PASO DE LOS INDIOS
Fort McIntosh, one in a line of military garrisons established along the Texas frontier during a period of time after the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-48, was named in honor of Lieutenant Colonel James Simmons McIntosh who died in the Battle of Molino del Rey. Construction began in 1853 and was comprised of a star-shaped earthen fortress built on a bluff approximately fifty feet above the Rio Grande. The location, strategic for the protection of the border, sat within sight of a well-worn river crossing utilized by Comanches and Lipan Apaches. Fort McIntosh continued to serve the U.S. military through World War ll, thus additional structures were added and modified over time. Surviving buildings include the post hospital, chapel, and barracks and provide examples of brick, frame, stone and stucco construction from the second half of the 19th century. A row of two and a half story houses, utilized as officers’ quarters, preserve classic Victorian detailing typical of the turn-of-the-century architecture. Remains of the original earthen walls are also still evident.
Laborers in the WPA during the Second World War built a sandstone wall around the entire fort grounds and today the boundary demarcates the Fort McIntosh Historic District. Although decommissioned by the military at the end of the war, the surviving district, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, serves as downtown campus for Laredo Community College. Identified by markers, the historic buildings house classrooms and offices. The chapel bears the name of David B. Barkley Cantu, a Laredoan who posthumously earned a Medal of Honor in World War I.
Located on the campus, the Lamar Bruni Vergara Environmental Science Center provides visitors learning opportunities and hands on experience with the abundant diversity of flora and fauna found in the Rio Grande Watershed. A wildlife sanctuary, the center houses a variety of live animals in well maintained, attractive enclosures and aquariums. Staffed by professional conservationists and students of environmental science, the center offers regular tours and public programming.
Accessed through the Science Center, visitors can view the Rio Grande crossing known as Paso de los Indios or Paso de Jacinto. Used by American Indians for centuries, it saw heavy use by soldiers and settlers since Spanish explorer Jacinto de León discovered the ford in 1746. Growing into a major business and military route along El Camino Real de los Tejas, the location inspired rancher Don Tomás Sánchez de la Barrera to found the Laredo settlement adjacent to the crossing.