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Home News August 14 , 2013
At one of Texas’s most famous border towns, Brownsville has turned its once vacant and abandoned Downtown into a visitor’s mecca. Using its expansive supply of historic resources that just needed a little boost, the city now has four times the visitorship compared to a decade ago. Preserve America Grant funding of $132,870 helped spark the work to make downtown Brownsville a successful cultural tourist destination.
Before 2007, heritage tourism in the downtown area was limited to the Heritage Center and Stillman House museum. Since the Preserve America Grant work began, the Heritage Center and Stillman House museum have had four times the amount of visitors.
The Brownsville Old City Cemetery was considered a dangerous area with neglected and abandoned plots and broken headstones. Primary access to the cemetery was through funeral and burial services. With money from the Preserve America Grant, physical improvements were made such as bullet resistant lighting, security, and maintenance as well as plaques and brochures allowing for a safer area and more friendly use of the cemetery. Now, there are tours and “hauntings” in high demand at the cemetery, and plots are again being maintained. The site is now cared for by the City of Brownsville Parks Department and the Brownsville Historical Association, while also being used for historical and genealogical research.
Before the kiosks, photomurals, and plaques covered the downtown, there was little spotlight on the heritage of Brownsville. Although, Brownsville’s downtown has high pedestrian and vehicle traffic, there were no tools to inform them of surrounding history. Now, these installations are reaching out to locals and visiting tourists. There have been requests for additional kiosks, photomurals, and plaques. All of these resources are connected, linking each audio tour to a kiosk and kiosk to physical site. Brownsville now has visitors asking for more, more things to explore, particularly at the rather popular Palo Alto Battlefield National Historic Park.
The Preserve America Grant allowed for the creation of recorded self-guided tours via MP3 players and CDs in both English and Spanish. The funding created six walking tours with the Downtown and Market Square tour anchoring the other five. Other tours include the courthouse, Old City Cemetery, train depot, restored historic homes, churches, and schools. There are pamphlet aids such as Discover History in the Old Cemetery or Discover Brownsville’s Historic Places.
The projects were made possible due to the U.S. Department of the Interior, Preserve America, the City of Brownsville, and the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation. With the infusion of money from the grant, the city of Brownsville was able to produce videos and public service announcements televised to more than a million viewers including the First Lady’s Treasures video produced by the Texas Historical Commission, and the Brownsville Historical Association Web site enhanced with Facebook. All of this has provided the foundation for establishing and increasing the heritage tourism market in Brownsville, Texas, something that was virtually non-existent prior to this program.
Thanks to the grant, there is now a push to begin the implementation of a Comprehensive Plan, which looks at preservation and revitalization of the downtown. The Comprehensive Plan will even include a connecting trail system to improve walking and biking conditions. Brownsville has also started a major renovation of the Historic Market Square, which was one of the featured sites in the Preserve America project.
The community has also partnered in creating an event called Build a Better Block which serves as a “living charrette” where the community can envision what they want their downtown to look like. The original walking tours that were created with the Preserve America Grant also serve as guidelines for the new cyclobia events that the City hosts. A cyclobia basically shuts down city streets so that people can walk or ride their bikes.
Heritage tourism in Brownsville, Texas helps the city share its unique and exciting culture with the world. These types of projects can be replicated across the United States in communities that want to showcase what their living culture is all about.