“Brownsville Into the 21st Century,” an exhibit at The Historic Brownsville Museum, highlights the significant economic accomplishments of Brownsville in the first fifty years of the 20th century and focuses on the improvements in transportation for the region and their effects on the local economy. The exhibit comes at a time when Brownsville’s economy was facing major changes.

The exhibit shows the growth that Brownsville underwent during the early part of the 20th century. The railroad came in 1904, allowing Brownsville to ship its products to the rest of the country.

Following the railroad came the Brownsville airport, whose inauguration Amelia Earhart attended. The Brownsville Airport became the base of Pan American Airways for Latin America and saw air traffic coming through for the hemisphere.

Photo by Kelly Saenz

Then came the Brownsville Port, which allowed Brownsville to ship its products to the entire world. Before these accomplishments, the Rio Grande Valley was vastly different. Brownsville developments paved the road for the rest of the Rio Grande Valley to grow.

“Brownsville Into the 21st Century” shows glimpses of how Elizabeth Street looked at the turn of the 20th century and the businesses in the area that helped Brownsville thrive. Today, Elizabeth Street is no longer where Brownsville commerce is most fruitful given that most major companies are in the northern part of the city.

“There are some factors that must enter the scene because money generates everything,” Eugene Fernandez, the museum site manager and curator of the exhibit, said. “If you go down Elizabeth Street, Washington Street, Levi Street and into the heart of the commerce there, it looks like a ghost town.”

The Historic Brownsville Museum lives near the center of Historic Downtown Brownsville, which features many historic buildings that are in need of restoration. The commerce in this area has slowly been changing. New restaurants and bars are attracting a younger crowd into what has been called, like Eugene Fernandez said, a ghost town.

Photo by Kelly Saenz

However, the new businesses downtown have raised concerns about gentrification and where the large homeless population that resides downtown will go if pushed out. The question becomes more pressing as new businesses continue to move to the area.

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“If people are familiar with the past, they will be able to better contribute to today,” said Ashley Guzman, The Brownsville’s Historical Association’s special events and program coordinator. “This is true for the lessons we can learn from the past, but also because the museums’ in downtown Brownsville are a source of revenue for the city.”

“Brownsville Into the 21st Century” will be exhibited in The Historic Brownsville Museum until Oct. 27. It is the second part of a three-part series. The final exhibit will cover Brownsville from 1950 through the year 2000 and is expected to be featured in Spring 2019.