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UTRGV Digital Exhibits

Development of the Magic Valley: Organization & Early Lessons


Land developers began to attract settlers and farmers from Northern states to the Magic Valley by advertising the fertility of the soil and improving access to irrigated water, as well as a describing it as a tropical paradise with an ideal climate for long growing seasons. John H. Shary was responsible for bringing as many 2,000 people a month into the Rio Grande Valley via excursion trains. Prospective buyers traveled by railroad to the Valley and upon arrival they were chauffeured to various established farms to demonstrate the agricultural potential of land in the Magic Valley. They were also entertained on South Padre Island and in Mexico. Shary reportedly settled more people in the south than any other developer.

Shary Land Co's Excursion Party Near Sharyland, May 19th, 1917

Shary Land Co's Excursion Party Near Sharyland, May 19th, 1917.

Excursion Party of the John H. Shary Land Co., Feb. 10, 1920.

Excursion Party of the John H. Shary Land Co., February 10, 1920.

One of the highly successful marketing strategies that John H. Shary employed, which became popular with other developers across the Valley, involved marketing the land as an investment property.

The purchaser bought the land, and the developer planted the citrus, maintained the groves, and harvested the fruit when the trees matured. The property owner simply sat back and watched the profits pour in. Then, when the owner was ready to retire, he could move to South Texas and live on his land.” -2009 TXDOT Report, A Field Guide to Irrigation in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Texas Citrus Fruit Growers Exchange

Photograph of Texas Citrus Fruit Growers Exchange


Although John H. Shary was successful in shipping to market the first large scale commercial crop out of the Valley in 1922, the returns proved disappointing. He decided to take a trip to California, with several experts at his own expense, to observe the organization and methods of citrus growers in the state.

When he returned in 1923, he put out an article detailing his intensions to build “a modern and scientifically equipped” packing plant to establish a sales organization that would bring satisfactory returns to the growers. Citrus farmers throughout the Valley jumped on board with plans to increase the number of packing plants in the Rio Grande Valley. In August 1923, the Texas Citrus Fruit Growers Exchange formally organized.

The Texas Citrus Industry peaked in the 1940s with over 100,000 acres, 14 million trees, and was comprised of close to 4,500 individual growers. In 1945, the largest production of citrus in the Rio Grande Valley consisted of 24 million boxes and was valued at $31.6 million dollars.

Packing shed, grapefruit on a conveyor belt

Packing shed, grapefruit on a conveyor belt.

Photographic image of conveyor belt with grapefruit and three men inside a packing shed (c. 1938, McAllen, Texas). (Hidalgo County Historical Commission Collection, Archives Alert 82-395.)

Four women at McAllen & Vegetable Co., crating grapefruit.

Four women at McAllen & Vegetable Co.,crating grapefruit

Photographic image showing four women crating grapefruit. Image from Hidalgo County Historical Commission Collection, Archives Alert 96-715.


In 1925, a batch of 160 Thompson (pink-fleshed and seedless) trees, a variety developed in the early 1910s, were imported to the Magic Valley from Florida. Dr. J. B. Webb of Donna and A. E. Henninger of Mission received some of these trees. In 1929, Webb and Henninger almost simultaneously discovered limbs bearing fruit of a deep red color on the outside of the rind, growing in their orchards. This new hybrid had a distinctive red blush and tasted much sweeter than its white and pink predecessors that had been growing in the Valley. The first grapefruit was patented (U.S. Plant Patent No. 53) by Mr. Henninger and he named the discovery, “Ruby Red.” Throughout the years, various other red grapefruit varieties have been produced in the Magic Valley. The world renowned red grapefruit, which grows exclusively in the Rio Grande Valley, was adopted as the trademark of Texas citrus and officially became the state fruit of Texas in 1993.

Texas Grapefruit Family Tree

Texas Grapefruit Family Tree

Scanned image from Scenes of Texas Citrus: A Proud Heritage (2008).