Brownsville, Texas

Brownsville (/ˈbrɑːʊnzˌvɪl/) is a city in Cameron County in the U.S. state of Texas. It is located on the western Gulf Coast in South Texas, adjacent to the border with Matamoros, Mexico. The city covers 81.528 square miles (211.157 km2) and has a population of 183,299 as of 2017. It is the 131st-largest city in the United States and 16th-largest in Texas. It is part of the Brownsville–Matamoros conurbation. The city is known for its year-round subtropical climate, deep-water seaport and Hispanic culture.

Brownsville, Texas
City of Brownsville
Top to bottom, left to right: Cameron County Courthouse, a statue from the Brownsville Museum of Fine Arts, Resaca de la Palma Battlefield, a giraffe from the Gladys Porter Zoo, Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park and the McNair House

Chess Capital of Texas[1]
"On the Border, By the Sea!"
Location in Texas
Brownsville, Texas
Brownsville, Texas
Brownsville, Texas (the United States)
Brownsville, Texas
Brownsville, Texas (North America)
Coordinates: 25°55′49″N 97°29′4″W
Country United States
State Texas
County Cameron
IncorporatedFebruary 7, 1853
Named forJacob Brown
  MayorJuan “Trey” Mendez
  City Council
  City ManagerNoel Bernal
  City84.867 sq mi (219.805 km2)
  Land81.528 sq mi (211.157 km2)
  Water3.339 sq mi (8.648 km2)  4%
370.58 sq mi (905.76 km2)
33 ft (10 m)
  City175,023 (US: 131st)
  Urban217,585 (US: 145th)
  Urban density2,668.8/sq mi (1,030.4/km2)
420,392 (US: 126th)
  Metro density1,602.2/sq mi (618.6/km2)
444,059 (US: 93rd)
Time zoneUTC-6 (CST)
  Summer (DST)UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP Codes
78520, 78521, 78522, 78523, 78526
Area code(s)956
FIPS code48-10768[6]
GNIS feature ID1372749[7]
AirportBrownsville/South Padre Island International Airport KBRO (BRO)
α. ^ 1 2 Area, city density, metro population/density and CSA population/density as of the 2017 estimate.[8][9]
β. ^ Urban population/density as of the 2010 Census.[10]

The city was founded in 1848 by American entrepreneur Charles Stillman after he developed a successful river boat company nearby. It was named after Major Jacob Brown, who fought and died while serving as a U.S. Army soldier during the Mexican–American War (1846–48). As the city is the seat of government for the county of Cameron, the city and county government are major employers. Other primary employers fall within the service, trade and manufacturing industries, including a growing aerospace and space transportation sector. It operates international trading through the Port of Brownsville. The city experienced a population increase in the early 1900s when steel production flourished. Brownsville is frequently cited as having one of the highest poverty rates in the United States.

Due to significant historical events, the city has multiple houses and battle sites listed under the National Register of Historic Places. It was the scene of several key events of the American Civil War, such as the Battle of Brownsville and the Battle of Palmito Ranch. The city was also involved in the Texas Revolution as well as the Mexican–American War. Brownsville's idiosyncratic geographic location has made it a wildlife refuge center. Several state parks and historical sites are protected by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.



In 1781, Spanish government officials granted José Salvador de la Garza 59 leagues of land (408.243 square miles). He used the land to construct a ranch several miles northwest of the area. During the early 1800s, Brownsville was known to residents as los tejidos (English: "pasturelands").[11] The area was inhabited by a few settlers around 1836 when Texas declared its independence from Mexico. On February 4, 1846, President James K. Polk instructed American General Zachary Taylor and his troops to begin moving south towards Brownsville. Once Taylor arrived, he built Fort Texas. It was later renamed Fort Brown in honor of Major Jacob Brown,[12] one of two deceased soldiers during the Siege of Fort Texas.[11][13]

Charles Stillman arrived in Matamoros in 1828 from Connecticut to help his father in the mercantile business.[11] Brownsville became part of Texas after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. During that year, Stillman formed a partnership with Samuel Belden[14] and Simon Mussina to form the Brownsville Town Company.[15] They reportedly sold lots valued at $1,500. The city of Brownsville was originally established in late 1848 by Stillman, and was made the county seat of Cameron County on January 13, 1849. The state originally incorporated the city on January 24, 1850. This was repealed on April 1, 1852, however, because of a land-ownership dispute between Stillman and its former owners (including Juan Cortina, a Mexican rancher). The state reincorporated the city on February 7, 1853; this remains in effect. The issue of ownership was not decided until 1879 when the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Stillman.[15]

Mexican–American War

On April 25, 1846, Captain Seth B. Thornton received reports of Mexican troops crossing the Rio Grande river. Thornton and 63 U.S. Dragoons moved to Rancho de Carricitos and discovered several houses in the area. Mexican General Anastasio Torrejón crossed the Rio Grande the previous day. He commanded 1,600 cavalry and infantry troops to surround Thornton's troops in fractions. Due to heavy force from Torrejón's troops, Thornton's troops surrendered. 11 American casualties were reported; 45 troops as well as Thornton were held as prisoners. Reports of the incident were sent to President James K. Polk who announced that "American blood has been spilled upon the American territory". On May 13, the United States Congress declared war against Mexico.[16]

American General Zachary Taylor retreated from Fort Texas on May 1, 1846; Mexican General Mariano Arista began preparing artillery and troops from across the Rio Grande.[17] On May 3, Arista and the Mexican Army began the Siege of Fort Texas, during the first active campaign in the Mexican–American War. This was counteracted by the United States 7th Infantry Regiment.[13] Despite heavy strikes, Mexican General Pedro de Ampudia outlined a traditional siege to move forward. General Zachary Taylor was notified of the incident and began moving towards Fort Texas. Mexican troops intercepted them near Palo Alto, approximately 5 miles (8.0 km) north of present-day Brownsville,[18] however, resulting in the first battle of the war.[19]

The following day, Mexican troops had retreated. Taylor's troops charged up to them resulting in the Battle of Resaca de la Palma, which took place within the present city limits. When Taylor arrived at the besieged Fort Texas, he found that two soldiers including the fort's commander Major Jacob Brown, had died. Brown, who suffered an injury when a cannonball hit his leg, died three days after his injury on May 9. In his honor, General Taylor renamed the facility as Fort Brown. An old cannon at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College marks the spot where Major Brown received his fatal wound.[20]

On July 13, 1859, Juan Cortina saw Brownsville city Marshal Robert Sheers arrest and beat an elderly man who had been a ranch hand at his mother's ranch. Cortina approached the marshal, questioning his motives, before shooting him twice after he refused to release the man. The first shot reportedly missed Sheers, but the second struck his shoulder causing him to fall to the ground. Cortina and the elderly man rode off on a horse.[21][22] The following year, Cortina returned with troops, executing four Anglo men and simultaneously releasing several Mexican prisoners. He then issued a proclamation explaining his reasons for the attack.[23]

American Civil War

During the American Civil War, Brownsville served as a smuggling point for Confederate goods into Mexico. Most significantly cotton was smuggled to European ships through the Mexican port of Bagdad to avoid Union blockades.[24] The city was located at the end of "The Cotton Road",[25] southwest of the Cotton Belt.[26] In November 1863, Union troops landed at Port Isabel and marched towards Brownsville to take control of Fort Brown.[27] In the ensuing Battle of Brownsville, Confederate forces abandoned the fort, blowing it up with 8,000 pounds (3,600 kg) of explosives. In 1864, Confederate forces commanded by Colonel John Salmon Ford reoccupied the town and he became mayor of Brownsville.[28][29]

Robert E. Lee and his Confederate army surrendered to Union commander Ulysses S. Grant on April 9, 1865, signing a hand-written document at the Appomattox Court House, officially ending the American Civil War.[30] However, Theodore Barrett was ordered to move 500 62nd Regiment troops of colors towards Brazos Island. On May 11, Barrett's troops moved inland towards Brownsville and spotted Confederate soldiers.[31] John Salmon Ford received news of this and prepared to attack. On May 15, 1865, 34 days after the signing of the surrender, the Battle of Palmito Ranch took place. Confederates killed or wounded approximately 30 opponents and captured more than 100 other troops.[31] This is accepted by some historians as the last battle of the American Civil War.[32] President Grant sent Union General Frederick Steele to Brownsville to patrol the United States–Mexico border after the Civil War to aid the Juaristas with military supplies.[33][34][35]

20th century

Texas, like other Southern states, passed a new constitution and Jim Crow laws that established racial segregation and disenfranchised African Americans at the turn of the 20th century, generally by raising barriers to voter registration. While Hispanic residents were considered white under the terms of the United States annexation of Texas, legislatures found ways to suppress their participation in politics.[36]

On August 13 and 14, 1906, Brownsville was the site of the Brownsville affair. Racial tensions were increasing between white townsfolk and black infantrymen who were stationed at Fort Brown. On the night of August 13, one white bartender was killed, and a white police officer was wounded by rifle shots in the street.[37] Townsfolk, including the mayor, accused the infantrymen of the murders. Without affording them a chance to defend themselves in a hearing, President Theodore Roosevelt dishonorably discharged the entire 167-member regiment due to their alleged "conspiracy of silence".[37] Investigations in the 1970s revealed that the soldiers were not responsible for the attacks, and the Nixon Administration reversed all dishonorable discharges.[37] Fort Brown was decommissioned after the end of World War II in 1945. In 1948 the city and college acquired the land.[38]

21st century

Brownsville has received significant media attention surrounding immigration policies and border wall funding costs. In 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Secure Fence Act of 2006. The act administered the construction of a border fence extending from San Diego in California through the entry of the Port of Brownsville.[39] In 2008, the United States Department of Homeland Security issued a proposal to add 70 miles (110 kilometres) of border fence and reallocate portions of the University of Texas at Brownsville campus.[40][41] The proposal would have transferred 180 acres (73 hectares) of university land, including several historical monuments and the university's golf course to Mexico.[42] However, the proposal was altered after Andrew Hanen, a federal district judge, rejected the department's idea.[42]

In 2016, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed building a border wall along the United States-Mexico border. Trump's proposed wall, if passed, would consist of 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometres) "of hardened concrete, and ... rebar, and steel" across the southern border, including Brownsville.[43] On January 25, 2017, days after assuming office, Trump issued Executive Order 13767, directing construction for a border wall. Brownsville was also the center of controversy surrounding the Trump administration's policy of separating children and parents who entered the country unlawfully. The issue surrounded Casa Padre, the largest juvenile immigration detention center in America which is located within Brownsville's city limits.[44]

Downtown Brownsville has received several revitalization projects from the city government to increase tourism and safety.[45] The Texas Historical Commission named Brownsville as part of its Main Street Program in 2016.[46] Several historic buildings were restored including the Stegman Building, a historic building named after Baldwin G. Stegman, one of the city's first streetcar line developers.[47] The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) selected Brownsville as one of six cities for their "Greening America's Communities" program.[48] The agency worked on a revitalization project for Market Square, a building constructed in 1850.[49] The city also received a $3.4 million grant from the Façade Improvement Program for this project.[50]


Brownsville is one of the southernmost cities in the contiguous United States;[51] only a handful of municipalities in Florida's Miami-Dade and Monroe counties (plus Everglades City in Collier County) are located farther south than Brownsville. The city has a total area of 84.867 square miles (219.805 km2), of which 81.528 square miles (211.157 km2) of it is land and 3.339 square miles (8.648 km2) is water, according to the United States Census Bureau of 2017.[2]

The city is situated at the intersection of different climates (subtropical, Chihuahuan Desert, Gulf Coast plain, and Great Plains); this produces high bird migration rates. Its idiosyncratic network of resacas (English: oxbow lakes), distributaries of the Rio Grande, provide habitat for numerous nesting/breeding birds of various types typically during the spring and fall migrations.[52][53] Brownsville's vegetation is classified as grassland.[54]

Metropolitan area

Brownsville is in one metropolitan statistical area as defined by the United States Census Bureau. However, the Brownsville–Harlingen–Raymondville Combined Statistical Area consists of Cameron County and Willacy County. It includes the Brownsville metropolitan area and the micropolitan area of Raymondville. The city of Raymondville is the county seat of Willacy County. The Brownsville-Harlingen-Raymondville combined statistical area is home to 445,309 people (2017 estimated), making it the 106th-largest combined statistical area in the United States.[55] Based on the Uniform Crime Report conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2013, the Brownsville metropolitan area ranked last on its list of the "Most Dangerous Cities" in Texas, with "240 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 people" and a murder rate of 1.4. Robbery crimes make up 25% of overall crime in the city, with a rate of 58.1 per 100,000 residents.[56]

Flora and soil

Broadleaf evergreen plants, including palms, dominate Brownsville neighborhoods to a greater degree than other locations in Texas, including nearby cities such as Harlingen and McAllen. Brownsville is home to the Sabal mexicana,[57] the only species of palmetto palm native to Texas.[58] Though it used to cover a large portion of the land next to the Rio Grande, the city contains one of the last stands of the species.[59] The Citharexylum berlandieri (Tamaulipan fiddlewood),[57] Rivina humilis (pigeonberry) and Leucophyllum frutescens (Texas sage) are also native flora.[57]

Soils are mostly of clay to silty clay loam texture, moderately alkaline (pH 8.2) to strongly alkaline (pH 8.5 and with a significant degree of salinity in many places;[60] other types of soils present around the city include Cameron clay and sporadic amounts of Laredo silt loam. Due to Brownsville's proximity to the coast, Lomalta clay is common around the swamp areas of the vicinity.[61] Several parts of the city have a high risk of localized flooding because of flat topography, ubiquitous low-permeability clay soils, and inadequate infrastructure funding.[62]

According to the United States Geological Survey, Brownsville's soils are primarily alluvium and windblown deposits.[63] The majority of the city's soil is made of floodplain deposits from the Rio Grande river; it consists of clay, sand, silt, gravel and organic matter. Windblown deposits are made up of "active dunes and dune complexes" that contain mostly clay and silt near the coastal region and combination of clay, sand and silt inland.[63]


Located on the Gulf Coast approximately 2.4 degrees north of the Tropic of Cancer, Brownsville possesses a humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cfa): winters are mild, summers are hot and humid.[64] Due to its proximity to the deserts of Chihuahua and Gulf Coastal Plains, Brownsville's geographic location lies near the boundary of a hot semi-arid climate.[64] Snow is a rare event in Brownsville. Brownsville has a wet season concentrated during the late summer and early fall months, peaking in September, when the threat from tropical cyclones is greatest. In most years, November through April is the dry season. As such, Brownsville receives modest annual rainfall, averaging about 27.44 in (697 mm) annually based on records between 1981 and 2010.[65]

The monthly daily average temperature ranges from 61.1 °F (16.2 °C) in January to 85 °F (29.4 °C) in August. However, the city is subject to episodes of heat waves during the summer, with 141 days of high temperatures over 90 °F (32.2 °C) and fewer than five days of temperatures above 100 °F (37.8 °C). The city is located along the boundary of USDA Hardiness Zones 9b and 10a.[66] The hottest temperature on record in Brownsville occurred on March 27, 1984, when the city reached 106 °F (41 °C). On the other extreme, freezing temperatures occur once or twice a year on average.[65] On December 25, 2004, Brownsville recorded its first instance of measurable snow in 109 years with 1.5 inches (3.8 cm), and the first recorded White Christmas.[67] Brownsville's lowest temperature on record occurred on February 13, 1899, when the city reached 12 °F (−11 °C).[68] Based on 30-year averages obtained from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center weather records, 24/7 Wall St. ranked Brownsville the fifth-hottest city in America in 2016.[69]

In 2011, Brownsville became one of the first cities in the United States to require stores to charge a fee for single-use plastic shopping bags. The ordinance was enacted to reduce pollution and litter around the city.[70] The city repealed the ordinance in 2018 after it was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court of Texas.[71] Forbes identified Brownsville as one of 12 metropolitan areas in the United States with the cleanest air.[72] In 2018, the Brownsville–Harlingen area was among the "Cleanest U.S. Cities for Ozone Air Pollution" in the American Lung Association's "State of the Air" in 2018.[73]


Historical population
Est. 2018183,392[5]4.8%
U.S. Decennial Census

Brownsville is the 16th most populous city in Texas. It ranks as one of the top U.S. cities in terms of the percentage of Hispanic residents.[77] According to the Pew Research Center, its metropolitan area holds the 26th largest Hispanic population with approximately 373,000 (88.7%) sharing this distinction. Of that percentage, 96.7% are Mexican and 0.8% are Puerto Rican.[78]

2010 census

As of the census[6] of 2010,[79] there were 175,023 people, 49,871 households, and 41,047 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,207.1 inhabitants per square mile (466.0/km2). There were 53,936 housing units at an average density of 372.0 per square mile (143.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 88.0% White, 0.4% African American, 0.4% Native American, 0.7% Asian, 0.0% Pacific Islander, 9.1% from other races, and 1.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 93.2% of the population.[80]

There were 38,174 households of which 50.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.3% were married couples living together, 20.9% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.3% had a male householder with no wife present, and 15.7% were non-families. 13.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 6.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.62 and the average family size was 3.99.[79]

In the city, the population was spread out with 34.6% under the age of 18, 11.2% from 18 to 24, 27.5% from 25 to 44, 17.2% from 45 to 64, and 9.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 28 years. For every 100 females, there were 89.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 82.5 males.[79]

Income and employment

Despite a fast growing economy, Brownsville has one of the highest poverty rates in the nation. The median income for a household in the city was $24,468, and the median income for a family was $26,186. Males had a median income of $21,739 versus $17,116 for females. The per capita income for the city is $9,762. It is frequently cited as having the highest percentage of residents in the nation below the federal poverty level. About 31.6% of families and 35.7% of the population were below the federal poverty line, including 48.4% of those under the age of 18 and 31.5% of those 65 or over.[81][82]

Based on data collected from the United States Census Bureau's American Community Survey, the Brownsville metropolitan area ranked as the second poorest urban area in the country, behind the McAllen metropolitan area.[83] In 2017, the city's unemployment rate was 6.2% with 18.1% adults holding a bachelor's degree.[84] It reported a 5.8% jobless rate the following year.[85] Despite high unemployment rates, the urban area is also one of the fastest growing in the United States.[86]


Brownsville's economic activity is derived from the service and manufacturing industries. Government and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley are both large contributors to the local economy.[88] Other prominent industries in Brownsville include education, aerospace and space transportation. During the first decade of the 1900s, the city's population increased after a boom in the agriculture industry. Brownsville's subtropical climate has made it a commercial hub for the citrus industry.[89]

The Port of Brownsville produces significant revenue for the city of Brownsville. The port, located 2 miles (3.2 km) from the city, provides a link between the road networks of nearby Mexico and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway of Texas.[90] The port has become an important economic hub for South Texas, where shipments arrive from other parts of the United States, Mexico, and foreign countries.[91] The port also participates in ship-recycling; it has five of the country's eight ship recycling companies.[92] It received a $1.8 million grant from the United States Department of Commerce to support business and infrastructure development. The grant is expected to create 700 jobs and generate $3 million in private investments.[93]

International trade

Brownsville's economy is based mainly on its international trade with Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Due to Matamoros' maquiladora (English: textile factory) boom, Brownsville experienced growth in the air cargo industry during the late 1980s.[94] It is home to one of the fastest growing manufacturing sectors in the United States.[95] Brownsville has been recognized as having one of the best pro-business climates in the United States,[96] and the city has been ranked among the least expensive places to live in the country.[97] President Barack Obama signed a bill in 2016 allowing for the deepening of the Brownsville Ship Channel from 42 ft (13 m) to 52 ft (16 m).[98]


Entrepreneur Elon Musk announced the construction of SpaceX South Texas Launch Site, a private space launch facility east of Brownsville on the Gulf Coast in 2014.[99][100] The launch facility is estimated to produce US$85 million for the city of Brownsville and generate approximately US$51 million in annual salaries from the roughly 500 jobs to be created by 2024.[101] The facility itself is projected to employ 75–100 full-time workers in the early years with up to 150 full-time employees/contractors by 2019.[102]

As of October 2014, the University of Texas at Brownsville and the Brownsville Economic Development Council (BEDC), in collaboration with SpaceX, are building radio-frequency (RF) technology facilities for STARGATE (Spacecraft Tracking and Astronomical Research into Gigahertz Astrophysical Transient Emission). The facility is intended to provide students and faculty access to radio frequency technologies used in spaceflight operations, and will include satellite and spacecraft tracking.[103]

The city's economic development council also purchased five lots in Boca Chica Village totaling 2.3 acres (0.93 ha) near the SpaceX launch site and renamed it as the Stargate subdivision. The beach location will include a 12,000 square feet (1,100 m2) tracking center.[104] Stargate received several startup grants including US$1.2 million from the United States Economic Development Administration.[105]

Principal employers

According to the BEDC,[88] the top employers in the city as of May 2015 were:

# Employer # of Employees
1 Brownsville Independent School District 7,670
2 Cameron County 1,950
3 University of Texas Rio Grande Valley 1,734
4 Keppel AmFELS 1,650
5 Walmart 1,413
6 Abundant Life Home Health 1,300
7 City of Brownsville 1,227
8 Caring For You Home Health 1,200
9 H-E-B Grocery 975
10 Maximus 950

Parks and recreation

Brownsville has 37 parks connected by a 1,200-acre (1.9 sq mi) system of parkland and 32 miles (51 km) of bike lanes. The city also houses three gymnasiums, two public pools and 55 athletic fields.[106]

Brownsville's proximity to the coast has allowed the city to register several locations under the list of protected areas of the United States. Resaca de la Palma State Park is one of six nature preserves (and three state parks) that is part of the World Birding Center.[107] It is also the largest nature preserve of the park system with approximately 1,200 acres (1.9 sq mi) of native semi tropical brushland.[108] The area was part of the Battle of Resaca de la Palma. The National Park Service lists the site of the Battle of Palo Alto as a National Historic Park (NHP). The agency purchased 300 acres (1.2 km2) of the site's land, with two-thirds belonging to private landowners.[109] It is native to the Prosopis glandulosa (Honey Mesquite) plant, Opuntia engelmannii (Prickly pear) and Yucca treculeana (Yucca).[110]

The city encompasses two national wildlife refuges. Located in northeast Cameron County, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge protects several endangered species, including the Texas ocelot (Leopardus pardalis albescens), a rare wild cat as well as the Aplomado falcon (Falco femoralis).[111] The refuge measures 65,096-acre (263.43 km2).[112] The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge is located in northwest Cameron County and measures 90,788-acre (367.41 km2).[113] The refuge contains trails that are connected to the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail.[114] The Boca Chica State Park and Brazos Island State Park are state parks that were transferred by separate lease agreements to the Lower Rio Grande Valley refuge center in 2007.[115] They measure 10,680-acre (43.2 km2) and 217-acre (0.88 km2), respectively.[116][117] Laguna Madre is located on the eastern side of the county. It is a long, shallow, hypersaline lagoon and is one of the most protected lagoon ecosystems in the United States.[118]


Brownsville has a council–manager government. The mayor and a six-member city commission are selected in nonpartisan elections.[119] Four members are elected from geographic districts; the remaining two members are elected at-large. Since Brownsville is the county seat of Cameron County, many county offices are in Brownsville. The city's public library system has two branches.[120] The primary law enforcement agency for the city is the Brownsville Police Department. The Brownsville Fire Department has nine stations around the city; its central office is located on the eastern side of the city.[121]

Most of Brownsville is represented by two county commissioners of the five-member Commissioners' Court (one member, the County Judge, represents all of Cameron County).[122] County offices are partisan; the Democratic and Republican Parties hold primaries in March of the year that their office term expires.

The City of Brownsville falls under two Texas House of Representatives districts. Each representative has a two-year term and is elected in the same manner as other partisan elected officials. The elected representatives include, District 37: Alex Dominguez (D) (since 2019),[123] and District 38: Eddie Lucio, III (D) (since 2007).[124] Brownsville is represented by Texas Senatorial District 27, the incumbent senator is Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D) (since 1991).[125] The city is represented by Texas's 34th congressional district. The incumbent Representative is Filemon Vela Jr. (D) (since 2013).[126]

The city holds several federal office buildings. The United States Postal Service operates post offices in Brownsville.[127] Downtown Brownsville is served by the Old Federal Courthouse; it is now used as a City Hall.[128] The National Weather Service operates an office and a Nexrad weather radar site in east Brownsville. They provide forecasts and radar coverage for Deep South Texas and the adjacent coastal waters.[129] Other federal building located within the city limits of Brownsville include: Social Security Administration and the Reynaldo G. Garza – Filemon B. Vela United States Courthouse.[130] Military buildings and battle sites include the Brownsville Armed Forces Reserve Center (AFRC) host units from the United States Army Reserve and the Texas Army National Guard,[131] and the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC).[132]


Primary and secondary education

Brownsville Independent School District (BISD) serves most of the city. Enrollment in the 2018–2019 school year was 44,402 students,[133] 95% of whom are economically disadvantaged. Enrollment at BISD reached a high of 49,991 students in 2010-2011 and has declined an average of 1,000 students per year since 2014-2015.[134] It is the 17th largest school district in Texas. There are seven high schools within the district: James Pace, Lopez, Gladys Porter, Simon Rivera, Homer Hanna, Veterans Memorial and Brownsville Early College.[135]

A portion of northern Brownsville is served by the Los Fresnos Consolidated Independent School District.[136] South Texas Independent School District, a magnet school district, operates a medical academy in northern Brownsville.[137]

A number of charter schools operate in Brownsville, including Harmony Public Schools and IDEA Public Schools.

There are several private parochial elementary and middle schools located throughout the community.[138] The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville operates Catholic schools in the Rio Grande Valley, including Brownsville.[139]

Colleges and universities

Six colleges and universities are located within the Brownsville boundaries. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, part of the University of Texas system, was founded in 2014 after the merger of the University of Texas at Brownsville and University of Texas–Pan American. It is the tenth largest university in Texas, having 25,137 undergraduates, 3,068 postgraduates students and 439 professionals enrolled in 2018.[140] In 2017, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education ranked the university third in the country in awarding bachelor's degrees to Hispanic students.[141]

Texas Southmost College is a community college located near the southern border of Brownsville. As of 2018, it had a total enrollment of 7,132.[142] Students usually transfer to the neighboring University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.[143] The city operates three vocational schools. These include the South Texas Vocational Technical Institute,[144] Brightwood College campus (formerly known as Kaplan College),[145] and Southern Careers Institute.[146]

The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, School of Public Health (UTSPH), is one of five regional campuses established by the Regional Academic Health Center program in 2001; it is located on the Brownsville campus of the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley. The campus offers a PhD program in epidemiology and a Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) in health promotion, the only program of its kind available in South Texas. The campus directs its attention to health concerns in the Rio Grande Valley, including diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. It also centers its concerns on genetics and its relationship to infectious and chronic disease.[147]



Major highways

Brownsville is served by Interstate 69E, sharing its alignment with U.S. Route 77. The highway connects to the cities of Kingsville and Corpus Christi. U.S. Route 77 was a proposed part of the North American Free Trade Agreement's completed Interstate 69 corridor. Other highways that serve the Brownsville area are U.S. Route 83, U.S. Route 281, SH 4 and SH 48. Interstate 169/SH 550 is a toll road that connects North Brownsville to the Port of Brownsville; it forms a loop around the outer city limits of Brownsville. An interchange carries traffic from Interstate 69E onto the highway.[148]

Mass transit

Established in mid-Brownsville in 1978, the Brownsville Urban System (BUS), currently known as the Brownsville Metro, consists of three hubs that run 13 routes covering a large portion of Brownsville. The system provides 11 paratransit vans to disabled passengers, complying with the standards for the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is the only mass transit system in its county and one of the largest in the Rio Grande Valley. Annual ridership for 2015 was 1,384,474.[149]

Intercity transit

The Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport (BRO) provides passengers with daily non-stop service to American Eagle hubs Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, United Express to George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston as well as World Atlantic Airlines which flies to Miami International Airport. The airport received a $12.7 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration for the construction of a new 85,000 square feet (7,900 square metres) terminal facility.[150] The project is expected to commence construction by late 2018.[151]

Bike share and trails

The City of Brownsville currently has 64 miles (103 kilometres) of hike & bike trails and on-street bike lanes.[152] In 2016, a bike share program was established in Brownsville in collaboration with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.[153] Six bike stations were installed. The contract was renewed with another company to provide a "dockless ride-share program" in late 2018.[154]


Several attempts were made to attract a railroad, but not until 1904 did the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway reach Brownsville. In 1910, a railroad bridge was constructed between Brownsville and Matamoros (Mexico) and regular service between the two towns began. The introduction of the rail link to Brownsville opened the area for settlement by northern farmers, who subsequently arrived in the lower Rio Grande valley in large numbers.[155]

The new settlers cleared the land of brush, built extensive irrigation systems and roads, and introduced large-scale truck farming. In 1904 H. G. Stillwell, Sr., planted the first commercial citrus orchard in the area, thus opening the way for citrus fruit culture, one of the Valley's leading industries. The expansion of farming in the area, and the railroad link to the north, brought new prosperity to Brownsville and spurred a host of civic improvements.[156]

Brownsville was served by the Missouri Pacific Railroad night train from Houston, Texas, the Pioneer (#315/316) until 1964, and a daily train from Houston, the Valley Eagle (#321/322), until 1962.[157] Today, the Brownsville and Rio Grande International Railroad (reporting mark BRG) is a terminal switching railroad headquartered in Brownsville. It operates 45 miles (72 kilometres) of line at the Port of Brownsville, and interchanges with Union Pacific Railroad and TFM. BRG traffic includes steel, agricultural products, food products, and general commodities.[158]

International bridges

Brownsville has three international bridges that connect to Mexico. These include the Brownsville & Matamoros International Bridge (B&M),[159] Gateway International Bridge and the Veterans International Bridge at Los Tomates.[160][161]


Electricity, water, and wastewater services in Brownsville are provided by the Brownsville Public Utilities Board (BPUB). Since it is a public utility, the city commission appoints six members of the utilities board with the mayor serving as the seventh member (ex-officio).[162] As of 2016, BPUB is the 68th largest public power utility in the country by number of customers served (48,232).[163] Its power generation was ranked 51st in the US with 1,638,579 megawatt-hours.[163] Renewable resources are projected to increase with partial help from the proposed addition of a 400 megawatt Tenaska combined cycle electric generating plant in 2015.[164]

A series of wind turbines were also built in the northeast part of Cameron County.[165] The board operates three treatment plants in Brownsville; it also owns 92.91% of the Southmost Regional Water Authority (SRWA) groundwater treatment facility.[166] Several liquefied natural gas (LNG) companies are currently in the process of establishing pipelines in the city; however, two companies were denied a review of their application after missing several deadlines.[167]

Arts and culture

Brownsville holds a strong Mexican culture. Charro Days, a two-nation fiesta holiday celebrating the friendship between the cities Brownsville and Matamoros, Mexico takes place during February. It is accompanied with El Grito, a joyous shout originating in Mexican culture.[168] Musicians and actors of Mexican heritage make appearances. Sombrero Festival is a continuation of Charro Days. It is a three-day event consisting of performances from tejano, corrido and other traditional Mexican artists as well as a variety of contests. In 2016, a Mexican art gallery donated a statue called Mr. Charro that was unveiled at a park.[169]

The city hosts the Latin Jazz Festival around early October in Downtown Brownsville. It is a three-day celebration of local Latin jazz performers, art and dance. The festival began in 1997, founded by American musician Tito Puente.[170] Brownsville has a growing number of arts galleries, including the Galeria 409[171] and Puente Art Studio.[172] The Brownsville Museum of Fine Arts features exhibitions of Egyptian and Astronomical art.[173] It was formerly known as the Brownsville Art League, formed by a group of eight women. The museum underwent a renovation in 1960, featuring a 4,000 sq ft (370 m2) studio. In 2002, it changed its name to its current name and underwent another renovation.[174]

Brownsville also has several museums dedicated to historic artifacts and military equipment. The Historic Brownsville Museum opened to the public in 1986. The building was used as a Spanish Colonial Revival passenger depot and was later abandoned. It features Spanish architecture and education programs. Several renovations were made over time, including the addition of a Spanish-style fountain, a courtyard and an engine building.[175][176] The Commemorative Air Force Museum houses World War II aircraft and holds tours on the early events of wars in Asia and Europe. It also documents the stories of pilots who were part of the 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron.[177]

Built in 1850 by Henry Miller, the Stillman House Museum was owned by Charles Stillman and Mexican consul Manuel Pérez Treviño. It was the site of meetings with Mexican general and president Porfirio Diaz. The Stillman's great grandson purchased the house after the previous homeowners sold it and donated it to the city after several renovations. It opened to the public in 1960. The home sustained damage from Hurricane Dolly in 2008 and reopened to the public the following year after it was restored.[178] Costumes of the Americas Museum is an indigenous clothing museum. Inspired by Bessie Kirkland Johnson, the museum was opened in 1997 featuring clothing from indigenous people in several Mexican states and other Latin American countries.[179]

Films made in Brownsville

YearTitleLead actor(s)
1981Back RoadsSally Field, Tommy Lee Jones[180]
2012Get the GringoMel Gibson[181]
2013A Night in Old MexicoRobert Duvall[182]
2015EndgameEfren Ramirez, Rico Rodriguez[183][184]
2017The Green GhostDanny Trejo[185]



The Brownsville Herald is the city's major daily newspaper. It has a circulation of 15,880 with 16,409 on Sundays.[186] Other newspapers that share content within Brownsville include The Monitor (headquartered in McAllen),[187] the Valley Morning Star (headquartered in Harlingen) and The Rider,[188] the official weekly campus paper of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.[189]


FM stations include:[190]

AM stations include:[192]

  • KURV (710) – News/Talk
  • KVNS (1700) – Sports Talk


Brownsville has three licensed broadcast full power television stations:[193]

Notable people

Sister cities

See also



  1. Mean monthly maxima and minima (i.e. the expected highest and lowest temperature readings at any point during the year or given month) calculated based on data at said location from 1981 to 2010.


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