The Historic Streets of
What do George Washington, the Spanish army,
and two political groups called the Botas (boots) and Huaraches (sandals)
have in common?
They have each played a role in the history
of Laredo, Texas, the border city that dates back to the days when Texas
was part of Mexico. An easy drive from Louisiana thanks to interstate
highways, Laredo makes the perfect getaway for travelers looking to step
back and enjoy the rich history of the Southwest. Historic homes and churches
provide a backdrop to bustling commerce where shoppers are tempted to
shop 'til they drop.
A NEW CITY
Laredo began as a single city on the north
bank of the Rio Grande, which today is the Texas side. This community
was founded by an officer of the Spanish army in 1755 and was one of the
first settlements in the area.
In the years that followed, Laredo faced many
hardships and some residents felt that they received little attention
from the government in Mexico City. In 1840, citizens called for the establishment
of a new republic to be made up of the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo
Leon and Coahuila. They named this new nation the Republic of the Rio
Grande. Laredo was chosen as its capital city and a stone building off
San Agustín Plaza was selected as its Capitol.
The Republic was short-lived, in existence
for only 283 days. Tensions remained high, however, and when Laredo became
part of Texas many families decided that they wished to remain citizens
of Mexico. They headed across the Rio Grande -- the newly drawn border
-- and founded the Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo, literally New Laredo.
Today those tumultuous years are remembered
at the Republic of the Rio Grande Museum, housed in the former Capitol.
This museum contains guns, saddles, and household belongings from the
The museum stands adjacent to La Posada Hotel,
another piece of Laredo history. The hotel is a favorite with shoppers
because of its proximity to the border but it is also filled with history.
The 19th-Century convent now serves as the convention and meeting center
for La Posada hotel, and the old Laredo Telephone Exchange today buzzes
with the sound of diners enjoying steaks and Gulf seafood at the hotel's
The Tack Room Restaurant.
La Posada, like much of Laredo's historic
district, is located on narrow, one-way Zaragoza Street, lined with historic
buildings and stately palms. Facing La Posada across the plaza is the
San Agustín Church, the oldest landmark in the city. Here visitors
come to admire the church's beautiful stained glass windows of the historic
For all its peaceful atmosphere today, the
adjacent plaza was the site of one of the Old West's bloodiest shootouts.
In 1886 the Botas (boots) and Huaraches (sandals), two rival political
groups, battled here, leaving over 80 dead when the smoke cleared.
If you have an interest in the rich background of this historic square and surrounding area, one of the best ways to see the city is aboard a Heritage Tour.
For two hours via a turn-of-the-century trolley,
travelers tour some of the city's oldest sites. You'll see the Old Mercado,
the Victorian era St. Peter's district, the restoration of Ft. McIntosh,
the San Agustín Cathedral, and more. Tours begin and end at the
Rio Grande Museum at 1005 Zaragoza on San Agustín Plaza and are
offered Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 am and Saturdays at 10 am. For reservations,
call the Webb County Heritage Foundation at (956) 727-0977.
History also plays a role in Laredo's -- and
South Texas's -- largest festival. The George Washington Birthday celebration
dates back to 1898 when a Laredo men's organization, the Red Men and the
White Men, devised the festival as a way to spread international goodwill.
The group held a mock battle representing a fight for possession of the
city, one that culminated in an unconditional surrender when the Mayor
gave the key to the city to "Great Chief Sachem."
And just where does George Washington fit
into this picture? Coincidentally, Washington was code named "Sachem"
during his freedom fighting days when the Sons of Liberty disguised themselves
as Indians. Because of this, the Laredo organization picked the first
president's birthday as the occasion for this event.
Today George Washington's Birthday includes
weeks of February fun with sporting events, a children's carnival, dances,
the peppery Jalapeño festival, and parades. For all its fun, food,
and fireworks, the event is also noted for its elegant balls. The Princess
Pocahontas Pageant and Ball features Laredo debutantes wearing Native
American regalia, with some gowns taking as long as two years to research
Those extravagant gowns are the centerpiece
of the new George Washington's Birthday Celebration Museum, located at
San Agustín and Zaragoza streets. Here travelers can view the gowns
and costumes of this spectacular event along with historic photos of the
long-running festivities. The museum is open daily during the festival
and at other times by appointment.
George Washington's Birthday Celebration still
highlights the international goodwill between the two cities on each side
of the border at the Abrazo ceremony. At the International Bridge Ceremony,
two Laredo children embrace two Nuevo Laredo youths as leaders from the
two cities follow suit. The event continues with the playing of both national
anthems and the remembrance of the friendship between the two nations.
The ceremony is followed by a spectacular parade.
The George Washington's Birthday Celebration
may be the largest but it is by no means the only long running festival
in this community. Whenever you plan a visit, you'll find that a fiesta
spirit thrives in Laredo. In March, the city celebrates Border Olympics,
an annual event since 1933. The track event showcases the athletes of
both Texas and Northern Mexico. March also brings plenty of old-fashioned
fun to the region with both the Laredo International Fair and Exhibition
and the Zapata County Fair.
In May, Cinco de Mayo marks May 5th, the date
when Mexico celebrates its 1862 independence from France. Both Laredo
and Nuevo Laredo celebrate the festive day with dances, local foods, and
Just 10 days later, Laredo recalls the establishment
of the city on Founders Day with dancing and family fun.
Another historic festival takes place on September
16. Deis y Seis de Septiembre is an annual celebration in both Laredo
and Nuevo Laredo, marking the beginning of the revolution against Spain.
Consider shopping in Laredo and you may picture
the sparkling malls that the city now boasts or the increased trade across
the border between the two cities thanks to NAFTA.
But like many other attractions in these cities,
shopping has historic roots as well. Since Laredo was divided into two
cities, trade between the communities has been non-stop. In Laredo, numerous
shops have grown up along the San Agustín and Mercado Historic
Districts to serve the needs of Mexican shoppers. You, too, will find
good bargains in this area that's been called America's largest urban
outlet mall. Near the international bridge, wholesalers along Zaragoza
Street entice shoppers with goods ranging from electronics to clothing
and shoes to Italian gold jewelry. Linger in perfume shops where you can
purchase the world's famous fragrances at prices far lower than you might
For Mexican imports such as pottery and wrought
iron furniture, try the markets of the San Bernardo area a few blocks
north of Zaragoza. The stores along San Bernardo are a good place to shop
for these larger import items if you won't be driving into Mexico.
Since 1938, Vega's Imports at 4002 San Bernardo
has offered Mexican home furnishings for every room of the house. Much
of the furniture in this well-stocked store is hand carved. Also on San
Bernardo, La Casita de Don Quijote is housed in a restored 1920s bungalow.
The gallery is filled with Talavera pottery.
One of the state's top fashion stores is also
located in Laredo. For four decades, Polly Adams has offered exclusive
lines of women's clothing and accessories. The customer-oriented shop,
located at 101 Calle del Norte, is frequented by many Mexican movie stars
as well as discerning shoppers from around Texas. The shop can even provide
meals for shoppers with advanced notice and always has several seamstresses
on hand to provide a personalized fit.
But, as enticing as the Laredo stores can
be, the charms of its sister city act as a magnet for the dedicated shopper.
Nuevo Laredo boasts an amazing procession of shops along its avenues.
Here the air fills with the scent of roasted ears of corn sold from steaming
carts, the sunlight glints off a jumble of silver-plated necklaces on
a vendor's arm, a tablecloth salesman flaunts his wares like a bullfighter's
The main shopping district is along Avenida
Guerrero, located just steps across the International Bridge. Along with
inexpensive crafts, shoppers also find top-quality merchandise in many
longtime Nuevo Laredo shops such as Marti's, sometimes nicknamed "the
Neiman Marcus of Mexico." Fine clothing, jewelry, and furniture fill
The Nuevo Mercado, or the New Market, is the
most popular spot in town. The block-long, open-air market fills with
shoppers daily as they come to search through the 100-plus small shops
that explode with colors and textures. Be prepared to bargain at all the
market shops. Negociacion is a friendly game here, and both merchant and
shopper usually come away happy.
Save time for a trip deeper into Nuevo Laredo
to El Cid, the city's only glassware factory, located at 3861 Avenida
Reforma. You'll need to drive or catch a taxi to this store, but the shopping
here makes the effort worthwhile. For over 20 years, this factory has
produced the blue rimmed glasses that are almost a symbol of border shopping.
Behind the showroom, six to seven men work
the 1400-degree ovens to produce bowls and glasses, most edged with color.
Minerals such as copper and cobalt produce many of the colors: aquamarine,
red, and, the most popular tint, bullet blue. Other colors reflect recycling
at its best. Melted beer bottles create amber-tinted rims; Buchanan Scotch
Whiskey bottles yield green-rimmed glasses.
Whether you're in search of historic sites, exuberant festivals or non-stop shopping, one thing's for certain: Laredo is the place to make a little history of your own.
If You Go
Crossing the Border: It's an easy stroll across
the border at International Bridge Number 1, located at the south end
of Convent Street. Bring some change for the bridge toll both coming and
going. On the Texas side, you'll find free parking in the public lot just
below the bridge at Salinas Avenue and Water Street.
Drivers can use either Bridge 1 or Bridge
2; there is a bridge toll both ways. Upon return, leave plenty of time
to reenter the US as lines can be Texas-sized. Drivers need to be property
insured; Mexican auto insurance can be obtained from your agent and is
also available in Laredo. Even with insurance, be advised that in the
case of an accident, you will be taken into custody until liability can
Currency: You'll find currency exchange houses
(cambios) on both sides of the border but you can use US dollars in most
Nuevo Laredo stores and restaurants. Most establishments also accept major
George Washington's Birthday Celebration:
For more information about the George Washington Birthday Celebration,
call the Laredo Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-361-3360 or check
out the web site at www.wbcaldo.com.
For More Information: Contact the Laredo Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800-361-3360, Fax 956-795-2185 or write 501 San Agustín, Laredo, Texas 78040. The official website, www.visitlaredo.com, has information on hotels, shopping and dining.
Return to Laredo Index
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