Museums of Harlingen: Early Rio Grande Valley to WWII

When I moved to southern Texas, I started making a list of things to see and do, starting with the closest places first. When I searched things to do in Harlingen, Texas, the museums of Harlingen came out on top.

The museums of Harlingen, Texas, the Iwo Jima Memorial Museum and the Harlingen Arts & Heritage museum, top the list of best things to do in Harlingen.

Museums of Harlingen

Iwo Jima Memorial Museum

The Iwo Jima Memorial Museum is one of two museums of Harlingen, Texas. As much as I love history, I have to admit that military history is not my thing. In spite of that, I wanted to see what this place was all about and, it turns out, it was pretty interesting.

Iwo Jima Memorial Museum & Gift Shop - one of the two museums of Harlingen

Sure, I’ve seen the famous photo by Joe Rosenthal of the flag raising at Iwo Jima and I’m sure I saw the John Wayne movie, Sands of Iwo Jima, when I was a child. I still didn’t understand the importance of the island during the war and the significance of the Battle of Iwo Jima.

The Iwo Jima Memorial Museum is located at the Marine Military Academy, a private college preparatory boarding school for boys in grades 7-12. The museum has a fairly extensive display of Marine Corps memorabilia, a gift shop and you can view a 32-minute, thoroughly educational documentary. There are friendly volunteers who are eager to talk military with you. Admission is free but donations are always gladly accepted.

Iwo Jima Monument through treesIn Honor and Memory

Military strategy boggles my mind and is something I just don’t care to contemplate. What I was very interested in was the local human aspect of the story.

The “Original” Iwo Jima Monument

On the 5th day of what ended up being a 36 day battle, the Marines took Mount Suribachi, the highest point on Iwo Jima, and raised a small flag there. Later that afternoon, when the area was cleared of resistance, a larger flag was raised by six Marines. These are the Marines and the flag you see in the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph.

Did you know that the original Iwo Jima #Monument is at the Marine Military Academy in #Harlingen, TX? #travel #ustravel Share on X

The monument at the Marine Military Academy is the “original” Iwo Jima monument. When the sculptor, Dr. Felix W. de Weldon, saw Rosenthal’s photo, he was so moved that he constructed a scale model within 48 hours. After the war, Dr. de Weldon spent 9.5 years creating a model that would depict the inspiring event on a massive scale.

Iwo Jima Monument

The likenesses of the six marines raising the flag are accurately depicted. Dr. de Weldon used photos and descriptions to mold the faces of the soldiers who lost their lives on Iwo Jima and the three survivors posed for him.

Iwo Jima Monument CU Harlon Block

Once the plaster statue was complete, it was disassembled and trucked to Brooklyn, NY, for casting in bronze. That process took three years! The bronze parts were then trucked to Washington DC for installation at Arlington National Cemetery where Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated it on the 179th anniversary of the Marine Corps on November 10, 1954.

The Original Monument Comes to Harlingen

The working model was moved to Dr. de Weldon’s home in Rhode Island for storage where it remained until 1981 when Dr. de Weldon gifted it to the Marine Military Academy.

Uncommon Valor

Here are the reasons the MMA was chosen, according to their website:

  • The fairly constant temperature and humidity in Harlingen were ideal for the preservation of the molding-plaster figures.
  • The street facing the memorial was appropriately named Iwo Jima Boulevard by MMA’s founders in 1965.
  • MMA is the only place outside of Washington, D.C., where proper honors are rendered with battalion-size dress blue parades.
  • The Marine placing the flagpole into the ground was a South Texas native, Cpl Harlon H. Block of Weslaco, Texas.

Grave of Cpl Harlon H. Block, USMCMarker CU Cpl Harlon H. Block, USMC

Cpl. Harlon Block

Harlan Block is the Marine at the forefront of the six Marines raising the second flag in the famous photograph. Sadly, just six days later, he was killed in the fighting on Iwo Jima. He was buried there with others from the 5th Marine Division until after the war when his remains were returned to Weslaco. He was buried there until 1995 when he was enshrined next to the monument in Harlingen. Sitting there next to his grave and the monument, thinking of all the brave men and women who have died to preserve our freedom, was quite a humbling experience.

Harlon grew up in Weslaco, just 19 miles from Harlingen. The museum in Weslaco has a Harlon Block exhibit, there is a Harlon Block Memorial at the Texas National Guard Armory, and the Harlon Block Sports Complex was named in his honor. He is featured in the 2006 Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood film Flags of Our Fathers.

Iwo Jima Monument
Iwo Jima Monument silhouette


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It took the sculptor 9 1/2 years to create this massive working model of the famous photo of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima in 1945. Once the plaster sculpture was completed, it was disassembled and trucked to Brooklyn, New York, where it was cast in bronze. In 1954, Dwight Eisenhower dedicated the bronze memorial in Washington DC. The sculptor gifted the original to the Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas, in 1981. Do you know why it came to Harlingen? @mmaharlingen #iwojimamemorial #iwojimamonument #marinemilitaryacademy #flagraising #joerosenthal #pulitzerprize #americanflag #iwojima #harlingen #harlingentx #militaryhistory #travelblogging #travelbloggerlife #GoldCountryCowgirl

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I’m glad I visited here. I loved the story of this hometown Marine and thoroughly enjoyed photographing the monument. I was grateful for a gorgeous day among many days of clouds, rain and drizzle.

Iwo Jima Memorial Museum & Gift Shop
320 Iwo Jima Blvd
Harlingen, TX 78550-3627
Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Harlingen Arts & Heritage Museum

Harlingen Arts & Heritage Museum exteriorThe second of the two museums of Harlingen, the Harlingen Arts & Heritage Museum, consists of five buildings. The main building houses rotating art and cultural displays. There is downtime between exhibits so be sure to check the schedule. On my second visit, I saw an amazing display of quilts that were definitely works of art. I can’t imagine how many hours went into making one of them.


The grounds house three preserved buildings for you to explore. The first is the home of Harlingen’s founder, Lon C. Hill, built in 1904.

Lon C. Hill House Arts & Heritage Museum of Harlingen, Texas

Lon C. Hill house plaque
Lon C. Hill, founder of Harlingen

Lon C. Hill house dining table

A business woman, Ida Gilbert, and a nurse, Marie Yeager, built the first hospital in Harlingen in 1923. The 7-bed facility closed four years later, after the opening of the Baptist hospital.

Harlingen first hospital

Today you can see displays of a typical doctor and dentist office as well as an operating room and a hospital room.

Doctor's office Harlingen art museum

Harlingen museum hospital room & nurse
Harlingen museum hospital

Harlingen museum hospital operating room

The Stagecoach Inn gives you a glimpse into what everyday life might have been like at the turn of the 20th century. I especially loved all the old kitchen utensils! In fact, I was so enthralled with trying to figure out what some of them were that I forgot to photograph them.

Harlingen museum Stagecoach Inn dining roomHarlingen museum mail boxesHarlingen museum stage officeThe fifth building on the grounds is the History Museum which is a permanent display of historical artifacts. This building is temporarily closed for major renovations. They hope to have it open by summer but definitely by the end of the year.

Harlingen Arts & Heritage Museum
2425 Boxwood St
Harlingen, Texas 78550
(956) 216-4901
Museum Tour:
Cost of Guided tour is $1 per child and $2 per adult.
(Must be booked, at least, 2 weeks in advance.)
10-4 Tues-Sat, 1-4 Sun, closed Mon

Both of these museums of Harlingen are definitely worth a visit. Neither one takes a long time, unless you really want it to, so you can easily visit both in one day. They are very close to one another.


The museums of Harlingen, Texas, the Iwo Jima Memorial Museum and the Harlingen Arts & Heritage museum, top the list of best things to do in Harlingen. #texas #harlingen #travel #usa #museums #monument
The museums of Harlingen, Texas, the Iwo Jima Memorial Museum and the Harlingen Arts & Heritage museum, top the list of best things to do in Harlingen. #texas #harlingen #travel #usa #museums #monument

Until next time…

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  1. It is incredible to think that he worked on the model for almost 10 years! Both of these seem like great places to visit. As a medical professional, seeing historical medical offices can be astonishing :0 🙂

  2. Glad you’re enjoyin’ your time in Texas. Are you still in your motor home or are you rentin’ a more purrmanent place? Big hugs

    Luv ya’

    Dezi and Raena

    • My new home base is with my dad. So that’s my more permanent arrangement but I’ll be doing some long-term traveling come spring. Still hoping to see you sometime this year!

  3. The deductij it must have taken to work on some of these pieces for years.l is incredible

  4. Oh, loved John Wayne’s films in my childhood. And I can remember watching the Sand of Iwo too.

    In a certain way, visiting the Iwo Jima Memorial Museum would be like going back to my childhood.

    Thanks for the post and taking me back to John Wayne, good old movies and my childhood!

  5. Salute and huge respect for these soldiers for their love of their country. You are so lucky to visit their monument.

  6. This monument really is amazing. Excellent dynamic sculpture! I really like exhibitions at the Harlingen Arts & Heritage Museum. I would gladly visit this place!

  7. The detail on the faces of the soldiers is beautiful, no wonder it took so long to finish! I should definitely check this museum out the next time I’m in Texas! Thank you for sharing about this!

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