UTPA Librarian recounts Edinburg's history in book
Posted: 01/23/2012
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When Janette Garcia moved to the Rio Grande Valley in 1993 and began working for The University of Texas-Pan American, she realized she had arrived at someplace special.

UTPA Librarian Janette Garcia recently had her book on the history of Edinburg published. She will be signing copies of her book at the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Jan. 26, 2012.

"It really is a blend of cultures," Garcia said. "It's not typical U.S. and it's not typical Mexico. Having that blend just makes it really unique, and I think unique even as compared to other border cities."

She didn't know just how extraordinary Edinburg was until she began research on the city for a book she was asked to write about its history.

"The town moved three times," said Garcia, a librarian in the special collections department at the University Library.

The book, "Edinburg," is published by Arcadia Publishing, which produces the "Images of America" series of books on communities throughout the United States.

Arcadia Publishing contacted Garcia about writing a book on the history of Edinburg. A biography had been written about Hidalgo County, but not its county seat, Garcia said.

Garcia said she spent about a year researching archives from the University Library, the Museum of South Texas History and other sources, interviewing residents and businesses and collecting photos for her book. She conducted all her work on the book outside her day job at UT Pan American, spending nights and weekends compiling the information.

The 128-page book tells the story of how Edinburg, as well as the rest of the Rio Grande Valley, grew from porciones -- strips of land the Spanish, and later Mexican, governments allotted to ranchers -- to thriving communities along the United States-Mexico border. Much of the stories are told through pictures donated by the University, museum and long-time residents of the area.

In the book, Garcia explains how the county seat, then called Edinburgh -- named after the hometown of one of the town's founders who emigrated from Scotland to the Valley -- was established along the banks of the Rio Grande. The town's name changed to Hidalgo to match the name of the newly formed county in which it resided. Because of flooding, the community decided to move the town about two miles north. But as the flood waters continued to seep north, the townspeople decided to move the county seat to ranchland located near the center of Hidalgo County and named that town Chapin, after the county judge at the time, D.B. Chapin.

Years later, the townspeople decided to change the name of their home to Edinburg -- sans the 'h" -- after Chapin was put on trial for shooting a man in San Antonio in self defense. Chapin was acquitted of all charges, but the community changed the name the day the trial started because it did not want the town to be associated with the case.

Garcia said the city's name changes were the most interesting for her to research because of the stories tied to them.

The librarian said she was also struck by the strong sense of community among Edinburg residents. In her research she found out that throughout Edinburg's history its residents came together to build the town's prominence.

"The Echo Hotel is actually called the Edinburg Community Hotel Organization and it was built with the community raising funds because no big hotel chain wanted to come down here," Garcia said. "So Edinburg created its own hotel. As the college was growing ... they were looking for other areas and were thinking of moving to McAllen. But once again, the people of Edinburg came together and they helped raise money to buy land for where we are now."

Garcia said the experience of compiling information for and writing the book was fun but frustrating because there is so much more history that didn't get into the publication. What is even more frustrating to her is the fact that few area residents are aware of their hometown's history.

"Unfortunately, I don't think a lot of people realize the history we have and they don't realize the importance of keeping photographs, keeping letters, of looking back," she said. "It's amazing if you think 100 years ago this place was tiny compared to now. I think that's one of the things that strikes me about this whole Valley, the rate of growth and how much it's changing."

Garcia said she hopes her book will encourage more people to preserve their families' histories.

"Edinburg" is available for sale at various locations throughout the area, including Walgreens, Coffee Zone, the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce and Barnes & Noble Booksellers. The book also can be purchased online at

Garcia will be signing books at the Edinburg Chamber, 602 W. University Drive, at 5 p.m. Jan. 26.

For more information, call the Chamber at (956) 383-4974 or Garcia at (956) 279-6201.