One hundred years ago, Chapin, the new seat of Hidalgo County government, was taking shape. (Chapin would be renamed Edinburg in 1911.) In addition to homes and other structures, a new county courthouse and county jail were built in 1910 in the center of town. Not only is the latter still standing, but it is alive with visitors from around the world, having led a storied life for the last century.
The Museum of South Texas History celebrates the 100-year anniversary of the 1910 Hidalgo County Jail with a special exhibit, Behind These Walls: From Jail to Museum, 1910 - 2010, which opened Friday, Feb. 12. The exhibit will run through September.
This exhibit tells the story behind the many lives of the 1910 Hidalgo Co. jail. It only served as the county jail for 11 years, at which time a larger, more modern structure was built a few blocks away on Loeb Street.
The 1910 jail was converted into Edinburg Community House between 1921 and 1924, where various community organizations met, including the fledgling Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department. In 1924 the building was sold to the City of Edinburg and was used as a city hall, and later also as a fire and police station for the next several decades.
In 1966, when the new city administration building opened, the old jail stood empty for a short while before it was restored and began the next phase of its life, as a historical museum. On April 19, 1970, the Hidalgo County Historical Museum, now called the Museum of South Texas History, opened its doors to visitors.
Visitors to the special exhibit will learn about the most notorious and controversial event in the jailís history, the 1913 execution by hanging of Abram Ortiz. The hanging room and steel trap door are still visible, and details about the case, the trial, and the execution will be displayed. The exhibit also describes through photographs and objects how the structure was used by the community over the years and how it was restored in the late 1960s for its new birth as a museum. Today it is an official Texas Historic Landmark and remains one of the most widely visited historical structures in the Rio Grande Valley.
For more information on the museum or the exhibit, visit www.mosthistory.org or call 956-383-6911.
The Museum of South Texas History is located on the Hidalgo County Courthouse Square in downtown Edinburg.