Located along the historic Oblate Trail, San Juan has been an important part of Rio Grande Valley history for over 100 years. Antique maps of the region refer to nearby locations along the Rio Grande River as San Juan del Rio Banco, San Juan del Rio Ranch, San Juan Hacienda and San Juan Plantation. Although folklore touts San Juan plantation owner John Closner as the inspiration behind naming our city “San Juan”, there were other entities within the region that hold the name San Juan within its title. Perhaps due to the deep religious meaning behind the worship of Saint John the Baptist, early local settlers chose to honor this saint by naming several locations after him. The Rio San Juan, for example, is a major tributary river south of the border that empties into the Rio Grande River approximately 45 miles upstream. The naming of several royal Spanish land grants included the name “San Juan” in their titles, such as San Juan de Carricitos.
Early Spanish Colonial settlers used to celebrate St John’s day on June 24th each year which coincides with the Summer solstice and has been a very important part of Christian religious celebrations for centuries. The town of San Juan began appearing on local maps around 1904 with the development of the St. Louis, Brownsville & Mexico Railroad that ran between Harlingen to Sam Fordyce (just beyond Mission). The town of San Juan was established in March of 1910 and was incorporated in December of 1917. As early as the 1850s, Oblate Fathers, such as Don Pedro Keralum were riding on horseback along their trails between Brownsville, Laredo and Corpus Christi, the priests made it a point to stop at all ranches along their routes. In 1908 a church was built on the grounds of the San Juan Plantation. The Oblate Fathers dedicated it to Saint John the Baptist. Our Lady of San Juan del Valle National Shrine was named for a town in Mexico called San Juan de los Lagos where the Virgin Mary appeared to an injured acrobat’s family in the 1600s and where the statue of the Virgin was procured for San Juan’s church back in the 1940s.
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