The Hidalgo Pumphouse Brings Water to the Rio Grande Valley

Prior to 1909, the semi-arid Rio Grande Valley was dotted with cattle ranches, mostly owned by Tejanos, Mexicans who found themselves on the US side of the border at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. Many of the Tejanos lost their land when droughts in the 1880s and 1890s forced them to sell to Anglo settlers. The railroad arrived in the Valley in 1904 bringing more settlers to buy up cheap land in the “Magic Valley.” A system of steam powered pumphouses constructed along the Rio Grande, including the Hidalgo Pumphouse (also known as the Old Hidalgo Pumphouse) in 1909, transformed the Valley into rich farmland.

Entrance to museum with text overlay: Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum and World Birding Center

A system of steam powered pumphouses constructed along the Rio Grande, including the Hidalgo Pumphouse in 1909, transformed the Valley into rich farmland. Click To Tweet

Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum and World Birding Center

In 1993, the Hidalgo County Irrigation District #2 donated the Hidalgo Pumphouse to the City of Hidalgo. The city spent millions of dollars restoring the old pumphouse as a museum and the surrounding grounds are part of the World Birding Center network.

Museum and birding center photo op signOld Hidalgo Pumphouse sign at entranceEntrance to Old Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum

Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum

The museum chronicles some of the history of Hidalgo County as well as the pumphouse. Old artifacts, photos and interpretive signs tell the story. There are some interactive displays that looked interesting but they weren’t working when I was there. I had read online that the museum offers guided tours for $3 but I had a hard time finding anyone to ask a question, let alone to guide a tour. When I first arrived, a gentleman told me they were out of self-guided tours. (I learned later that you can download it here.) At least there were lots of signs explaining the equipment and the changes over the years.

Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum counterHidalgo Pumphouse Museum interiorHildago Pumphouse Museum interiorHidalgo Pumphouse Museum old gas pumpold phone and projector

The Hidalgo Pumphouse Documents the Stages of the Industrial Revolution

Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum building and smokestackThe huge smokestack is easy to spot from pretty much anywhere in the city. It helped to divert the oily, black smoke from the boilers away from town.

high pressure steam pipe with text overlay: Hidalgo Pumphouse helped transform the Lower Rio Grande Valley


1909 – Pumps installed on the Rio Grande

1912 – Installation of three additional boilers and two 60-inch Corliss Worthington pumps

Boiler water storage tanks

1920 – Changed from wood (mesquite) to fuel oil as fuel source for boilers

1927 – Changed from fuel oil to natural gas

1933 – Pumphouse flooded by hurricane; work begun on intake canal after change in river course

Pump inlet from canal at Hidalgo Pumphouse

1948 – Natural gas engine installed; steam engines and pumps removed

1954 – Expanded to northeast and installed Ingersoll-Rand V12 natural gas engine

1980 – Addition of four electric pumps and supplemental boiler to boost steam pumps

1983 – Pumphouse abandoned in favor of all-electric plant one mile down stream

1993 – Pumphouse donated to City of Hidalgo

The photos don’t begin to convey the massive size of this equipment and you can’t get close enough to any of it to give it some perspective. The mind boggling thing about all this heavy equipment is that in the early days there were no cranes to put the equipment in place.

Ingersoll Rand sign

Interesting Fact: It takes 1,000,000 gallons of water to make a bale of cotton!

World Birding Center

The Old Hidalgo Pumphouse was originally built on the banks of the Rio Grande. In 1933, a hurricane flooded the Valley and changed the course of the river by about a half of a mile. Workers had to dig a canal from the new banks of the river back to the intake pipes of the pumphouse. The resulting lake-like channel is a great place for spotting some of the Valley’s subtropical and specialty birds.

The lake-like channel leading to the intake pipes is a great place for spotting some of the Valley's subtropical and specialty birds. Click To Tweet

There are streams running through the grounds, which appear to be in a willy-nilly pattern, but, in fact, they simulate the flow of the Rio Grande on the city’s southern border. All of the water features have been planted to attract butterflies.

Unlike the other eight World Birding Center sites, which are more wild, the Hidalgo Pumphouse site has manicured lawns where events like weddings and quinceaneras are held. They charge a $40 fee to photograph these types of events. There is an amphitheater that is used for talks, performances and even free movies during the summer.

Related posts about other World Birding Center sites:

Alligators Find a New Home at South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center
Estero Llano Grande State Park — My First RGV Birding Experience
Quinta Mazatlan Celebrates the Monarch Butterfly
Museums and Nature Top the List of Things to do in Harlingen


Flowers on grounds at Hidalgo Pumphouseblue bicycle hanging from tree Covered deck overlooking resacaresaca through tree branchesHidalgo streets in walkway

Old swimming hole sign
WBC monument


Phone: 956-843-8686
Park Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Saturday – Sunday 9 a.m.-8 p.m. (may vary due to season)
Fees: Adults: $3, Seniors: $2, Children and students: $1 (no one ever said anything to me about paying a fee)
Trolley Tours: 3rd Tuesday of every month, $5
Bike Rental: $6 per day



The Making of the ‘Magic Valley’
Photos of Old Hidalgo Pumphouse-World Birding Center


Smokestack and pumphouse building with text overlay: Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum and World Birding Center Hidalgo, TX
Stream and plants with text overlay: Hidalgo Pumphouse Hidalgo, TX Mumseum and World Birding Center
Smokestack with text overlay: Hidalgo Pumphouse Hidalgo, TX Museum and World Birding Center

old gas pump inside museum with text overlay: Museum and World Birding Center Old Hidalgo Pumphouse Hidalgo, TX
Smokestack with text overlay: Hidalgo, TX Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum & World Birding Center
canal with text overlay: Museum & World Birding Center Hidalgo Pumphouse Hidalgo, TX

Until next time…

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  1. The Hidalgo Pump is really fascinating! I could imagine people would be in awe over it when it first began operations, like some sort of a “wonder of the world.”

  2. Pingback: Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park - World Birding Headquarters | Golden Country Cowgirl

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