The Cameron County Irrigation District Building:

Its Impact on San Benito

Role of the Building in the Community

Present Condition of Building

Future of the Building

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"General offices of the San Benito Land and Water Co. showing a few of the Levee riders' horses hitched in front. The entire 200 miles of main and lateral canals are covered every day by Levee riders who inspect the canals and water gates and who are in daily touch with the farmers on the system."

Photo courtesy of San Benito Historical Society

THE ROLE OF THE BUILDING IN THE COMMUNITY:

In the early days of San Benito, the building was one of the busiest places in town. The San Benito Land & Water Company operated all facets of its operation from the building. This included land clearing and subdividing, the sale of irrigation water, the advertisement and promotion of the development locally and in other parts of the country, arranging and conducting excursions for land seekers from the Midwest, the sale of town lots, the sale of farm tracts, and the construction and maintenance of laterals and canals.

The building has always been busy during the growing seasons because water orders have to be placed in writing. That is, a farmer who wants water has to personally go to the building each time he needs to irrigate.

The building has also been an important source of information for the agricultural community. Pamphlets, informational booklets, and handouts on irrigation, conservation, and other agricultural topics have always been available to farmers.

Since the early 1920's, the manager of the Irrigation District has served as manager of the Drainage District and handled the day-to-day management of the Drainage District from the building. The Board of Directors of the Drainage District has officially maintained its office in the building since 1967. The relatively flat topography of the county makes surface drainage a necessity for protection of both urban and agricultural areas. An average slope of one foot or less per mile throughout much of the Irrigation District results in poor natural surface drainage. This poor drainage results in residential flooding, crop damage, raised water tables and increased soil salinity. The Drainage District came into existence in 1912, primarily to relieve the financially troubled San Benito I-and & Water Company of the financial burden of constructing and maintaining drains on the lands irrigated by the Company. The boundaries of the Drainage District generally coincide with the boundaries of the lands originally irrigated by the San Benito Land & Water Company. Like the Irrigation District, the Drainage District is a governmental subdivision of the state.

The building has also served the community in other ways throughout the years. It housed San Benito's telephone system from the spring of 1910 until the system was removed in 1917. It served as the business office of Sam Robertson's Interurban (Spider Web Railroad) from the time the Land & Water Company occupied the building until Robertson sold the line in 1912. For many years the building housed the office of the County Home Demonstration agent. For as long as anyone can remember, it has served as a polling place during state and national elections. From the early days of San Benito until the mid-1970's, the Irrigation District maintained the official U.S. weather monitoring station for San Benito on the building premises. For many years, women employed in shops and businesses in downtown San Benito ate their lunches in the break room. The security of the room and convenience of an indoor toilet were appreciated by the women. Shoppers also appreciated the indoor toilet. From about 1957 until 1968, Farm Bureau Insurance Company had an office in the building. After his retirement as President of the San Benito Bank & Trust Company in 1961 (after 30 years with the Bank), W. W. Housewright rented office space in the building until 1977 for his investment business.

From 1920 until his death in 1943, Frank Robertson, brother of Sam Robertson and also a civil engineer, managed the Irrigation District. Frank and the District's Engineer, Ralph Agar, worked tirelessly on water development issues, including the effort which ultimately culminated in the construction of Falcon Dam, which was completed in 1953. Until the construction of the dam, the river periodically overflowed its banks, destroying crops and property. During flood events, the River often changed course, causing international boundary problems, because the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had fixed the boundary between the United States and Mexico at the Rio Grande as it was situated in 1848. For example, due to a change in the course of the River in the 1920's, the Irrigation District's pumping plant is now approximately one mile north of the River. Falcon Dam eliminated the problem of the periodic overflows and changes in the course of the river. In addition to flood control, the reservoirs created by damming the river are intended to provide a regular and dependable water supply. Until the construction of Falcon Dam, there was no dependable source of water. Irrigation companies were solely dependent on the amount of rainfall in the watershed upstream. For example, during a lengthy drought which began prior to the completion of Falcon Dam, the Rio Grande dried up.

Finally, the unique architecture of the building, coupled with its location on the main thoroughfare of San Benito and its role in the development of the City and surrounding area, has made the building a prominent landmark in San Benito and a source of pride for the community.

PRESENT CONDITION OF BUILDING

There has been no substantial change or addition to the building since its construction in 1910. The exterior walls of the building remain as originally constructed. The rough stucco walls have never been painted. The exterior bands have always been painted white. The building has the original doors and windows with original hardware (except for some locks). Most windows have the original windowpanes.

FUTURE

To preserve the heritage of San Benito, in 1995, the City of San Benito created a historic district at the urging of the San Benito Historical Society and the San Benito Chamber of Commerce. The building is within the boundaries of the district. The San Benito Chamber of Commerce wants to purchase the building for use as a museum and Chamber office. To date, efforts to raise the money to purchase the building have been unsuccessful.

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