Taking A Step Up To Preserving Mercedes’ History
Jodie Oliver Martinez walks up to his historic home on south Missouri Avenue in Mercedes and cautions a visitor on taking the final step up to the over 100-year-old house.
“It’s a big step there,’’ Martinez said of the walkup to the home on 337 S. Missouri Avenue.
Martinez himself is taking a big step in renovating a home that he said dates back to at least 1912 and is located along a block of historic homes just a stone’s toss away from downtown Mercedes. The homes have their roots in the origins of Mercedes when the American Rio Grande Land And Irrigation Company set up operations in 1905.
American Rio Grande was instrumental in developing the irrigation and drainage systems with pumping stations and reservoirs that made farming in the Rio Grande Valley possible. The land company would make Mercedes – founded in 1907 – its hub and establish the city as one of the more significant communities between Brownsville and Rio Grande City in the Valley’s early years.
“Very simply put, Mercedes would not exist without the American Rio Grande Land And Irrigation Company,’’ said Dr. Beatrice Edwards, a Mercedes native and local historian. “Mercedes was founded to serve as the headquarters of the company.’’
The Martinez home itself is part of that history as American Rio Grande used the home on 337 S. Missouri as a guest house to entertain visitors brought by train from primarily the Midwest in hopes they would like what they saw and buy property and settle in the Valley. Walking in to the home is a look into the past with a formidable white stairway leading to a second floor with sturdy and original wood walls to go with a balcony held up by white pillars that offers a sweeping view of old Mercedes.
“It’s one of my passions, history, especially the history of Mercedes,’’ said Martinez, a native of the city, and the current chairman of the Mercedes Historic Preservation Commission. “We have so much history here that people don’t know about, especially the youth of our community.’’
The historic preservation commission is an effort by the city to save and revitalize some of its older homes and buildings. It offers grants that must ultimately be approved the City Commission to improve the leveling, roof and facades of historic buildings in Mercedes. Since its inception in late 2010, eight grants approved by the City Commission have been utilized by property owners to make exterior improvements to historic buildings in Mercedes.
The home on 337 S. Missouri is one of those homes and Martinez is the midst of interior renovations after the exterior improvements were completed on the historic home.
“We want to restore the historical significance without changing the character of the buildings,’’ said Martinez, who notes that recipients of the grants are free to do as they wish in the interior parts of old homes and buildings. “We are trying to select and protect these homes and buildings so they can be here for future generations to see and appreciate the history of our city.’’
The Martinez home sits next door to a two-story white wood home that was built by American Rio Grande to house its general manager, Silas P. Silver, a testament to the legacy of the land company that gave Mercedes its start. Martinez relishes the fact that he is in the heart of the city’s beginnings and is part of honoring and revering Mercedes’ history.
“I hope we can continue to raise awareness of the (historic preservation) program in hopes that the community will get more involved,’’ Martinez said. “In the end, hopefully, there will be more civic pride in the history that we have here in Mercedes.’’
- Ricardo D. Cavazos