The Port of Brownsville is the county seat of Cameron County, Texas. It lies on the shores of the Rio Grande River across from Matamoros, Mexico, 22 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. The port complex and industrial and agribusiness center includes Brownsville, Harlingen, and San Benito. In 2000, just under 140 thousand people called the Port of Brownsville home.
General Zachary Taylor planted a US flag and built a Fort Brown on what was then part of Mexico’s Matamoros in 1846. His arrival preceded the Mexican-American War, and the battles of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma were fought near that spot. Fort Brown was a military hospital after the war, and Dr. William Gorgas conducted pioneering research on treating yellow fever there. Fort Brown continued to operate until 1945.
The Port of Brownsville and Matamoros were popular with blockade runners moving guns, ammunition, and cotton during the American Civil War. The Confederates controlled Fort Brown, creating an easy access point for European ships to Southern goods. Union troops marched on Brownsville in late 1863 to stop the trade. Confederate John Salmon Ford and men reoccupied the town in 1864. A month after the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, the Confederates fought and won the Battle of Palmito Hill at a nearby ranch.
The first railroad arrived at the Port of Brownsville from Kingsville, Texas, in 1904. The deepwater port opened in 1936, offering a 17-mile channel and serving as the terminus of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.
In 1926, Texas Southmost College (now the Univeristy of Texas at Brownsville) admitted its first class. When Fort Brown was decommissioned, the college acquired the land in 1948. Brownsville continued to grow modestly throughout the 20th Century. By 1970, population had grown to 52 thousand people. In 1991, Texas Southmost College became a part of the University of Texas system. Brownsville was declared an All-America City in 2001. On Christmas Day, 2004, the first measurable (1-1/2 inches) snow in 109 years fell on the Port of Brownsville.
With over 230 companies located there, today’s Port of Brownsville hosts industries in the areas of petrochemicals, food processing, and aircraft repair. With an international airport and connections to major highways and railways, it is the biggest urban center in the lower Rio Grande valley.
The Port of Brownsville’s economy is also supported by significant tourism, being near Boca Chica Beach, Padre Island National Seashore, and the northeastern Mexico coast. Brownsville’s culture reflects the close relationship between Texas and Mexico.