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Living the “Sweet Life” in Mission, Texas

May 8, 2023 Texas, Member Spotlight

For more than 100 years people have been living the “sweet life” in the border town of Mission, Texas where the locals celebrate the annual grapefruits and oranges harvest each winter with the colorful two-week Texas Citrus Fiesta.

This Rio Grande Valley neighbor of McAllen has been growing rapidly in recent years with its population almost doubling to nearly 90,000 residents since 2000, and the City of Mission is part of the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission metropolitan statistical area of nearly 1 million, ranking in the state only behind the metro areas of Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin in population.

“Located along the U.S./Mexico border, Mission is part of one of the fastest growing MSAs in the country. It has experienced tremendous growth in population, business development, and its economy in recent years,” says the City of Mission.

Iconic Part of Texas from Lonesome Dove to Tom Landry

The Mission area is as iconic as any part of Texas with Larry McMurtry setting the roots of his Lonesome Dove seminal western series in the region, and Mission is the birthplace of Lone Star State favorite sons such as former U.S. senator and vice president nominee, Lloyd Bentsen, and Hall of Fame Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry, who played football at Mission High School.

The weather in the Mission area has long attracted snowbirds and others looking to warm in the winter sun such as the turn of the 20th-centuryth century politician and orator, William Jennings Bryan, as well as Beat Generation writer William S. Burroughs.

In the post-World War II era, the area was known as the “tourist mecca of South Texas” and the population would swell in size when most of the 10,000-some trailer and motorhome court spots would fill up yearly at some 74 locations.

Mission History: Historic La Lomita Chapel

Like much of Texas history, Mission’s story is one of several waves of settlement, starting with the Native American Coahuiltecans, composed of 200 tribes that lived along both sides of the Rio Grande for more than 1,000 years.

The 18th century brought Spanish colonization and where Mission sits down is near the site of the historic La Lomita Chapel, built in 1865 by Rene Guyard, a French merchant of Reynosa, and where Mission derived its name from.

La Lomita (translates to “little hill”) is on a small hill with the former mission and ranch headquarters located today on Farm Road 1016 near the Rio Grande, about five miles south of Mission in southwestern Hidalgo County.

In 1907, with the Missouri Pacific railroad extending its way from Brownsville, the City of Mission was founded by John J. Conway and J.W. Holt., who purchased the 17,000-acre La Lomita Ranch from the Oblates of Mary Immaculate fathers.

By 1908 a post office, local school, and pharmacy all were built and the following year saw a newspaper and hotel in business with city incorporation officially in 1910.

It was also at this time that irrigation allowed for the formation of the citrus fruit with John H. Shary rebuilding local irrigation systems and selling small irrigated citrus farms.

Mission grew slowly with a population of under 6,000 in 1940.

Annual Citrus Festival Celebrates a Bountiful Harvest

The citrus industry is now a multimillion-dollar business, which is celebrated annually with a gala Citrus Fiesta that lasts over two weeks each winter, with the highlight in January 2023, the 91st Annual Texas Citrus Fiesta Parade of Oranges.

The annual Citrus Festival got its start in 1932 when Paul Ord and the Young Men’s Business League proposed the idea to promote the word about the sweet citrus from the Rio Grande Valley, especially the local Ruby Red grapefruit and Star Ruby grapefruit.

“For the past 91 years, Texas Citrus Fiesta has taken pride in providing unforgettable experiences and memories by promoting values of education, leadership, and community. We have hosted and supported hundreds of local, state-wide, and national businesses,” says the festival organizers.

Part of the festival highlights are a fun fair, carnival, and the annual crowning of the court including Queen Citrianna, King Citrus, and Princess Anna.

What to Do in Mission on a Getaway

Mission has plenty to do for those on a getaway, especially for those nature lovers. Here are some of the most popular destinations:

  • National Butterfly Center: The National Butterfly Center is a project of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), a nonprofit organization dedicated to the conservation and study of wild butterflies in their native habitats. This 100-acre wildlife center and native species botanical garden contain trails for exploring, observation areas, educational exhibits, and a plant nursery. The center and Mission is home to over 210 species of butterflies, and the site of the 27th Annual Texas Butterfly Festival, which will be held Nov. 4-7, 2023.
  • Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park: This state park is called a birder’s paradise with about 360 species of birds reported along with butterflies, javelinas, bobcats, and other wildlife. The park includes a 2-story Hawk Observation Tower. No cars are allowed in the park, but a free tram tour runs from May through October, or visitors can explore some of the 7 miles of hike and bike trails (bikes can even be rented from the park store for $5 per day!). Breakfast, brunch, or lunch is also available at the park’s Le Chez Bleu. The park, on nearly 600 acres of land donated by the Bentsen family to the Texas Parks Board for $1 in 1944, opened in 1962 and is set on a mix of wetland, riparian, and woodland habitats.
  • Mission Historical Museum: Established in 2002, this museum tells the story of Mission and western Hidalgo County by collecting and preserving objects and records of historical significance, which are displayed in exhibitions and programs. There is free admission to view both the permanent and temporary exhibits.
  • Visit a Local Park: Residents and visitors can take advantage of the year-round weather by visiting one of the 25 city parks which include Bannworth Park (jogging trail, pond with pier, picnic pavilion, football/soccer field, natatorium, and 2-acre dog park), and Bentsen Palm Community Park (the regional park has 2-acre pond with pier, lighted baseball/softball fields/basketball and Tennis Courts, walking trail and dog park).
  • Mission Hike and Bike Trail: Mission has a 5-mile bike trail, which includes an asphalt-covered trail and two bridges, and 11 miles of dirt bike trails.

Finally, do not forget to eat like a local when visiting Mission. You can try such fare as:

  • The Griffin Grill: Steaks, seafood, and more at this restaurant located in Sharyland and created by chef Antonio Huerta and co-owner Richard Krauss.
  • Southern Fried: It’s not surprising that the fried chicken receives raves at this small restaurant in an old home, but don’t forget the catfish and shrimp!
  • Whistling Duck: Come for the great food and cold drinks and stay for the live music at this venue with 48 craft beers on tap and creative homemade dishes on the menu.
  • The Drunken Chicken: Specialties include the Mayberry Melt, Texas Twinkies (bacon-wrapped jalapenos!), and The Supreme Southsider Taco at this little joint.

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