Rio Hondo native accomplishes historical marker designation

Elsa Cavazos/Valley Morning Star

RIO HONDO — Cars, trucks and trailers cross daily through the Arroyo Colorado Lift Bridge.

The bridge, 382-feet long and 25-feet wide, is painted in bright yellow. It is a mechanical vertical lift bridge, and it has around 6,000 vehicles crossing through it every day.

Because of the history of the bridge and the importance it brings to transportation and trade in Rio Hondo and Harlingen, Pete Castillo, 69, Rio Hondo native, worked diligently to get a historical marker to acknowledge the bridge as a historic landmark.

“This bridge, people had never realized, it was very important. One day I said ‘Hey, I’m going to do something about it,’” Castillo said.

“I had been seeing about people getting historical markers and this bridge was the only crossing between Rio Hondo, San Benito and Port Isabel when Hurricane Wilma hit,” he said.

According to Castillo, the water from the hurricane was so high at the Arroyo it blocked out all the highways. The bridge was the only available crossing.

The bridge was built in May 1953 and was designed by the New York Engineering firm Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Hall and Macdonald.

It operated with two electric pulley motors on each side of the span with a lift and descent of 10 to 15 minutes.

Currently, it is the only lift bridge built between 1945 and 1960 in Texas that is still in operation.

“They shut it two years to repair it, and then people started to realize how important it was,” Castillo said.

Although the process to get a historical marker was lengthy, Castillo said he considered it important because it is the only bridge of its type left.

“We started the process in 2009, and it took two or three years trying to get it going. It takes a lot of paperwork and you have to go through the city council,” he said.

“Then, you go through the Cameron County Commissioners and then the state office. I try to put it into perspective how important it is to have it and commemorate it,” Castillo said.

Not only is Castillo passionate about the bridge, but also about local history as a whole, he said.

He has been living in Rio Hondo for 69 years and took the initiative to create the City Museum, which is inside City Hall.

“I love history. And I was born here, and I have seen this town go from industrial things to what it is now. I am so passionate to keep this going,” he said.

The bridge got its state historical landmark marker in 2012, but Castillo was unable to attend any public ceremony or announcement to commemorate it.

He was supposed to be part of a public recognition at the 2019 Bridgefest celebrations but was at the hospital at the time.

With his dedication to this project now proudly displayed, Castillo continues to manage the city’s museum.

“I am proud the city has now acknowledged there is a lot of history in Rio Hondo and the surrounding areas. I like when people see pictures and remember their grandparents and have flashbacks. It makes me say ‘Wow I did something good for the city,’” he said.