's lively economy.